Rudyard Kipling said it all: ” If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two Impostors just the same; Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.”
KAILUA-KONA- Hawaii – Lieutenant Colonel Tony O’Keefe is in charge of 1,054 cadets at Canada’s version of West Point. It is his job to prepare men and women to go into battle in the world of terrorist ambushes, in the very cruel lands that Rudyard Kipling wrote about, and act with the highest levels of integrity when life and death are separated by a rusty razor’s edge.
And so on the field of play on the Big Island of Hawaii in a rigorous three-day aerobic adventure called Ultraman, O’Keefe keeps his cool whether things are going well or poorly. “At age 47, sure it hurts,” says O’Keefe, who if not for a few grey hairs, could pass for 20 years younger. “I’m getting older. It’s great to be racing against top professionals, but I never take anything for granted.”
O’Keefe won the first day’s 10k swim and 90 mile bike. But he knew better than to gloat. “This thing can backfire and end up in a disaster,” said O’Keefe. “All these guys are stronger athletes. My strength is mental.” On Sunday, the third day of this post Thanksgiving, 320-mile triathletic circumnavigation of Hawaii, O’Keefe let three men go early in the morning on the double marathon heading south from Hawi to Kailua along the Queen K Highway made famous in October’s single day Ironman. A lesser man might have overreached and tried to stay with the blazing trio headed for a 2:57 first marathon, but O’Keefe knew his best day from four years ago was a pair of 3:12s. And a lesser man might have looked at his three straight runner-up finishes from 2002 through 2004 and lost his head in pursuit of vain glory. A lesser man might even have been bitter that a deployment to Sarajevo cost him training and a more immediate rematch with Ultraman, just as his peak athletic years were slipping away. A lesser man might even have wasted adrenaline worrying about the footsteps of 1996 champion Erik Seedhouse, just three years younger and one of two men to break 6 hours during the Ultraman double marathon, stalking him from behind.
But instead, Tony O’Keefe followed the famous maxim of Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry: “A man’s got to know his limitations,” and kept his own counsel, running a conservative downhill first half marathon – 1 hour 30 minutes to the leaders’ 1:26. Knowing the reality of the battlefield, O’Keefe said, “Things can always get worse.”
Barely off the plane from Hawaii, LCol Tony O’Keeffe could not keep away from RMC and “came home” to a small gathering of staff and friends, proud to congratulate him on his impressive success. Despite the incredible fatigue and his body having “taken a beating”, he was very energetic in relating his experience competing in the Ultraman. The small crowd couldn’t help but be impressed by his tale involving jellyfish, sea lice, a scorching sun, extreme fatigue, and seemingly insurmountable water currents… He was quick to point out that he had received great help and motivation from his support team, and that even the journalists appeared to be rooting for the Canadians. Never content to rest on his laurels, LCol O’Keeffe hinted that he was looking forward to June 2009 when he would once again brave the Race Across America.
LCol Tony O’Keeffe Endurance athlete goes the distance
Posted By MIKE KOREEN, WHIG-STANDARD SPORTS REPORTER
“There was this cool pic and it [called Kotland] the fittest man alive,” the director of cadets at Royal Military College recalled yesterday.
“That’s what caught my attention.” That picture, headline and story inspired O’Keeffe, an experienced endurance athlete, to try to follow Kotland’s footsteps in an event that makes a marathon feel like a walk in the park -the three-day Ultraman World Championship in Hawaii, featuring a 10-kilometre swim, a 421-kilometre bike ride and an 84-kilometre run.
Ten years later, it is Kotland doing the following. This past weekend, both men competed at the Ultraman. Kotland placed fourth, two spots behind O’Keeffe, 47, who finished second for the fourth time in as many tries.
“We talked and he asked me if I wanted to come back next year and [be on his support crew]. I told him I’d rather come back and kick his [butt],'” said a laughing O’Keeffe, who also competed in the event from 2002-2004.
A 22-time participant in the more-famous Ironman race, which is about half thedistanceof theUltraman, O’Keeffe makes tremendous sacrifices to train for the latter event.
Every second day, he wakes up at 4:30 a. m. and runs 21 kilometres to work and does the same thing to get home. The personable O’Keeffe doesn’t actually live that far from RMC, but he takes a scenic route to add distance to his run.
When he doesn’t run, O’Keeffe bikes an even longer distance to and from work.
There is only one problem – he can’t swim to work.
“Instead of going for lunch, I just go out in the [pool] for a swim,” O’Keeffe said, giving a simple solution.
The training obviously paid off. With his support crew of his wife, Jackie Cowley, who also works in the military, and military colleague Mike Ward and his wife, Jill, alongside, O’Keeffe finished the event in 22 hours 31 minutes 54 seconds, a time that would have won the race in most years.
“Most folks think, ‘Holy smokes, I wouldn’t drive that far,’ ” O’Keeffe said. “To be honest with you, I see it in people’s eyes [that they are thinking] ‘I wish it was me’ but not enough to actually do all the training.”
O’Keeffe, who has several sponsors, including the Canadian Forces, did give himself a mini-vacation in Hawaii after the Ultraman. He returned to work yesterday after taking the red-eye home.
“I flopped down in the sand and didn’t move,” he said. “I’m trying to get my joints back into some sort of semblance. I’m not walking too straight.”
Still, O’Keeffe plans to keep pushing himself. If you think the Ultraman is tough, it’s a piece of cake compared to the event he plans to enter next year.
For the second time, O’Keeffe will compete in the Race Across America, a non-stop bike race that starts near San Diego and finishes in Atlantic City, N. J. The race takes about 11 days.
In 2006, O’Keeffe finished ninth in the event.
“It’s freaking difficult,” he said. “I can’t see myself doing it again [after next year]. It’s a killer.” But O’Keeffe certainly isn’t done with the Ultraman. “I’d like to win the Ultra overall, really at [the age of] 50 [in 2011],” he said. “I’d really dig it. It has never been done.”
Of course, that won’t be the end of the line, either.
When asked how long he’ll keep competing O’Keeffe said, “Until I’m dead. I really don’t know the answer to that. I’m just going to keep going. It keeps me young.”