Saturday 23 June 2012, just before the clock ticks around to ten past five Alex Glasgow crosses the finish line of the inaugural Celtman Extreme Triathlon. He also became the first person entitled to wear the coveted blue T-shirt, awarded to Celtman finishers who complete the course having reached transition T2A within 11 hours. Two years later, at the end of the third Celtman, Jeff Glasbrenner crossed the line after nineteen and half hours to become the 251st winner of a blue Celtman T-shirt and the last man across the line at the end of the 2014 race.
Though only three years old, every edition of Celtman has produced a raft of special memories for those who took on the challenge and those of us who simply watch in awe. 2012 was new with all the excitement of the unknown; 2013, brutal with the strong wind effecting all three sections of the course and then 2014? The last race saw Johan Hasselmark complete the course in a record time of 11:41:30 improving on his 2013 second position and taking the title overseas. However Marie Meldrum, who became the first home winner of the women’s event, maintained Scottish honour. As with all sport there were many at the finishing line to witness Johan’s and Marie’s achievements. Though there were far fewer when Jeff crossed the line, just after midnight, his achievement was their equal.
The cold waters of Loch Shieldaig provide the first of the three Celtman tests. 3.8km of open water culminating at the picturesque fishing village of Shieldaig. At 04:30 the competitors disembark the coaches and enter a field on the southern shore where they are piped to the water’s edge, and enter to take their marks between two safety kayaks. With lightening skies the hooter sounds at 05:00 and Celtman 2014 is underway. The quickest swimmer was out in 49minutes. All but four made the 07:15 cut off. For Glasbrenner it was a good swim and he reached the slipway after 62 minutes of swimming and not suffering too much from the sapping effects of the cold water.
As with all competitors it is a bit of stumble up the cobbled slipway to transition one and the opportunity to get some warmth back in the body before taking to the bike for a 202km route that takes in some of Wester Ross’s breath taking scenery. At Achnasheen the cyclist turn West for the last 30minute push before transition T2. At this stage Stuart McCloud was once more demonstrating what an accomplished performer he is. He had managed to create a clear lead on the cycle leg and reached T2 in first place. Though he was eventually run down by Johan and Chris Stirling in three Celtman’s Stuart has finished 4th (2012) and two third places. He certainly competes by his own hash tag of #neverneverquit.
Jeff came past Achnasheen some 78 minutes behind Stuart but was riding strongly and well within the zone to make the ten mile run over the Coulin Pass and reach T2A before the high route cut off time of 16:00.
This he achieved with fifteen minutes to spare. His reward a further sixteen miles including the summit of two of Beinn Eighe’s Munro peaks. Jeff was just at the start of the first steep climb to the main Beinn Eighe ridge when Johan was crossing the line at Torridon.
With twelve hours of competing now in his legs the exertion of making T2A in time to undertake the high route began to take its toll. With his sister as his support runner and motivator it was just the demands of Beinn Eighe and the battle with his own fatigue that was between Jeff Glasbrenner and the finishing line. The climb up is only part of the problem. On sore and weary limbs the descent down the scree shoots of Coire Mhic Fearchair can be treacherous and painful. A gentle decent on a stone strewn path around the back of Liatach before another short but steep descent to the Glen Torridon road. With the tarmac reached it is a ‘long’ 7km to the shores of Loch Torridon before crossing beneath the finishing banner in the village itself.
On Saturday before Jeff crossed the line 138 of the 155 starters had crossed before him. 46 had qualified for the white T-shirt on the low route and Jeff become the 93rd and last to qualify for the blue T-shirt. At 12:34 on Sunday morning he crossed the line to be congratulated by the Celtman organisers and volunteers who had all stayed to see him home.
When he crossed the line Jeff Glasbrenner became the first amputee to complete Celtman. An accident as an eight year had left the man from Arkansas with a below the knee amputation of the right leg.
A veteran of over twenty ironman triathlons, Jeff conceded that Celtman was the toughest. He achieved his Celtman blue T-shirt without favour for his disability but as a sportsman, which first and foremost he is. Those who have won the right to wear either a Celtman blue short or white shirt and joined by the camaraderie born of their achievements. The order in which they crossed the line is in many ways irrelevant.
The results will show that Johan crossed the line first. Jeff may have been the last to cross but he won the race for amputees – first amongst equals, a tribute to the spirit that makes Celtman and all of its competitors special.