A gold-titanium alloy suit powered by an arc reactor and aided by a super AI in JARVIS - these might be the first images that come to mind when people hear the word ‘Ironman’ but very few, especially in the Bangladeshi context, would imagine it to synonymise an athlete in flesh and blood.
Bangladesh’s Mohammad Shamsuzzaman Arafat is the country’s only athlete to have attained the honour of being called an Ironman as he completed the wearying triathlon in 2021 in Utah, USA.
Out of the 3,597 triathletes who took part, 2,284 competitors completed the challenge. Arafat was placed 492nd.
The Ironman competition is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organised by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC), consisting of a 3.86 km swim, a 180.25 km bicycle ride and a marathon 42.20 km run completed in that order.
In the Ironman World Championships, the biggest event hosted by WTC, Arafat completed the gruelling race in 11 hours and 32 minutes. The athlete swam 3.9 km in 1 hour and nine minutes, rode his bike across 180.25 km in five hours and 51 minutes, and took four hours and 18 minutes to complete the 42.20 km marathon.
A triathlon athlete has to complete multiple Ironman races to get a chance to compete in the world championship. Arafat had to strengthen three skills immaculately to get the opportunity to take part in the world championships.
The sport, which is still unfamiliar to many in Bangladesh, attracted Arafat in 2015 when he ran a marathon in India. From there, the avid sports enthusiast decided to delve deep into the Ironman requirements.
Arafat admitted that he too wasn’t familiar with the sport and upon discovery, he decided to use his previous experience in training to give it a go.
“When I was studying at Dhaka University, an opportunity to climb Mount Everest came. I completed the three-month mountaineering training but couldn’t make it. After that I decided to put my training, predominantly running, to good use,” he told the Business Post on Thursday.
“I browsed the internet for further information, and I was very intrigued by the challenge,” he added.
In 2017, Arafat became the first Bangladeshi to have run from Teknaf to Tetulia, a distance of 1004 km in 20 days. With his running skills honed, Arafat shifted his focus to swimming. He crossed the Bangla Channel on several occasions. After he mastered these two skills, he focused on cycling before taking part in the Ironman Malaysia 2017, where he placed 278 among 1011 participants.
Following his success in Malaysia, Arafat went to the 2019 Ironman European Championship in Frankfurt, Germany and raced in Malaysia again in the same year, placing 884 and 182 respectively.
Despite this success, Arafat, who works at the Bangladesh Bank, asserted that he does not sport professionally. The athlete considers his strive more of a hobby and a constant chase towards the next challenge.
“I am not doing it professionally. It’s a hobby for me, more of a lifestyle to be honest,” he told the Business Post.
With a population of 164.7 million people, Bangladesh have constantly failed to boast sporting success on the global stage, especially in the Olympics. It holds the record for being the most populous country in the world never to have won an Olympic medal.
This story of failure bothers Arafat as he intends to promote sporting culture through his achievements.
“I am trying to promote sports. It hurts me to see that Bangladesh does not have achievements in sports,” he said.
“As an athlete, I want to promote sports for healthy living in general,” he added.
Arafat told the Business Post that he intends to prepare for the Ironman Malaysia later in November.
For many, the triathlon is a memory of a multi-facet sport broadcasted on an American TV channel, but with self-driven models like Arafat breaking the barriers of a cricket-centric sporting environment, the path for success in different global sports can be paved.