An Ironman Journey to remember

by Aquatic Recreation Institute on August 24, 2021


David Burns, ARI Member, shares with us the Ironman Journey that shows how commitment and growth mindset helped him to believe and achieve when he was at breaking point.

David Burns, CEO of Collective Leisure & D.B Consulting   

David Burns is the founder and CEO of Collective Leisure – Australia’s first social enterprise leisure management company certified by Social Traders and Director of D.B Consulting. 

David has worked in leisure, health and wellbeing in England and Australia for over 21 years, in roles spanning Local Government, peak bodies and the private sector.  

Operating on two platforms – DB Consulting works with government and peak bodies on specific commissions and Collective Leisure works to co-design and deliver well-being initiatives with and within communities. 

Ironman Journey 

David completed his 5th Ironman triathlon in Cairns in June 2021. Having completed Lake Tupou, Port Macquarie, Busselton, and Cairns twice over the last 5 years. The Ironman race is considered one of the most difficult one day sporting events in the world. The triathlon race consists of a 3.8km swim, 180km bike ride and a marathon - 42km race in that order. 

If you don’t plan properly, you get found out for an Ironman. Turning up the day before tired from working, trying to get everything ready at each transition was a nightmare. There were no bike bottles left and I hadn’t tried on my wetsuit since my last Ironman a year before. Having gained a few COVID kilos it took 2 people to get me in it so I could test out the water at Palm Cove the day before.

This one was by far my most challenging. It pushed me to my breaking point!

As I said goodbye to my partner in the morning I knew it was going to be tough. I already felt depleted and for the first time ever wasn’t looking forward to the race.

The swim

This is where it all started to go wrong. The swim is the toughest discipline for me, it’s where I’m weakest. The strong legs that get me through the bike and run are the things that, in the swim, weigh me down (my swimming style has been described as a brick with wings). I set off in good form but half way in I realised I’d missed one of the check points and was already heading towards the finish. So, I had to turn around and head back towards the check point meaning I added and extra 600m on to an already gruelling 3.8km and was one of the last out of the water.

The bike

What I thought (from my previous experience of the course) was going to be my strongest and most enjoyable leg of the race, turned out to be the worst. At the half way point I found myself not able to change gear. My gear cable had snapped. I managed to get a bike technician to come and assist but the best he could do was fix it to give me one gear. One gear for 90km on a very hilly course. I could have taken this as a sign to give up, but as is evident throughout my life, the bigger the struggle the more I feel called to it. The complication wasn’t just riding on one gear, now I was behind the cut off time for this leg. With 40km left I was told by officials I had to make up 2 minutes or I was getting thrown in the van. With tears streaming I somehow found it in my tank to make up the time and complete the bike. Arriving into the transition I was a mess, with Jen waiting there shouting to me “what happened, what’s wrong?” and not having the words to explain.

The run

This I can do. I’d ran marathons before doing triathlons; I get into my slow but steady pace and get round. But again this one was different. My slow but steady wasn’t enough and at around 21km in, I come up to where Jen is waiting to see me, “you’re gonna have to pick up the pace babe, the app says you’re not going to make it in time before the cut-off”. What the…? At this point its 11.30pm on a Sunday night. Most supporters and volunteers have gone home. It’s just you and a long stretch of road to the finish. But I hadn’t come this far to get cut off in the last 10km. Somehow I went from over 9 minute Kilometres to just over 7 and was number 9 in the last 9 to finish, clocking up a total of 16 hours 11 minutes.

For me, the Ironman is metaphor for my life. Like most people I’ve had my struggles, but with commitment and a growth mindset I believe you can achieve anything.  

When I started doing the Ironman it was with a dream of competing in the world championships in Kona – Hawaii, the pinnacle of triathlon racing and the spiritual home. However, it’s difficult to qualify for Kona. I will never be quick enough to qualify, so the only way I can stand a chance of getting in is to complete 12 full distance Ironman races which gets me into a ballot. It’s still a lottery but you have to dream right! The plan is to enter Kona when I’m 50. 

Next year’s Ironman will be the most special yet. Through Collective Leisure as an adaptive sports programs provider. I will be the guide of a partially sighted man I’m training to take part in his first Ironman. He’s getting a tandem bike built especially for the race and we’ll be raising awareness and funds for Stargardt's disease.  

Tell us about Collective Leisure and its purpose? 

Like the Ironman, founding Collective Leisure was a dream. I wanted to create a social enterprise that provides the most support to those most in need.  

Our purpose is enabling well-being without boundaries. This means no matter who you are, where you’re from or what your background is, you have the right to access education, services and opportunities to be a well-being and reach your potential. 

Our mission is to Co-create programs that work for communities through a ‘systems’ approach.

What activities does the enterprise engage in? 

Our programs are varied but in essence we have 5 areas working across the eco system of health and well-being.   

  • Training and employment 
  • Well-being and coaching 
  • Adaptive sports programs
  • Inclusion programs
  • Systems wide health initiatives.

    To find out more about Collective Leisure programs and services go to the website 

    Tell us about D.B Consulting  

    This work is more strategic and policy based supporting local government. Over the last period I have been commissioned by City of Sydney, City of Parramatta and Gympie Regional Council with their aquatic and leisure facilities.  

    I also host Part of the System on YouTube - speaking with people across public health, local and state government, leisure, sports and recreation organisations, academia, education, private, disability and the social economy, across England, Australia and New Zealand through a well-being and systems lens. 

    For more information on Collective Leisure or D.B Consulting you can email: