Mr. Mertens reunited with his family including wife, Margaret; son, Anton and daughter, Mady.

Completing the 2011 Ford Ironman World Championship on Oct. 8 was no easy task for Atlanta immigration attorney Anton Mertens.

“To successfully complete the course, you have to finish within 17 hours,” he told GlobalAtlanta upon his return home from Hawaii’s Big Island western coast where the event was held.

“I finished in 16 hours, 17 minutes and 59 seconds.”

In those hours, minutes and seconds, he had swum 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and then run a marathon of 26.2 miles.

Only 1,800 entrants are permitted out of the tens of thousands that seek to participate annually.

The only ones admitted are either very talented, having qualified in triathlons held elsewhere earlier in the year, or very lucky, having won in a lottery the right to participate.

Mr. Mertens was admitted because of a lucky lottery number. 

The course is recognized as the most challenging of Ironman competitions because of the ocean waves encountered while swimming and the lava covered terrain experienced while biking and running.

One of Mr. Mertens’ keenest memories was when Lew Hollander, an 81-year-old doctor from Oregon and the oldest participant in the race, passed him on his bike. “I eventually caught up with him, but he was amazing,” Mr. Mertens said.

Another vivid memory was seeing his wife Margaret and 9-year-old son, Anton, and 7-year-old daughter, Mady, at the finish line.

Mr. Mertens has been building up for this event, the longest in which he has ever participated, for months. He improved his stamina through partaking in increasingly difficult triathlons.

A prime motivator for all the training and participation in the event itself is the Kona4aCause Campaign, which is raising funds to combat cancer from which his father, Herman, died in 1993.

Mr. Mertens, 49, came to the United States from Brussels in 1979 as a high school exchange student in Jacksonville, Fla. He eventually moved to Birmingham, Ala., where he attended Birmingham Southern College, then to  Macon where he completed his undergraduate studies at Mercer University and went on to get his law degree from the university’s law school.

He moved to Atlanta in 1998 to practice international law and he currently heads the immigration practice at Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP.

A recently published interview with Mr. Mertens concerning Georgia’s immigration law that appeared in the fall 2011 issue of the Smith, Gambrell publication “Trust the Leaders” may be found here.

To support Mr. Mertens’ fundraising on behalf of the Kona4aCause Campaign, go here.

Mr. Mertens may be reached by email at or by calling (404) 815-3733.