Port Elizabeth pro triathlete Kyle Buckingham started off having a dream of becoming a professional surfer, but little did he know that he would end up becoming an Ironman world champion.
Now, after a journey which has taken him all over the world, he is aiming for a podium place at this year’s Ironman African Championships in Port Elizabeth on Sunday.
It all started when he moved to London more than a decade ago after three years of studying in Port Elizabeth. He found a job in the electrical field.
In his first year all he did was work and save money as his dream was to travel the world and surf the most exotic spots on the planet.
“I tried my hardest to become a pro surfer but just couldn’t make it. However my surfing was pretty good, busting aerial moves and so on,” said Buckingham.
“One day on the way to work I was walking past a travel agency and thought it would be an awesome idea to buy an around the world ticket and surf the places I had in mind.
“I had to think about it for a week and went back cashing in my travellers cheques from under my mattress, which was my piggy bank, and bought the ticket.
“I told my mom that I was going to surf around the world on my own for a year and she had a little freak out.”
After travelling for 11 months and seeing eight countries, he decided to go back to London to continue working as an electrician.
Eventually he discovered the Ironman triathlon while living in a house he shared with friends.
“One of my friends was training for it and after about six months hearing about his training every day, something just triggered and I thought ‘why don’t I give this a try’.
“So after buying a fancy bike, a pair of running shoes and a free programme online I was set to go.
“Training in London was never going to be easy, especially having grafted manual labour all day on a construction site. I wasn’t in any ideal shape to train in the evening, but I kept going no matter how tired I was.”
Buckingham said he used to start training from 6pm to 10pm every night and only finished eating dinner at 11pm, before jumping into bed. That went on for three years.
He would do most of his training indoors on a bike trainer and a treadmill, preceded by a warm-up jog to the gym.
His first ever triathlon was the Ironman South Africa in 2009 where he finished 66th overall in 10 and a half hours.
After returning to London, he entered a few Ironman 70.3 events and qualified in his first one for the 2009 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Florida.
The following year he competed in South Africa again and took off 65 minutes off his previous year’s time, coming second in his age-group and qualifying for the World Champs in Hawaii in 2010.
Unfortunately he was not able to make the trip to Hawaii.
In 2011 he did not have a good race in South Africa, suffering two punctures in the opening 30km of the bike ride and later becoming ill.
His brother was also doing the Ironman that year and not having the race he wanted either, they crossed the finish line together.
Later that year Buckingham entered an Ironman event in Regensburg, Germany, which proved a turning point for him.
“I suddenly realised I was capable of becoming a pro triathlete one day, finishing Ironman Germany seventh overall in a time of eight hours and 56 minutes.”
In 2012 he came back to Ironman South Africa and won his age-group in nine hours and 27 minutes through some of the worst winds he has ever seen in an Ironman. He again qualified for Hawaii.
“That was the year after having gone to work every day in London dreaming that I could land a sponsor to start my dream career and not work on a building site again.
“It was the day after the race in South Africa that I contacted Trevor Mclean Anderson, the founder of Axis House and Velocity Sports Lab. I bought a plane ticket the next day to Cape Town, sat down very nervous and left with a dream in my hands.
“I went back to London, told my fiancé the great news, and started packing our bags to move back to South Africa for good.”
Buckingham went on to win his age-group category at the Ironman World Champs in Kona in 2013.
The following year he became the Lake Placid Champion and last year the Ironman Vineman champion.