Shannon Eckstein has produced one of the most extraordinary performances of an already celebrated career to put himself back in the race for an unprecedented 10th Nutri-Grain Ironman Series at North Cronulla tomorrow.
Less than 24-hours after being released from hospital and with his shredded little toe stitched up, the Northcliffe ironman king returned to the beach and to the top of the winner’s podium.
He conquered swirling, rain and windswept two-metre waves to take the honours in the grueling Accumulator Round which included three individual swim, board and ski races followed by a traditional ironman, finishing ahead on overall points from Day One second-placegetter Matt Poole (Kurrawa) and fellow Gold Coast youngster Luke Cuff (Mermaid Beach), who body-surfed his wave into third.
Sitting in fourth after the three individual races, Eckstein finished second to Kurrawa’s Matt Bevilacqua in the traditional ironman format worth double points – taking the victory by two points.
The Ironwoman went to Newport’s Georgia Miller who came through with her own “comeback story” from a December appendectomy to snatch a closely fought women’s race from Currumbin’s Nurthen sisters Amy and Karlee.
Miller won the ironwoman after sitting in sixth place before the all-important final race to take the victory by three points with Amy Nurthen celebrating her 25th birthday and the sisters first Series podium.
Eckstein later revealed three-and-a-half hours of medical rounds from the surf club first aid room to the local medical centre before finally reaching Sutherland Hospital triage where his little toe was cleaned, stitched and numbed with painkillers.
Still salty and sandy, he returned to the beach before finally relaxing back in his hotel room – without the usual recovery of a warm down, ice-bath and stretching.
His medical and support team revealed that the treating medicos really had no understanding of who they were treating and what he had on his mind – to dive back into the surf and one of the toughest arenas inn sport.
He ordered some room service at his hotel and settled back to watch the Queensland Reds (win the Super Rugby) hoping the surf conditions would turn around – and they certainly did with a thumping 1.5-2m swell making it anyone’s day.
“Initially I was told to stop eating and drinking, not that I had anything anyway, because they wanted to put me into surgery…until I said ‘no way’…I’ve got to race tomorrow,” said Eckstein.
“So they just loosely stitched me up with four stitches and a numbing needle and prescribed me with antibiotics.
“I will return home on Monday and they will open me up again and re-stitch it properly…the important thing was to stop the infection and I stayed out of the pool and the chlorine today and had a swim in the surf before the racing.”
Eckstein and Poole will go into the Eliminator round tomorrow locked together on 194 points from Kendrick Louis (Manly) 190, Bevilacqua (184), rookie Dan Collins (Redhead) 182, Round One winner Ali Day (Surfers Paradise) and Cuff 178, Ben Carberry (Burleigh Heads-Mowbray Park), 168 and veteran Nathan Smith (Manly) 167 with Northcliffe Kiwi Cory Taylor rounding out the top 10 on 164.
Miller said she I had no idea what points she had going into the ironwoman so to come away with the win she was “absolutely shocked.”
“The surf adds so much excitement and fun for everyone, tough for us sometimes but for me just to be here is so satisfying – after having and emergency appendix operation on December 5 – I thought my whole season was over,” Miller said.
“I started doing some slow stuff after a couple of weeks but it was six weeks before I could get back and train properly and I had to be so careful and getting fit was really hard so to win this round today, I cant stop smiling, my cheeks are getting sore.”
The Ironwoman remains wide open with Northcliffe’s world champion Harriet Brown leading the way on 190 points and chasing her first Series from three-times Series winner Courtney Hancock (Northcliffe) fourth today, on 186, Maddy Dunn (Northcliffe) 182, Miller 181, Karlee Nurthen (Currumbin) 180, Jemma Smith (Umina) and Rebecca Creedy (Kurrawa) 178 round one winner Lizzie Welborn (North Bondi) 175, birthday girl Amy Nurthen (Currumbin) 175 and Emma Dick (Mermaid) 171.
2017 Nutri-Grain IronMan Finals Series accumulator full results:
1. Shannon Eckstein; 2. Matt Poole; 3. Luke Cuff; 4. Matt Bevilacqua; 5. Kendrick Louis; 6. Daniel Collins; 7. Ben Carberry; 8. Nathan Smith; 9. James Lacy; 10. Hayden White; 11. Jay Furniss; 12. Hayden Allum; 13. Tanyn lyndon; 14. Ali Day; 15. Jackson Maynard; 16. Max Brooks; 17. Cory Taylor; 18. TJ Hendy; 19. Wes Berg; 20. Isak Costello.