Waverider Triathlon Club Featured Prominently in Saturday’s Ironman
It was the luck of the lottery draw.
Kristen Drost, a math teacher at Kealakehe High School and organizer of the Waverider Triathlon Club, had just seen the first year of the club fly by when the time for the Ironman Big Island Lottery came up in June. Her former students, Dan Gampon and Keoni Smith, had completed the Ironman 70.3 Honu earlier in the year and were waiting, just like her, to see if they would get the chance to compete in the GoPro Ironman World Championship.
“It was an interesting experience,” said Drost. “Dan was the fist name called. Keoni and I were excited for him, and then Keoni got called, and I thought, wow, what an amazing opportunity for these two young men. And then to have my name called last, because I thought I was out, was a dream.”
Drost, a triathlete with experience in four different Ironman events, created the Waverider Triathlon Club last year knowing how big the sport was in Hawai`i. “Kona is the mecca of the sport. People travel from all over the world to try to qualify for this race, and as a triathlete and a teacher, I asked why don’t these kids have the exposure and why don’t they have the opportunity to participate in the sport?”
Support came from the community very quickly. The Talbert Family Foundation donated money to the club to purchase bikes, which the students were given for a year to ride and maintain. Bike Works volunteered to put the bikes together at no charge. Several other businesses came through with various donations.
Students were expected to learn life lessons through the club. Along with taking care of the bikes, students were also asked volunteer at local races, participate in at least four organized workouts and do individual workouts on their own time, and to write thank you letters to show appreciation and humbleness for the opportunities they were given.
Competitively, her students participated in several events, including Lavaman Keauhou, Lavaman Waikoloa, and the End of the World 10k. Gampon and Smith, both freshmen at the Hawai`i Community College campus in Kealakekua, both decided to “bite the bullet” and sign up for the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii (Honu) in May.
“Once I saw them really perform well at Honu, I thought these boys were tough,” said Drost when asked about the time she knew the pair would be ready for the full Ironman. “These kids are so mentally tough and determined that I knew they were capable of it.”
Drost’s journey to Saturday’s Ironman is a longer road which involved a lot of perseverance. Following the motto “go big or go home,” she started with a half-marathon in 2005 in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin later in the year and Ironman Canada in 2006. Her endurance career took a sudden halt after that.
“Life throws you curveballs, sometimes,” explained Drost. “I got hit by a car at one point in my life so I had to take a couple of years off to get healthy again, and sometimes, it’s just an exhausting sport. You just need to step back away from it, but it always pulls you back in.”
She later moved to Hawai`i and caught was quickly entrenched in the endurance lifestyle again. She competed in the Ironman Honu and Ironman Kentucky, which was won by local competitor Bree Wee.
Drost stresses communication with her group, including brutal honesty when it comes to trying to complete the Ironman. “We talk about that we’re going to have highs in this race where it feels good and you’re also going to have these lows where you’re going to want to quit and that’s where you need to have that positive self-talk and you’re capable of more than you think you are.
Drost believes that Gampon and Smith can complete the Ironman in under 13 hours. As for her own goal, “I’d love to go sub-11:30. 11:15 would be optimal.”
The future of the Waverider Triathlon Club looks bright. One of its members, Leahi Camacho, successfully swam across the Kaiwi Channel in August. She was the youngest to ever do it at the age of 17.