Editor’s note:This story comes from GU President & COO, Tal Johnson.
When the celebration is over, crowds and cameras are gone, and all that remains is what’s left of the finish line, will you have the courage to finish what you started? Jeff Schmidt did, and for that simple fact he leaves a significant imprint on us.
The last official Ironman finisher crossed the line in 16:59:33; Harriet Anderson —77 years old—gave the crowd plenty of drama and excitement. But the grand finale was still taking shape in the shadows along Ali’i Drive and wouldn’t become apparent until long after the TV cameras had gone home for the night.
At midnight in Kona, race organizers let runners who are still on course know that they are not finishers. Despite effort that is unimaginable for most, they are given the news that they will not reach their goal, at least for that day. It must be heartbreaking work for the organizers.
But somehow they missed Jeff Schmidt.
While a huge crowd celebrated the conclusion of this year’s Kona, Jeff Schmidt was, unbeknownst to us, still running along Ali’i Drive, cheered on by friends and family. By 12:20 AM, the crowd at the finish line had dispersed and volunteers had begun the late night task of preparing the street for morning.
That’s when I saw Jeff Schmidt. He was running through a finishing chute that minutes before was lined with people, but now was mostly empty, except for the volunteers who had begun to dismantle and stack sponsor signs.
About 20 feet from the finish, Jeff tripped on a small stack of those signs. But he kept moving forward, toward a finish line that seemed to be going away just as he was arriving. Maybe Jeff was unaware that the official time for finishing had passed; maybe he knew but didn’t care.
When he crossed the line, the only people left were organizers, several volunteers, and those spectators who couldn’t bring themselves to leave a place that had just been the scene of so much human achievement.
Yuri Hauswald from GU found Andrew Messick (Ironman CEO), who moved quickly to greet this year’s last finisher. Men’s winner Pete Jacobs was also still there. He congratulated Jeff for finishing, only to be congratulated by Jeff for winning.
Jeff Schmidt finished after midnight and therefore he may not be official. But sometimes what goes in the record books isn’t the only thing that matters. At Kona, it’s the heart and determination that so many show along the way.
Jeff finished without the huge crowd. He did it after the glare of TV was gone. He did it on one prosthetic leg and with one huge heart.
And for that, there’s really only one thing to say about his achievement.
Jeff Schmidt, you are an Ironman.