IRONMAN 2016: Kona Athletes in the Spotlight
It’s that time of year again, with roadways filled with cyclists, runners and heavier-than-usual traffic in Kailua-Kona.
The community is abuzz with anticipation as Oct. 8 edges closer.
For the past 12 months, pro athletes have focused and worked toward one goal—securing a starting position in the most important triathlon worldwide, the Ironman World Championship.
Every year, more than 80,000 triathletes compete for a slot in the Ironman World Championships, but only around 2,000 will get the chance to compete.
In October, thousands of athletes and their supporters will make their way to Hawai‘i Island. A majority of them are among the top 1% in their age group in triathlon.
Considered one of the hardest single-day athletic events in the world, an Ironman event consists of swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running 26.2 miles back to back, without break a break.
EARNING A SLOT
Earning a slot in full-distance qualifiers is one way to secure a spot at the starting line. Other ways include the Ironman Legacy program, an eBay auction, Military Division and the Hawaii Residency Drawing.
The Hawaii Residency Drawing awards a total of 44 spaces to residents across the State of Hawaii, with 24 slots going to Big Island residents.
Residency entries must complete a race equivalent to half of an Ironman. A 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run.
Among this year’s recipients are Mercedes DeCarli, a young local athlete following in her father’s footsteps; James Resor, a self-driven and tenacious triathlete; Kristin Old, a high school math teacher; and stroke survivor Kevin Rhinehart.
Thirty-five-year-old Kailua-Kona Resor, is the senior account executive at Pacific Media Group, the parent company of Big Island Now.
This year’s race is Resor’s third Ironman, previously running in the Idaho and Mexico competitions. In past years, he had entered the residency drawing. This is the first year he has received a slot to compete in his hometown competition.
Since moving from Melbourne Beach, Florida, five years ago, his lifestyle, physical activities and dreams have focused on Ironman.
Considering Resor grew up playing soccer and surfing, it’s no surprise that his triathlon experience started with running.
He ran his first 5K in 2004, then started racing sprint and Olympic distances in 2005, when he was then introduced to Ironman by a friend competing in the Ironman World Championships in Hawai‘i. He moved on to marathon running the following year, his first Ironman in 2009 in Idaho and his second Ironman in Cozumel, Mexico, in 2011.
Maximizing time is priority for Resor. He spends two to three hours a day training, while balancing personal life and 40-hour work weeks.
Described by Resor as, “pretty mild for Ironman,” his training consists of three to four swims, runs and bike rides each, averaging 15 to 20 hours per week. A family friend who is coaching him provides Resor with a schedule and routine that is personalized to his goals and lifestyle.
Resor spends a large portion of what little spare time he has left giving back to his local community, from mentoring young runners to volunteering with the Rotary Club of Kona, where he has served as president.
When not out training, Resor enjoys surfing and spending time with his wife, Sarah.
The two met the night before the 2012 Ironman World Championship. This is the couple’s fifth year together for Ironman, and needless to say, the date holds a special meaning for them both. They married in May 2015. He describes her as his No. 1 supporter.
For these newlyweds eating clean is just part of their everyday lifestyle. Like many triathletes, it’s all about fueling the body.
The toughest aspects of training have been the early morning workouts and the long bike rides. Pointing out the relentless heat and unpredictable winds that make the bike course particularly hazardous, Resor said his personal goal for this race is to not fall/crash along the cycling portion.
“The Queen K [Ka‘ahumanu Highway} is unpredictable,” explained Resor. “I don’t really enjoy the long rides on dangerous roads. But there is no Ironman without thousands of miles in the saddle. So I ride.”
Sarah just completed in her first Ironman triathlon, Vineman, in August 2016.
Resor aspires to one day buy a home in Kona, raise children and “be old with lots of smile wrinkles.”
“Enjoy the journey. Be kind. Encourage others,” said Resor, adding the key is to “race against yourself.”
Another residency drawing triathlete is Kona’s Old, a geometry and trigonometry teacher at Kealakehe High School.
Next Saturday’s race will be her third Ironman World Championship event and sixth Ironman. Her husband, Dave, has participated in five.
She shares her passion for triathlon with her students through the Waverider Triathlon Club, which she founded and currently coaches. She started the club because said she always wished someone would have introduced her to triathlon sooner in her life, and as a way to encourage and empower her students.
When asked what her proudest moment in triathlon has been, she said, “It’s when I see my students of the Waverider Triathlon Club cross the finish line of their races and how proud they are.”
Though an experienced triathlete, Old said, “It never gets easier. You just go harder.”
From paddling outrigger canoe to triathlon and just to life in general, her biggest supporter his her husband.
“I could not do this without him,” said Old.
Her ultimate goal is to, “always be my best self—the best wife I can be, the best teacher I can be.”
Old encourages triathletes to stay present.
“Don’t worry about what happened or is going to happen,” she said. “Stay in the moment and enjoy it.”
Kona’s DeCarli, an athlete who was introduced to triathlon at a young age, shares Old’s passion for the sport.
Growing up in an athletic family, DeCarli knew from an early age that she would one day compete in an Ironman in her hometown. After watching her very first Ironman race at age 6, she told her father on the spot that she could do it, too.
Just 21, she has been training for a triathlon since age 15. Over time, she gradually increased her mileage in all three sports.
DeCarli began training specifically for this event in June, concentrating on bicycling and running and “a little bit of swimming.”
She has a solid support team consisting of her parents, Michael and Christine, her younger sister, younger brother and boyfriend Dan Gampon. Both her father and boyfriend have competed in Ironman events as well.
DeCarli is working toward her degree in journalism and aspires to go pro and publish and own her own magazine in Hawai‘i one day.
From her love for running, reading, family, faith and growing up in an athletic family to her passion and drive, there is much to what makes DeCarli who she is.
Another competitor in this year’s Ironman experienced similar inspiration.
“I can do this, too,” he thought, as he watched runners cross the finish line.
Rhinehart, 57, is a stroke survivor who decided to enter the residency drawing after volunteering at the 2015 Ironman World Championship.
“Soon after I had my stroke, I thought my life was over,” he said. “I was just existing.”
After falling ill in 2012, Rhinehart retired from his counseling practice. He had to relearn how to communicate and how to walk again after being confined to a wheelchair. He later moved from Idaho to Kailua-Kona.
The first time he went running, he couldn’t complete a single mile run. But only a few short months later, he ran his first marathon.
With his decision to train for a triathlon, he started to build a support team and began pushing himself on a whole new level.
From his wife, Laurie, to his children, extended family, friends, sponsors and fellow stroke survivors, there was no shortage of encouragement.
“As far as being a stroke survivor, don’t take no for an answer,” said Rhinehart. “You have to surround yourself with people who believe in you and who will work with you.”
One of his strongest pillars is his coach and personal trainer, Rick Rubio. From volunteering to coach Rhinehart free of charge, creating a personalized training plan and helping him overcome obstacles, Rubio has helped make this dream possible.
Rubio completed his own Ironman just last month at age 63—with a double hip replacement.
The stroke heavily impacted function on the right side of his body. Having limited strength, muscle issues and cramping, plantar fasciitis and limited use of his right hand, Rhinehart had his fair share of obstacles to overcome.
With help from Coach Rubio and Bike Works, he was able to solve major issues prohibiting him from cycling. He has a modified bicycle with electronic gear shifters and a specialized brake lever, so he can use his left hand only to apply both front and back brakes.
Equally important was his introduction to the Turbomed brace. His running experience was completely different once he had the brace. Struggling with a condition called “foot drop,” the brace supports his right leg and foot.
Describing his training as, “brutal,” Rhinehart has pushed himself.
The best advice he’s ever been given for triathlons is that it’s a race against yourself.
“Regardless of where I’ll finish, I started!” exclaimed Rhinehart. “That’s a long way from where I began the days after my stroke.”
“If you have a passion for anything, get out there,” said Rhinehart. “Your life is not over! If you know any stroke survivors, spend time walking with them.”
After the Ironman is complete, Rhinehart plans to start a nonprofit organization in hopes of encouraging and helping other stroke survivors to get involved with non-contact athletics.
ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE
The Ironman mantra, “Anything is possible,” rings true for all four of these athletes.
Go online http://eu.ironman.com/triathlon/coverage/athlete-tracker.aspx#axzz4LaQYKH8X ) to follow these amazing athletes featured here.
Ironman Foundation awards charitable support to a range of local nonprofit organizations that recognize citizens in need and which support the Ironman Foundation’s mission. The foundation aims to work with community leaders to identify projects and initiatives, as well as, to provide funding to support worthwhile causes.
Since the inception of the Ironman World Championship, the foundation has given $1.3 million in grant funding to over 63 organizations throughout the Kailua-Kona region of Hawai‘i Island.
In 2015, for both Ironman 70.3, nicknamed Honu, and the Ironman World Championship, $42,000 was awarded in volunteerism grant funding, as well as, $88,000 in community grant funding.
The 2017 Ironman World Championship is Oct. 14, 2017. Time to start training…