Continued from Part 1 …
Mark: The thing I had to deal with on my level with Dave was not that he had the raw talent that I did—not to say that I was at the top of my talent pool—but when the gun went off in Kona, he didn’t care how many times I had beaten him all year long, or where I beat him, or how much I had outrun him by. This is Kona, and it’s a whole different ball game.
Macca: That’s one thing I’ve taken from you guys. I think you found that sometimes you need to pin your fears onto something, and I think Dave’s confidence grew out of that. Dave believed, wholeheartedly, that he was going to win. Sometimes you need to find your thing with which to pin your beliefs on.
Mark: What works for you?
Macca: I like to be vocal. Not overly vocal, but I like to use the people around me to operate the racehow I want. I like to operate it without them realizing that they’re playing the race exactly how I want it to. And I like to tease. If you think of it as tennis, I like to make them make errors. When you’ve been racing with the same people for 10 years, you know their history, you’ve suffered with them; even on Kona, it’s just another day of me racing them and them racing me.
I also get a lot of flak for liking my build. I had all the sports scientists tell me for years that I couldn’t [race], that I was too big at 176 pounds, that I was never going to do it because I was too heavy. I just read an article on this American guy, he’s the biggest man to break 27 minutes on a 10K, so I clipped that article out to give me the confidence to say, yep, boom, there you go.
Mark: I think one of the final things that got me was that up until 1989, there were people who always said you could do it. But when I went into the race in ‘89, everybody was saying that I couldn’t. And when somebody says I can’t do it, I know there’s a chance that I can, and I’m gonna prove all you asses wrong. That was the little bit of fire that I needed. I was talking with Bruce Jenner one day—the decathlete—and he had this idea for a TV show where he would do one-on-one interviews with top athletes to really find out what drives them. Because he said “There’s no way that someone would push their body to that limit unless there was something deep inside that they’re trying to make up for.” Like maybe someone had a horrible childhood…
Macca: Yeah, like your motivation is to get your father to love you, or something.
Mark: Not to get all psychological, but he said he knows a lot of athletes in different sports, and he said that you eventually find out they have something deep that is, on some level, driving them. Personally, I had a rough, abusive childhood. And I don’t want to paint an overly bad picture, but there were certain things, kind of like where you want someone to acknowledge that you are a person of value. I didn’t feel like that was there. In the beginning, that was a large part of what was driving me. That changed partway through the winning streak because I had shown myself that I could do it, and I looked forward to what was next.
Macca: Who did you fear the most? That’s one thing I’ve always wanted to ask you.
Mark: (pause) The guys outside of Dave, probably [Greg] Welch, because he had the raw tools that I know that I didn’t have. I could see what that guy could do when he put half a mind to it.
Macca: I told my friends, Welch is gonna win 10 Konas! Every year, we’d say that this is the year. In ’92 he got sick and in ‘93, we said it was his year, but he broke his arm just before. In ’94, he was able to step up and beat Dave, but he struggled with it.
Mark: That was actually one of the most impressive races I’ve ever watched. When he came within 12 seconds of Dave on the run, I was shitting my pants, because I know what Dave is capable of. Welchie didn’t have this long history with Dave like I do. So when Dave looked back and saw him, you could see the wheels turning in his head, wondering how could be so close, and he sped up.
Mark: So what drove you in the beginning?
Macca: I was driven by the desire to be something. I was inspired. I came from a family that was all education. Sport was something you did on the weekend. In Australia, there was really no such thing as professional sport. Maybe cricket, maybe rugby. I always wanted to travel, and I wanted to be a surfer. Whenever I watched Hawaii, I was always watching surfing, and suddenly I saw this Ironman on the TV. And since I rode a bike to school, I could swim, and I was a good runner, I thought, “I could do that one day!”
I started following the sport, and to me, you guys were bigger than life! I told my parents, one day I’m going to be a professional triathlete. And my dad would say, okay, finish school first, go to college, and then you can do that. After I finished college, I was working as a banker and racing triathlons at the same time; I quit my job, went to my parents, and told them that I was going to be a professional triathlete. I softened the blow by saying, “Look, I finished college, and I want to do this. I don’t think I’m going be that good, but let me go to Europe or America and try to make some money and pay for my trip.” But in my head, I knew this was my chance.
My dad was always very hard. He was very loving, but very hard because he was always about education. And I think my whole career, on some level, I’ve been asking, “Mom and Dad, give me legitimacy that I made the right choice. I’ve supported my family, I’ve bought a house, I’ve done all the things you said—tell me I’ve made the right choice.”
The first time I really saw concern [from my parents] was the year I got second in Kona. I was in the med tent and I thought I was going to die. And my father stood over me and said, “Son, you have two beautiful children. I’m so proud of everything you’ve achieved, and I’m proud of you. Please stop chasing whatever you’re chasing—I hate to see you like this.” I think that was my driving force: Just to make sure the choices I’ve made were the right ones.
Mark: I think my parents went through hell those years, too. My parents would ask if I was sure I wanted to go back, or if [triathlon] was good for my body. I was blind to the bad stuff. All I saw is where I wanted to end up, and I wasn’t there yet. My history shows that I have the potential, and that I have all the other stuff but I didn’t have the one thing I wanted.
Macca: And that’s it. And I still think that is my motivation. I also had the ability to dream as a kid. I got to look up to people and had the ability to try following in their footsteps. I’d get the Triathlete Magazine from overseas, and I’d read it over and over again, because I had nothing else. There was no cable TV, and we didn’t have Internet. Those magazines were all we had. And you guys were like Superman.
Mark: Still, even when you win something and you achieved your goal, you realize that you’re still a real person. If you understand that a champion is still a person behind their accomplishments, it de-mystifies the whole thing. I think a lot of the guys struggle when they try to quit because they forget that they’re a person.
Macca: The sport can be very engrossing, and even the pros now get swept up in the whole machine of it. That’s why I’ve tried to separate myself from the sport. I have friends away from the sport and I have a family life. I think it’s very balancing.
Mark: Who would you spend the day with if you could, somebody you’ve never met?
Macca: I would love to spend a day with Muhummad Ali. I’ve read about him and I’m fascinated by the era he came through. I look at [Ali] as a human being as well as a sportsman, and the trials and tribulations in his life happened at an amazing time in American history. I’d love to talk the boxing side of things, but I also want to know about him as a person, and how he fit into a turbulent time in American history. I’d love to sit down with Lance Armstrong, too, I think he’s a fascinating character.
Mark: I would love to sit down with Barack Obama. I think he would be really interesting. I would love to just say what I think would be the most important thing to try and do right now, and he would have to listen to me!
Macca: It was cool to be here when he was elected; to be a part of history and watching [the 2008 presidential election] unfold. It has been an amazing time in the United States. As a foreigner—I see things differently. Sometimes I hear an American whining about things and I’m like, mate, this is the luckiest country in the world! It’s not without its problems, but here you’ve got a chance. One of the things that triathlon has given me is the opportunity to travel all around the world and see the economies in other places. People say that America’s finished. But I’m like, mate, America’s not finished. This is a land of innovation, a land of thought, and I’ve never seen patriotic people like you. You’re gonna rise from the ashes. It has been an awesome part of my life to be here since late 1999 and 2000 and to see 9/11 unfold, to see the changes, to see you go through your last president, to see the change with Obama, it’s been an interesting time in history.
Mark: Your mom passed away, right?
Macca: ’99, yeah. Breast cancer.
Mark: How was that?
Macca: I think it was the toughest part of my life. I grew up with three brothers, and she was the only female in the house. She had had cancer two years before [she passed away], but then she went into remission. You hear about cancer all the time, but it’s only a word when it happens to other people. It meant nothing until my mom got cancer, and then I saw the connection. She went through chemo and then she got better for a while. But then she was diagnosed with cancer again, and four weeks later she died. In those four weeks, even though I knew she was getting worse—I left. I had all these races lined up in Europe in Japan, leading up to the Olympics. I’d ring home every now and then, asking if she was all right, and she’d tell me, “Oh, I’m good.”
Then I went to the World Cup, which was the selection for the Australian team. I won, I rang home, and my brother said to me, “You need to get home. Right now. Get on a plane right now.” I went home and spent days with her before she died. We had some interesting talks over those five days. I felt guilt beyond guilt. I thought to myself, “Through the worst time of my mom’s life, I was worried about me?” And I struggled. I thought I was the worst son that had ever been.
It took me a good eight months to get out of that hazy darkness, of struggling with myself—with who I was. I think I talked to her more in those last five days than I had in two years, and I felt so guilty about it. I was so busy being a pro triathlete and thinking I was so wonderful that I forgot about the important things. I became more internally focused; I began to care more about family, and I concentrated on the things at hand. I saw that I had been blinded by the aspiration of my sport. But dealing with that guilt— that’s a part of life.
Mark: I think everybody has to wonder, “When my parents die, will I have said everything I wanted to say to them?” Though mine are still alive, they’re going at some point, and I try to treat it like that. It requires such a self-focus to do well [as a triathlete], but like you said, there’s the rest of life going on, too.
Macca: Sometimes you’re so consumed by the sport and you get caught up in that machine. I always tell a story from the point in my life when my mother passed away. I was at the hospital and my father came to me and said, “Son, she’s gone.” As I was walking out of the hospital, I heard this person complaining about not being able to get a parking spot, and I was like, man, this is this machine of life. I’m at the darkest point in my life, and here’s this person complaining about not finding a parking space. You realize then that there’s more to the world than just you.