Chris Walker: The journey of an Ironman
Triathlon in Gibraltar has hit the headlines in local sport for over a decade and the Rock possesses an impressive trophy cabinet on the international stage.
Chris Walker has a long list of triathlon medals to his name since arriving to Gibraltar 22 years ago, initially as a rugby player.
However, after a few injuries, he picked up cycling and swimming to maintain his fitness, but that soon progressed to a passion he could never let go of.
Walker was approached in the year 2000 by a member of GASA who knew of his running and cycling exploits and suggested he take part in a triathlon.
“It was the first time, totally by chance, that the sport had crossed my mind,” he said.
Walker took heed and signed up for a triathlon in La Linea that weekend in what was the beginning of an endless love affair with the sport.
“I was hooked instantly and, even though I was 33 at the time and beyond my best years to do anything at an elite level, I knew that I could be competitive in the Andalusian circuit.” he said. “I immediately knew as soon as I completed the race that this was my sport.”
Walker, along with other local triathletes Sigurd Haveland, Tim Garcia and Richard Muscat, decided to set up the Gibraltar Amateur Triathlon Association in October 2000.
The next step was to apply for membership to the world governing body, the International Triathlon Union, so that Gibraltar could be recognised in competition.
“I contacted the president of the association Les McDonald and it turned out that his grandfather was stationed on the Rock during the World War I,” he said. “He was therefore aware of Gibraltar and its history, was extremely supportive and immediately made us members.”
Triathlon debuted in the Sydney Olympics that year and the association was very eager to signup new national federations to strengthen its case as an Olympic sport.
“This was extremely important for the development of the sport in Gibraltar,” he said.
The triathlon enthusiasts then formed the ‘Hercules’ club to compete in the Andalusian league and have done so for the last 15 years.
“We have never had any issues in Spain and we compete like any other club from the region,” he said. “However, they all know that we are ‘Hercules’ from Gibraltar.”
At this point Walker would sign up to any and every race that he could get his hands on in his drive to become a stronger triathlete.
“I must have put my family through hell as every weekend we would travel all over the place to race,” he said. “I was so hungry to learn and try and better myself. Once I got a racing bike I started to finish in the top ten in every race and I got a couple of podiums in my first few years.”
The triathlon team were approached to compete in the 2001 Island Games in the Isle of Man where four of them made the trip over. It was to be the first time the sport was to appear in the programme.
“That was my first time representing Gibraltar in international competition and there was quite a bit of pressure,” he said. “Prince Edward started off the race and there were a decent number of Gibraltar fans who came to watch. That gave me real motivation to do well. I finished fourth unfortunately, but it was a good experience.”
Because of that the team had the opportunity to qualify for the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002, another games debut for the sport.
“It was live on BBC and all the competitors were introduced. I do not think that anyone expected such magnitude for this event,” he said. “It was incredible that we had over 80,000 people watching and I was paralysed. It was that bad and speaking to the professionals there they said that they had never experienced anything like it. We were all blown away and I will never forget that.”
As Walker dived into the water all he could hear were the muffled cheers of the crowd and countless flashes from the photographers every time he surfaced.
“We finished in the top 75% in what was a wonderful race,” he said. “The front page of the Telegraph the next day had the start of the race that featured Sigurd Haveland and myself. We could not believe it. Gibraltar was there at the very beginning and evolved alongside the sport in those early years.”
Gibraltar can now boast a long list of triathletes who have completed the Ironman race, a competition that pushes athletes to cover unfathomable distances.
Walker competed in the first ever Ironman competition in 2002 and managed to gain a place in the World Championship in Hawaii.
“I would find it difficult to explain the distances to people and they would find it difficult to comprehend. It is absolutely crazy but it is what it is,” he said. “It is not about how fast you do it, but rather completing it.”
Robert Matto recently broke the national Ironman record with a time of nine hours 28 minutes in this year’s event in Barcelona.
The previous record was held by Walker since 2012 which he achieved in the Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, Germany with a time of nine hours 36 minutes.
“This is what I love. Part of my motivation for the Ironman was to set a benchmark that motivated people to say ‘I want to beat that time’,” he said. “I am really proud of Robert for beating my time. Records are there to be broken.”
Walker won an individual silver medal at the 2003 Island Games in Guernsey, but he does not put it down as one of his best.
He believes that the benchmark time he set in Frankfurt for the Iron Man European Championships in 2012 is by far his most prestigious achievement.
“I felt complete euphoria and the only thing that could get close to that was when my children were born,” he said.
“Becoming World Champion for my age group in the standard distance race last year in Edmonton was another fantastic achievement for me. It was a perfect race and I could not have gone any quicker.”
Walker has always reflected on what could have been if he would have started his triathlon career at a younger age in terms of becoming professional.
“Would I have been good enough to be able to make a living as a professional athlete?” he said. “When I won the World Championships against ex-professionals it confirmed to me that I would have been good enough to do that, albeit not as one of the best.”