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“The Voice of Ironman” chats about his illustrious career.
The finish chute of an Ironman triathlon is one of the most iconic of any sport: bright lights, loud spectators and an overwhelming sense of joy. It’s a spectacle unlike any other, driven by a constant refrain of four words: YOU are an Ironman!
Those four words, of course, are inextricably linked with Mike Reilly, “The Voice of Ironman.” Since first taking the microphone in 1989, Reilly has called tens of thousands of Ironman triathletes across finish lines all around the world. On March 5, Reilly will mark his 150th Ironman race at Ironman New Zealand with the same boundless enthusiasm as his first race.
Triathlete.com: Congratulations on calling your 150th Ironman! When you took the microphone for the first time, did you ever dream it would last this long?
Reilly: I would dream how lucky I was to be able to do this and that it would last as long as I had a passion for it, which I still do! If someone said to me back in 1989 I would still be going in 2016 I’d thought they were nuts! But, like the old adage of living one day at a time, I’ve had the attitude to live one Ironman day at a time.
Triathlete.com: How did you become the “Voice of Ironman?”
Reilly: In the early years it just kind of evolved, someone introduced me as that and it kind of stuck. At first, and even still today, it is a little embarrassing and humbling. The bit of insecurity that is in all of us questions, “Do I deserve that title?” Then my secure side says to go out and prove it at every event. That’s why each Ironman is like my first one.
Triathlete.com: What’s your favorite thing about this job?
Reilly: First off, it is very hard for me to call it a job. Yes, there is work involved, it’s a long day, and the preparation prior is detailed. But in the end being able to make people smile, cry, scream, and shout for joy is not work. It’s an honor!
Triathlete.com: You mentioned long days – how many hours are you awake on race day?
Reilly: 21 to 22 hours. I’m up at 4:00 A.M. and to bed by 1:00 or 2:00 A.M.
Triathlete.com: Your energy and enthusiasm is amazing – how do you keep it up for so long?
Reilly: The day actually goes by pretty fast for me. Watching and being a part of an Ironman day is like watching the best long movie ever. There are 2,500 happy endings—what more could you ask for?
Triathlete.com: You’ve had to call a lot of names in your career—including some rather unpronounceable ones. Do you recall any particular monikers that left you tongue-twisted?
Reilly: I have probably correctly pronounced 95% of the names I have ever called, but there are 5% that can be tough. A lot of athletes will send me private Facebook messages on how to pronounce their name, and we’ll put it in the bios for race day. Knowing that someone’s name is really their most prized possession, I—along with all the Ironman announcers in the world—want to get it right. But yes, at times our tongues will twist! One thing that will never be mispronounced: “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
Triathlete.com: What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever witnessed at an Ironman finish line?
Reilly: I get asked that all the time, and I can never remember the one crazy thing. Obviously, there have been finishers doing cartwheels, hand-stands, turning around running in backwards (I have no idea why on this one), ripping shirts off (only men), and people kissing the ground and not being able to then get up.
But one Japanese woman was finishing at a race here in the United States, and when she got to the finish she didn’t cross it, but turned around and ran back out. A few minutes later here she comes again, hits the finish line and turns and runs out again. So now we are all laughing about it as officials were now ready for her at the finish and here she comes again, they grab her (she no doubt was going to do it again) and brought her across the finish line. I don’t recall what I was saying to the crowd but everyone was really into her third finish! We asked her why she did that and her reply was “I didn’t think I had worked hard enough, so I wanted to run more.” Now that is crazy!
Triathlete.com: Do you have a favorite finish-line experience?
Reilly: Up until 2013, that would have been a very hard question to answer. But my most favorite and cherished call of all time was when my son Andy finished Ironman Arizona in 11:29. Announcing my first Ironman when he was 3 years old to bringing him in 24 years later probably won’t be topped. To call him in and watch his big sister put the Mylar blanket around him and his Mom put the finisher medal around his neck and me standing there about ready to lose it – it’s a memory and picture that will be etched in my mind forever. I actually called him an Ironman two times at the finish. I figured I had the right to do that!
Triathlete.com: Is there a particular race location you love most?
Reilly: Ironman New Zealand is in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and of course Kona. But the most beautiful location to me is the finish line, period. No matter where you are in the world, the beauty of an Ironman finish line can’t be beat.
Triathlete.com: What’s a bucket-list race you haven’t yet made it to?
Reilly: Wow, there are a few. I’d love to get to Ironman UK—the British triathletes are so passionate, and it’s growing like crazy there. Also South Africa and Austria. I worked IM Frankfurt once, and it was an incredible experience. The really tough part is there are now so many Ironmans in the world, so my goal is to get to one new one each year.
Triathlete.com: You’ve been a fixture at 150 races so far – will you try for 200?
Reilly: I have never looked ahead at a number, as I believe it’s unhealthy. Like I said before, it’s one Ironman at a time.