It’s October 10th – the Saturday nearest the full moon in October. To fans of triathlon that can only mean one thing: Today is our Super Bowl! Today is the Ironman World Championships on the Big Island of Hawaii on the Kona Coast!
As if racing an Ironman wasn’t a grueling enough task in and of itself with it’s 2.4 mile swim in the Pacific Ocean, 112 mile of biking from Kailua-Kona to Hawi and back (with about 3,000 feet of elevation gain/loss in the mix), and 26.2 mile run, throw in some wicked heat from the lava fields and the trade winds that can blow so hard they have been known to blow racers off the road.
The Ironman World Championships is the Holy Grail of long course triathlon racing. The best of the best of the professionals show up year after year and push the envelope of possibility. And then there are the age-groupers who come in all shapes and sizes and inspire with every mile. The people I am most awed by are the physically challenged (PC) athletes! It is an incredible test of mental and physical will to race an Ironman under the best of conditions, but to do it without legs or with one arm is almost unfathomable. I am privileged to know one of these amazing athletes who is racing in Kona today.
Ashley Cooper-Heath (or Coop, as her friends call her) is as feisty as they come. She is about 5’4″ of pure determination and fun! Coop was in a car accident that left her paralyzed from the chest down. Most people would wallow in self-doubt and pity, but Coop is cut from a different cloth. She views her new reality as an opportunity. She lives her life outloud and with purpose. Triathlon is a passion for her and she set her sites on the biggest, baddest triathlon of them all – Kona! Ashley swims like everyone else does – she just pulls the entire course, she uses a handcycle on the bike course, and a racing wheelchair on the run course. That requires some MAD upper body strength – I can’t even imagine!
Unlike every other Ironman race where you pay your money and train your body and go race, Ironman World Championships is different. You have to qualify to race. Over 2,000 athletes will compete in Kona this year: There are 50 professional men, 35 professional women, a handful of lottery slots (that ended this year), some Foundation slots, 200 Legacy slots (reserved for people who have raced 12 or more Ironman races – let that sink in… TWELVE), and the rest are Age Group slots where people qualify by placing high enough in their Age Group at certain qualifying 70.3 or 140.6 races around the world.
I am proud to call her my friend and I can’t wait to race-stalk her today as she competes to become only the 2nd female handcyclist in history to complete the Ironman World Championship course within the 17 hour time limit.
But the fun doesn’t end there! On Sunday, SIX of my Swim Bike Mom Ambassador Teammates are competing in Ironman Louisville! That is so tremendously exciting and I can’t wait to cheer them on!