Sridath Sudheer
Sridath Sudheer during the Ironman European Championship in Hamburg, Germany on his 18th birthday - June 2 Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Dubai student Sridath Sudheer celebrated his 18th birthday last month in a unique way. He completed an Ironman triathlon by swimming, cycling and running for a total of 226.2km and became one of the youngest to achieve this milestone. The minimum age for qualifying in Ironman competitions is 18 years, and Sridath seized the opportunity that arrived on the day he became eligible.

“I was lucky that the Ironman European Championship fell on my 18th birthday [June 2],” the Indian expat boy, born and brought up in Dubai, told Gulf News.

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The Ironman triathlon in Hamburg, Germany, was Sridath’s first full-distance triathlon race, comprising a 3.8km swim, 180.2km cycle, and 42.2km run. Despite having never completed these distances in cycling and running individually in training, he finished the race in an impressive 13 hours and one second, well within the 16-hour cut-off time.

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Sridath (in front) tackles the 180.2km cycling challenge during the Ironman European Championship Image Credit: Supplied

“It was the first time I covered all these distances together in one go. The support from the crowd in the last 2km really kept me going,” said Sridath.

His parents Sudheer Kumar and Ranjitha Sudheer and younger sister Srinithi Sudheer led the cheers when Sridath was greeted at the finishing point with the special announcement about his 18th birthday.

“It was the proudest moment for us…The crowd cheered him and many leaned forward to touch his hand when he ran past them,” his proud father Sudheer recalled.

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Sridath with his family members (from left) father Sudheer Kumar, sister Srinithi and mother Ranjitha at the venue of the Ironman European Championship Image Credit: Supplied

A few months earlier, Sridath had attempted to participate in a half Ironman competition in Muscat, Oman. But he was turned away due to the age restriction. The setback only fuelled his determination.

Through a Google search, Sudheer discovered that an Indian and a UK athlete had become Ironmen on their 18th birthday and two days later, respectively. This research indicated that Sridath could be among the youngest Ironmen if he succeeded on his birthday.

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The young Ironman during the Championship Image Credit: Supplied

Appreciating Dubai’s facilities

The father and son said excellent facilities in the UAE played a crucial role in Sridath’s journey. He often trained by swimming at Kite Beach in Dubai, cycling on the track to NAS Sports Complex, and running on the tracker over there or at the 6.8km running track back at Kite Beach.

Another facility that he used was the nearly 100km-long Al Qudra cycle track. Almost every week he would go there with his triathlon training group.

“The infrastructure here is incredible. It’s not easy to find such isolated running or cycling tracks anywhere else,” said Sridath. “The facilities in the UAE really helped me prepare and I am really thankful to the authorities for these facilities.”

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Unique schooling model

Despite the challenges posed by his Grade 12 board exams, Sridath managed to maintain a rigorous training schedule, practicing for three to four hours daily, extending to five to six hours on weekends.

“He had chosen Commerce Stream in grade 11 to ease his burden in studies. Still, balancing studies and training when he had to appear for board exams in grade 12 was a concern for us. But, that is where the Rahhal programme became a boon,” said Sudheer.

The Rahhal programme of the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) in Dubai allows students to study at more than one school at a time, study part-time to pursue other goals elsewhere, or study at home.

Sridath’s school, DPS Dubai, supported him through the Rahhal programme, which allowed him two days off weekly for training.

“So, I had to go to school only for three days a week. My teachers and friends supported me with study materials and I managed to score 88 per cent in Grade 12 board exam. It’s not really common to get that kind of support and use all these free facilities. So, I’m incredibly indebted to the authorities and my school,” he said.

Turning to triathlon

Sridath’s athletic journey had begun at a young age. He started learning karate at six and earned a black belt by 11. Concurrently, he played football and trained with Arsenal at the Sevens Stadium. Recognising his endurance, coaches encouraged him to try long-distance running and swimming, which eventually led him to triathlons.

“When his swimming coach Shomer first told me to get him trained in triathlon, I didn’t even know what it meant,” said Sudheer. He then researched it and found out about the Kerala Riders group in Dubai, which offered free coaching.

At 14, Sridath joined the group. “My coach Mohandas moulded my triathlon skills over several years. I also received great coaching by famous Indian swimming coach Pradeep Kumar,” said Sridath.

Later, he started honing skills further under various coaches including coach Tom from Russia and Coach Andrew, a former Olympian from Ukraine, with an endurance sports school in Dubai.

Sridath has represented India in the 2023 Asia Triathlon Cup and South Asian Championship in Nepal organised by the World Triathlon Federation. He has also represented his home state Kerala in three National Triathlon Championships and one National Games. Currently, he is focused on improving his speed and distance.

Future plans

Sridath is joining University of Wollongong in Dubai to pursue BBA in Business Analytics. Looking ahead, he aims to represent India in the Olympics, focusing on short-distance triathlons. He plans to participate in a 15km swim in Italy next September and the T100 Triathlon Championship series by the World Triathlon Federation which is going to take place in Dubai for the first time.

Balancing academics, sports

Sridath said he owed his success to the support from his family, school, coaches and the facilities in Dubai.

“As a parent, I was initially scared about the long distances. But seeing him complete the race and achieve his dream on his birthday was an unforgettable moment,” said Sudheer.

His mother, Ranjitha, a homemaker, and sister, Srinithi, have also been pillars of support throughout his journey. Srinithi, a grade seven student, is also active in sports, practicing swimming and horse riding.

At a time when many young people are engrossed in gadgets, Sridath wishes to be an inspiring example of balancing academics and sports.

“What I want to emphasise is the importance of utilising the excellent facilities and support systems available in the UAE for nurturing young talents, especially in the current scenario when kids are more into gadgets. As a parent, I noticed that even though he doesn’t spend much time studying on a daily basis, he really focuses and studies hard during exams. Being involved in sports like this has improved his concentration significantly, and it hasn’t negatively affected his academics. In fact, I believe it’s beneficial for young generations to engage in such activities,” added Sudheer.