Sam is the first openly Autsitic Ironaman Triathlete. He is an incredibly driven & determined athlete, who motivates others in the neurodiverse community to take part in sport & promotes the benefits being active can have.
Sam, with the help of his Dad and Coach Tony, has big plans for his career. With his impressive achievements to date, including completing the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Utah, we can't wait to see where Sam will go! 🏆
At ManCave, we had the pleasure of interviewing Sam and Tony to find out more about Sam’s career ambitions, experiences as an Autistic athlete and what goes into Sam’s success.
Why is Autism your Superpower?
Sam: Autism is my superpower because it makes me stronger, faster, focused, not easily distracted and best of all it improves my confidence and self-esteem.
Tony: We use the term ‘disability’ to describe a lot of people. It's not a disability, it's people with extreme ability. Because they're doing things that neurotypical people can’t do, so it can't be a disability. They are super people; that's where the super power comes from. Then you ask what a super power is - something extraordinary and unique. Our role as parents is to find Sam’s super powers and unleash them.
I think the main thing about your (Sam's) superpower is that it’s what makes you fast. Your autism makes you a good runner, it makes you concentrate for long periods. It's’ all the good things, it means you're determined, you're relentless. And that’s just what you've got to keep doing... The more you do it the better you’ll get.
The other thing I think your superpower does, it allows you to prove to everybody in the world that your autism can be a superpower. That autism doesn't stop you from being great, it is what makes you great.
If someone who is Autistic wanted to take up a sport, what would you say to them?
Sam: Don’t let your disability make you not take up sport - just do it.
Tony: It’s been life changing for us. It's rewarding as well. I'm not saying everyone can do it. It’s the sense of achievement I think is really important and how you go about measuring success. I think Sam is unique and he is exceptional. We didn’t plan this to be where we are.
And you know for other families that have autistic children, I know you said that don’t let disability stop you from doing sport. But I would say to all families out there, who have autisitc children, just keep going, Dream, never give up, find that child’s gift, nurture it and grow it. It’s so rewarding and such an amazing thing, Mum and dad never gave up on you no way and look at you today.
So it doesn’t matter if they can swim, run, write, or paint. Whatever it is just never give up on your child because it’s such an amazing thing.
How important is Sam’s recovery routine?
Tony: Part of our training regime is you need to rest to recover. I think probably one of the biggest upsides from sports for Sam is that he sleeps better than people on the spectrum who don't sleep a lot. He is sleeping 10 hours a day minimum now. That allows him to recover physically and mentallu. I didn’t know about the power of sleep.
We call it the Federer - he trains in the morning, has lunch and sleeps most days between 2-5. And he gets up energised and works out again for 2-3 hours.
How key is Sam’s setting a routine for Sam?
Tony: A key driver for us is for Sam to have some independence. We work with him to help him cook for himself and he does his washing - things like that. Sports has done that - its given routine.
Routine is a key thing. You already have your routine set out in training peaks - so you know what you’re doing tomorrow - what are you doing tomorrow?
Sam: Stage 6 on Zwift and Hey for 8 hill reps and rest.
So we have everything planned through to his first race, this means it's easy - Sam can wake up in the morning and know exactly what we have to do. There is none of the pressures of going to work. It's the predictability that's really important here.
Tony: Sam, you have names for your hill reps don't you? And they're all named after his favourite movies. What are they?
Hey for 8
12 Dirty Dancing
11 Oceans 11
Tony: What equipment do you have in your paincave?
Indoor cycle zwift - Timone
Treadmill - Simba
Rower - Pumba
Tony: All named after characters from his favourite film - the Lion King.
What’s your best achievement to date? / favourite ironman race?
Sam: Because it has lots of ups and downs. During race day we didn’t get any hot sun, just thunder, lightning and a sand storm. It was hard because I had to know when the sand storm was coming. I wore my glasses so sand didn’t go in my eyes.
Tony: Watching him finish at Utah was a great moment, watching him run at a standard triathlon when he had big GI issues, and it took him an hour to run a 5k that he normally runs in sub 19 minutes because his stomach was gone and he wouldn’t stop - it was quite amazing.
What’s your main goal with triathlon?
Tony: Aim to run sub 9 on a full Ironman and Sub 3 hour on a marathon (two short-term goals).
Sam: I am going to defeat those Brownlees!
Tony: Every day he has had to overcome adversities. We are where we are today and we are happy and we are proud. Always overachieving and exceeding expectations - the story of his and our life.
To learn more about Super Sam Holness, check out our video below: