Kona’s Final Star, Jeff Schmidt

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.

9 thoughts on “Kona’s Final Star, Jeff Schmidt

  1. Thank you! A great write up. Inspiration comes from such amazing athletes and courageous finishers whether they finish on the podium or at the b.o.p. (back of the pack).

  2. Jeff Schmidt is quite an inspiring athlete and person! Thank you for sharing and capturing the special moment as he never once considered giving up or quitting. I hope to see him in Kona next year!

  3. Jeff had a long day, but was so determined to finish. This course is tough. I have never seen such an amazing event and cohesiveness of people from all over the world. We think our lives our tough, but the endurance and tenacity of these people are like no other.

    Jeff was focused on finishing. He endured a lot of pain, but continued his focus. I am very blessed to have him as my son.

    Congratulations Jeff! I love you, Mom.

  4. Brought tears to my eyes to read Jeff’s story. I was able to finish within the time frame that is given, and I often feel how sad it is that all that started are not allowed to cross that finish line. I believe that the ones that spend the most time out on the course are indeed the TRUE IRONMANS!!

  5. Thanks everyone for your comments. And to Beth, we were privileged to be there when Jeff finished Kona. It was an inspiring end to an amazing day (and night).

  6. What an amazing story. Thank you for sharing that, quite an inspiration. To have the drive to keep going and finish something that only a small percentage will ever take on. The video of Jeff’s finish brought me to tears and I will carry that sense of tenacity with me as I start my Ironman training in two weeks.

    If you go the distance, you are an Ironman, regardless of if it’s “official.”

  7. I feel awful that he was missed, and the finish line was coming down 🙁 but how awesome that Pete and Andrew welcomed him after 140.6 miles. I suspect when Jeff races another Ironman, it’ll be well within the cutoff. Awesome!

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