MARK Wolfe, managing director at Atkins Garden Centre, has set himself quite a challenge. He’s going to compete in his first ironman race in Killarney on August 23; a 3.8km swim, followed by a 180km cycle around the Ring of Kerry, followed by a marathon in Killarney National Park.
Mark is spurred on by a personal competitive drive and by a desire to raise funds for a charity of particular significance to him. The Wolfe family lost their father, Peter, to lung cancer in January 2014. Mark will donate his proceeds to the Irish Cancer Society having competed in the gruelling competition in memory of his dad.
His fundraising success is far exceeding his initial targets, a fact he modestly attributes more to Peter Wolfe’s popularity than any of his own efforts: “The support I’m getting from suppliers is probably more in recognition of the relationship they had with my dad; I’m cashing in his goodwill chips!”
And cashing them in he most certainly is; after setting an initial goal of €2,260 , he was bowled over by an early donation of €3,500 from one of Atkins’ suppliers. “I added another zero, so €22,600 is the target now. It’s not impossible — the suppliers here have given me great support, I can’t thank them enough.” To date, Mark has raised €14,500 from both personal donations and from suppliers.
Mark is the fifth generation of the Wolfe family to manage Atkins, which was started as a joint venture between the Wolfe family and the Atkins family. “My father would have managed the business for around 30 years,” he said, “He retired a number of years ago and I’m the managing director now.”
Peter Wolfe was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in July 2013. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the lung and is commonly associated with asbestos exposure. Mark remembers his father as a role model, a calm man who cherished simplicity and family. “He didn’t like people who make things complicated. He liked dealing with farmers, people with a simple outlook,” Mark says.
Peter died in January 2014, and it’s clear to see that Mark is still struggling with the grief of bereavement. Taking part in this race has become a part of his grieving process and a way of commemorating his father.
“One piece of advice I got from a colleague six months ago was, ‘Don’t let your father pass without telling him whatever it is that you want to tell him.’
“So I did that, I went and told him that he was my role model. That was good, to be able to do that.”
The training for an ironman is arduous, and Mark is approaching the toughest part; his regime will ease off for the two weeks before the competition, but prior to the interview, he had just completed a five-hour cycle, followed immediately by an hour-long run.
Expending so much energy must mean that he’s putting away a lot of extra calories? “It’s out of control all right. Every few hours I have to have a meal. By 11 o’clock I could have had three breakfasts!”
Mark’s wife Anne is understanding because she’s also a keen sportswoman, and will be in Killarney to cheer him on.
Of Mark’s six siblings, five of them are triathletes. Mark’s sister Joyce has taken part in nine ironman competitions in total. “One brother and one sister were always sporty and always swam, but the rest of us all came to it later in life — of course when time was less available.”
Mark himself, a father of four, started running in his late 30s , to get a little time to himself and de-stress. He built up to triathlons slowly, but has been competing in them for the last three years.
So how did he first get interested in doing an ironman race? “I remember when I first heard about ironman races I thought, that’s daft, anyone who’d do that has a problem! Then after one or two shorter races, the thought crept up on me.”
He considers swimming his weakest event: “Normally when I come out of the water all the bikes are gone from the transition area. I feel like superman then when I start passing people out; except the good ones. They’re long gone!”
Although he says he has a competitive drive, Mark’s personal goals for his first ironman are not to win, but simply to hold his own in each section of the race.
“My target is actually to manage my effort so that through the marathon I run the whole way and not end up walking,” he said, “The second half of the marathon is apparently pretty tough going.”