Inaugural Winner back for this Saturday’s Tauranga Half
Karen Williams with the Winners Medal following the 1990 Tauranga Half. This Saturday, the iconic Tauranga Half celebrates its 30th Anniversary at Mount Maunganui. Among the competitors on the start line at Pilot Bay will be inaugural woman’s winner, and record entrant for the event – Karen Williams. This will be Williams’ 29th tilt at the Tauranga Half, missing only the 2017 event following major surgery.
Karen Williams, who has become somewhat of an event icon, still fondly remembers the inaugural race on 2 January 1990.
She arrived in Tauranga late on New Year’s Day, due to her husband working late. She stayed in a tiny tent on a sloping property, and recalls getting “next to no sleep” before the event. Despite this, less than ideal preparation, determination kicked in once the starters’ gun went off, and Williams emerged from the swim on Pilot Bay in second place. She quickly took the lead on the bike leg, and was never headed from this point, winning the inaugural Tauranga Half in a time of 4h 53min 53 secs.
There were no wild celebrations following the win, with Williams racing back to Auckland to catch a flight to Los Angeles, as she was working as a flight attendant at the time.
One of her main memories from the inaugural event was the incredible support from locals. Karen Williams said “from day one, the local support made it my favourite triathlon event.”
Williams has made an annual excursion to the Mount each January for the Tauranga Half, saying “the people and the atmosphere drag me back each year”. In recent years, another attraction has been - “catching up with some of the 'original' hardened triathletes from the early days of this event.”
Since the inaugural win in 1990, Karen Williams has been on the start line of the Tauranga Half more than any other athlete, missing only one year in the event’s history. This was the 2017 event following surgery to her right shoulder. Williams said – “it broke my heart not being able to compete that year but I felt that my shoulder needed extra time to heal”
Her’ determination to complete every Tauranga Half was to the fore in 2009 & 2010 when William’s overcame major injuries and extreme discomfort to complete these events.
In 2008, she was hit by a concrete truck while out cycling. This meant that she did the 2009 Tauranga Half unable to use her left leg effectively. She did the swim kicking with one leg only, and wore a full leg brace to walk the 21km run.
She had major surgery to realign and rebuild the left leg. Weakness in her left leg resulted in a fall which dislocated her elbow and broke bones in her arm three weeks before the 2010 event. She ended up doing the swim leg using just one arm, and getting special dispensation from race organisers to swim with a sleeveless wetsuit to make it easier to pull off the wetsuit, with the use of one arm.
With only one arm functional while riding meant she was unable to change gears, so stayed in the same gear for the entire 90k bike leg. Having use of only one arm also meant that she didn’t have a spare hand to be able to eat or drink on the bike journey. She even struggled to get her helmet on with one hand, and required assistance to do up the helmet strap. Despite, these extreme challenges, Williams’ determination saw her complete this Tauranga Half.
This determination to complete every Tauranga Half has made Karen Williams a legend of the event. She was given the ‘keys to the city’ by the Tauranga Mayor, along with fellow Tauranga Half legend Cameron Brown, in a special Council presentation.
Williams says she will continue to be at the event each year due to - “the support from people on the sideline or competing. People, who sometimes I have not seen for years, are on the sidelines calling out support”
The Tauranga Half which takes place this Saturday (12 January) is the headline event for the Mount Festival of Multisport which includes a range of athletic and community events in Mount Maunganui from 11-13 January.