The question is always looming for Bill Linder, so as he shows off his medals from the various marathons and triathlons hes competed in, he doesnt wait for the question to be asked. He just answers it.
The 79-year-old Ironman competitor says he wont be calling it quits until his body forces him to. The oldest American at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, Linder finds himself in a separate competition with himself, hoping his body can last as long as his emotional commitment to the event.
Ive gotten along this far, and a lot of my buddies are gone, Linder says. Theres a lot of competition. Every older triathlete that gets to the Ironman level wants to be the oldest one to do it. Everyone wants to be the last one.
The Ironman race is the ultimate long-distance triathlon consisting of a 2.4-mile open water swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run, completed in that order without a break. This trip to Hawaii will be Linders eighth time competing in the Ironman World Championship, scheduled Saturday, and he has completed the race twice.
Linder has two corked lamp posts that he hangs his many medals on, the majority of which are from Boston Marathons, the Florida Ironman and various marathons and triathlons in South Carolina. He brings out a traditional Hawaiian wooden bowl that he got for his second-place finish in his age division at the 2011 Ironman World Championship. To qualify for the world championship, Linder must win his age division at a regional Ironman competition, so he typically competes in the Florida Ironman.
The first time I went I thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Linder says. But then as I met people there who had been several years, I thought, maybe not.
When Linders son was in high school, he asked Linder if he could enter a triathlon at The Citadel. Linder obliged on the condition that he could compete in it, too. While his son sticks primarily to biking now, Linder was drawn to the competition and the challenge, so he continued entering races, eventually getting involved in Ironman.
I guess people know about it because I miss church pretty often, Linder said. I think no one really believed it for a while.
Linders children love seeing their dad so active for his age. While Linders son is on a recreational bike team in Paris, Linders daughter often competes in open-water swims in New York where she lives. Linders wife, Lynne Linder, is happy for her husband, but cant help but worry about his health and safety when hes competing.
Im always going to be glad to hear from him after the race, Lynne says.
Linders noticed his body already start to fail him in some ways. When he gets exhausted after nearly 17 hours of physical activity, Linder starts to lean to one side as he runs. Hes seen various doctors to find a way to prevent the lean thats become a signature for him, but hes started to believe its just him losing strength with age.
That wont keep Linder from trying to take advantage of being the youngest in the 80-84 age group next year. Hes changed his diet to vegan for better health, and hell compete in Ironman Florida just a few weeks after he returns from Hawaii in hopes of qualifying for the 2014 world championship.
It may be the hardest one-day event, Linder says. I like a challenge.
South Carolina participants in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii:
Chris Boettcher, Roebeck; Paul Butler, Hodges; Nick Felix, Hilton Head; Forrest Fowler, Travelers Rest; Steven Holshouser, Fort Mill; Bill Linder, Columbia; Robert Tayor; Benjamin Winterroth, Okatie