History will be made this March at the Extreme Ironing Challenge in Hastings, New Zealand. Phil Shaw, the sport’s creator and undisputed champion, is staging a comeback.

extreme-ironing

He hasn’t taken part in extreme ironing — a competitive event in which clothing is ironed on a conventional ironing board in exotic locations, like while rock climbing, scuba diving, or downhill skiing — since his retirement in 2004, after a spectacular 8 year run that included winning Gold at the 2002 Extreme Ironing World Championships in Munich. Like Michael Jordan returning to basketball, Shaw has a lot to prove this time. For one thing, the March event in New Zealand features a unique and never-before-attempted challenge: uphill ironing. “The sport becomes a head game as you get older,” says Shaw, now 37. “The youngsters are quicker, stronger and more agile that I am.” But, he says, after too many years away from the sport that defined him, his triumphant return is “written in the starch.”

(This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the February 19th, 2012 issue of the New York Times Magazine.)