This ‘Openly Autistic' Triathlete Is Crushing Ironman Competitions

This ‘Openly Autistic' Triathlete Crushes IronmansSportgraf
person completing a race

Roughly one in five of us live with some form of what’s usually called ‘a disability’.But difference is not weakness – in fitness, work or life. MH spoke to five men about how the things that once held them back have ultimately unleashed their potential.

‘I HAVE A FAVOURITE SHIRT I wear at every race. It says boldly in big letters, "Autism is my superpower." I don’t see my autism as a disability but as an advantage, because being autistic allows me to be ultra-focused and not easily distracted during endurance races. I see myself as an athlete with autism rather than an autistic athlete.

My autism probably plays a role in how energised I feel. My dad thinks it’s crazy how I can rise and shine without ever thinking, “I really don’t feel like training today.” It’s routine to wake up and train every day except for Friday, my rest day. I just do it, even when I have to train in a 40°C heat chamber. During a race, I can cycle for 112 miles without losing concentration. I’ll tell myself, “Come on, legs,” and keep going. It’s just how my brain works. I will never give up.

man cycling
Holness racing the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Frankfurt, Germany in 2022.Sportgraf

Earning my degree in sports science has helped with many of the tools that are necessary to become a competitive triathlete. This includes the use of metrics such as VO2 max, heart rate and power output during cycling and running. I focus on increasing or decreasing those numbers to improve my performance. Last year, I completed the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Utah, and a reporter said that I was the first autistic person to do it. My dad and I corrected them. I was the first openly autistic person. Autism is an invisible condition. We assumed there had to have been many autistic athletes competing. Sure enough, plenty of individuals soon started coming forward.

Holness completing the swim portion of the competition.Hearst Owned

I compete against neurotypical people because there isn’t a category for people like me with intellectual disability. I want everyone to not only see me as a person, but see what people and athletes like me can accomplish.’

A version of this article appeared in the March 2023 issue of Men's Health.

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