Mike Reilly: Last man standing

He's known as the "Voice of Ironman" and his "You are an Ironman" greeting has become a mainstay in the sport.

| June 9, 2017 | PERSONALITY

There is a tumult of noise and, as darkness descends, the light shows the way for many weary athletes as they slowly plod through the night and into the glaring light of an Ironman finish line. As the crowd pulses, helped by blasting rock music, one man directs and cajoles the audience to a fever pitch, a cauldron of athletic fervor. On the mic he is a standalone, amazingly brazen with his audience, but very respectful of the most hallowed part of any Ironman triathlon, the finish line. Mike Reilly is as much a story of Ironman as the merchants of speed and age groupers who made it famous. 

You probably don’t know Mike Reilly personally, but if you have spent any time at an Ironman event you have likely heard him. The “Voice of Ironman” has been a fixture at many big Ironman races world wide for many seasons and has single-handedly evolved the position of race commentator. But Mike is more than a guy on the mic. This is a guy who genuinely gives a crap about all 1,500+ athletes who are out there on the field. He is the guardian of the finish line.

And then there is that phrase. “You are an Ironman.” Four words that enrich the lives of those who hear them. Ironman is a journey and Reilly is the shepherd, making sure his “flock” get in safely, guided by his voice and the heartbeat of the finish line. Reilly’s trademark “You are an Ironman” at the finish line is, in it’s own way, the reward for the effort on course.

“The first time I called someone an Ironman was as special a time for me as it was for him … with the crowd’s reaction to it and his reaction to it, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh I think I’ll do this again.’”

And it has become a bug bear for people who race and Ironman and “The Voice” is not there.

“I get called up after a race and asked why I wasn’t there. I get up to 100 messages a month with people wanting me to call [and call them an Ironman]. I’ve recorded weddings, people coming down the aisle, it goes on and on. I’ve done recordings and I’ve done voicemails. But, when you see the average walks of life come through a finish chute at an Ironman, you know all of a sudden an extraordinary person just emerged.”

It takes a certain type of energy to be up and about for a 20-hour day. Reilly starts his day in the darkness of race morning where things are calm and quiet and his job is more of an usher than a hype man. The finish comes at midnight under lights.

“When you come through a finish line, or you’re on the course, nobody acknowledges what you’re doing. I look at every finish line as my first and every finisher as the first one coming in for that day. I want the crowd to react to them as the champions they are. If I can egg that on, if I can instill a little more excitement for that person coming in … I don’t know all their back stories, but I can accentuate that person’s accomplishment.“

And it goes deeper than that for Reilly, a man who has called countless races. He continues to respect the final few meters for all the athletes. You will find him in the finish chute only when there is no one in it finishing. When there is an athlete crossing the line Mike will not be there, showing his utmost respect for letting the athlete soak in the precious oxygen of triathlon’s longest day.

“It’s a blast, when I get on the plane and head to an Ironman I get to see old friends and reminisce and then I get to help them get across the line and you see a wife or husband just crying with happiness because of what they saw their mates do, there’s not more fun in life than watching that. In the end it enhances me and gives me energy.”

And there are few who have contributed so much to getting folks across the line. Reilly is a perfectionist who is only too aware of triathlon’s and sport’s longest day. And he’s a showman too. Watching Reilly in full flight, hat backwards and towel waving, exulting a weary crowd is an art form. Too full on and you become a pain in the ass, too little and you blend into the night, near to be seen. Reilly is on this and treats every Ironman race as it’s first. It’s a unique way to earn a buck, a fact not lost on Reilly.

“If you can produce income with your passion then life is good.”

And he shows no signs of slowing down. Reilly uses the crowd and athletes as much as they use him.

“Physically it get’s tougher each year. I train hard and try to stay in great shape so I can get through it.”

Mike Reilly has created a niche that has him as the ultimate professional. And Ironman is better off for having him in the cauldron. And one thing you can guarantee, as the last athlete hits the line the last man standing will be … Mike Reilly.