‘Dancing finisher’ Heather Holt: “No words for it. It was a magical moment’

Every Challenge Almere-Amsterdam finish is unique and every athlete is a hero. But, to be honest, the finish of Heather Holt was probably one of the most amazing finishes in the history of triathlon. After more than fourteen hours she crossed the finish line of the Long Distance this year. She did it dancing. The crowd went crazy and the video of her finish was going viral directly after. It’s been seen over 500.000 times already. “I think about it every day and nobody can take this away from me”, the British athlete said with a big smile on her face. “Actually, I don’t have words for that magical moment.”

The magic of her finish – and of her dance – finds base in a number of moments before. Perhaps most important of all was Holt broke her hand a few months earlier, just before starting her first Full Distance in England. She still started there, but she didn’t make the cut-off of the bike course and therefore didn’t make it to the finish. “Game over. That felt like a big failure. But I knew right away that I had two choices: to cry and to stay sad, or to use that failure, to gain strength out of it and to find a new challenge. I’ve chosen for the last option: I saw that I could still participate in Challenge Almere-Amsterdam and only had to ‘sell’ it to my husband.”

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Heather after she broke her hand.

Holt’s husband initially thought it was not the best idea, but was ‘bribed’ with a good bottle of wine and so it happened that a few weeks later Holt made it to the start in Almere. “This was the place it had to happen. Two years of hard training. ‘Be a big girl’, I told myself. And ‘go for it’.”

One day before the start Holt had a mental setback: during the briefing she heard that the time limit was not 17 hours – as in her previous race – but 15 hours. “My god, how am I going to do this?”, was her first reaction. “But I also knew that I didn’t choose an easy sport and that I had to do everything I could to make it to the finish line. I didn’t want a DNF again.”

The swim start was ‘impressive’ for Holt and an unforgettable moment as well. “All those athletes around me and lots of spectators. It took me a while to get into my rhythm, also because I was quite nervous. Luckily that didn’t take too long: I found my pace at a certain moment and eventually it was actually more than three kilometres of fun.”

During the bike ride, Holt quickly discovers that the long, straight roads of Challenge Almere-Amsterdam are not as ‘easy’ as is often thought. “You don’t have any moment to relax and you have to keep pedalling whole the time. When I passed my coach, after about 100 kilometres, I told him that I actually wanted to quit. He told me to stay strong. To keep going. Luckily he said that, because a few hours later I experienced one of the most beautiful moments of my life.”

That happened after the bike ride and of course the marathon. “It was tough, but amazing at the same time. This is the best running course I’ve seen in my whole life. The crowd cheers for everyone: also for athletes like me, who are not running in the front. Spectators scream your name and are exuberant. Even in the evening hours, when it got dark and colder, they all stood still. Not to talk about the stadium yet, which you cross six times. Goose bumps every time. You really feel like a hero. During the marathon I managed to run from aid station to aid station, without walking. That is perhaps my greatest victory.”

And then it happened.

After her sixth lap, when Holt didn’t have to go through after 42 kilometres for another lap, but was allowed to turn to the finish line. Spectators were cheering, the music resounding through the stadium. And Holt? Holt was going for it. Dancing on the music. Over two hundred meters through the stadium she made it a huge party. Once crossed the finish line, there was no time for rest: another dance, right in front of the organisation’s cameras. “Everything came up and I thought: ‘I’m just going to dance’.”

The video of her dancing finish went ‘viral’. More than 500,000 times it has been seen already. “I remember being in the car right after the race, when my stepson said that the video would going viral. I waved it away a bit and thought it wouldn’t come so far. But that night 50.000 people had already seen it and the next morning 150.000. That was the moment I knew that something very special was happening.”

The days after the movie kept popping up everywhere, it was shared countless times and everyone talked about it. “A magical moment that was perfectly captured. Nobody takes this away from me anymore. And Almere? That really is the best race there is. And the best organised. I definitely want to come back again next year!”