After missing Kona last year due to injury, Ben Hoffman returns to the Big Island with a renewed appreciation for it all—and with a new superfan in his cheer squad.

They say a happy athlete is a fast athlete—and if that’s the case, watch out for American Ben Hoffman on Saturday. The new dad, whose daughter Josie was born a month ago, says he’s in great shape and can’t wait to race in front of an extensive group of family and friends who’ve traveled to Hawaii to support him.

Hoffman was sidelined last year due to a sacral stress fracture, so this year is excited to be back. It’s been a different 2019 season for him since returning from injury, with a busy spring—including an impressive win at Ironman South Africa—and then what he calls a “quieter” back half of the season.

“It’s been a season of two halves and these last few months have been quieter—quieter when it comes to racing at least, as we had our daughter Josie a month ago, which was part of the reason for that quieter back half of the year,” he says. “The silver lining of all of that is that I have a lot more energy for racing and I’m not over-raced; I feel like I’m pretty fresh.”

Hoffman is in Hawaii this year with an impressive entourage of family and friends, all of whom he is excited to see out on course on race day, and none more so than his wife Kelsey and their baby girl.

“This year we have a huge crew—both my parents are here, my sister and her husband, my massage therapist, my coach, and a whole crew of people coming from Tucson who will all be out there on course. It’s really an opportunity to get our community together to experience this beautiful island, both for the race and afterward, as we all really love being here. It’s not just where I get to do my job at the highest level, but it’s also a chance for us to get together as a family.”

When it comes to the race itself, Hoffman says he is most looking forward to getting out onto the Queen K.

“Physically, I feel really good right now; I’m confident in my swim, my bike, and my run, but getting out on the Queen K—that’s when I think things will really sink in, that’s when you realize you’re out there in this beautiful environment, this extreme environment, and you realize you really are racing the Ironman World Championship. After missing last year due to injury, I think that’s going to be a special moment for me to be out there with everyone, to realize I’m doing what I really love to do and what I missed out on doing last year.”

He says the men he’s most interested in racing are former Kona champion and good friend Sebastian Kienle, as well as Jan Frodeno, but there are a host of others.

“I think Sebastian is in great form and probably a big threat for the podium, if not the win,” he says. “Jan is back in full form and showing us how to be a world-class athlete and consummate professional. It’s definitely exciting to race those guys, and then there are also a lot of Americans out here this year, so, of course, there’ll be a great battle for the top American honors.”

Like much of the men’s pro field, Hoffman can’t quite discount Canadian Lionel Sanders either. “He is always a wild card. He’s a little bit more rested and coming off a similar injury to me, so he’s probably very appreciative to be here and to be healthy, and we might see a big performance out of him. And, of course, you can’t look past the two-time champion Patrick Lange.”

He adds: “There’s a huge field of guys and I think just being out there with all of them is an honor, for sure. I definitely consider myself one of the best guys in the world, but I guess Saturday will determine who’s the best of them all.”