Skye Ombac remembers when she was a little girl and her father, Eddie-O, would drive her and her twin sister Katrina from their home in Hilo to the west side of the Big Island to experience all the excitement of the famous Ironman World Championship in Kona.
The twins would seek autographs and photos with the triathletes. Some years they were race volunteers, providing water and food to the adult volunteers.
“I was always inspired watching these superhuman athletes as a kid and I wanted to be one of them one day,” Skye said.
That spark in little Skye to compete in the grueling 140.6-mile triathlon grew into a fire in 2015, when she cheered extra proudly for one Ironman participant in Kona: her dad, who finished.
On Thursday, it will be Eddie-O cheering proudly for Skye.
Now 26, and a teacher of fifth-graders at Kahakai Elementary School, she is about to realize her childhood dream of competing in the Ironman World Championship. She has been aflutter all week with nervous butterflies.
She has put in a lot of hard miles swimming in the ocean, riding her bike and running on the pavement since she qualified for the prestigious championship in June 2021 by finishing second in her age group at the Ironman 70.3 Hawaiʻi, commonly called Honu, on the Kohala Coast of the Big Island. It was her first Ironman.
“I had never been pushed like that before in a race,” Ombac said. “That was the first time in a race I stopped to cry.”
During Ironman week, Ombac has participated in panels sponsored by the Ironman Foundation and the running shoe company, HOKA. One panel discussed inspiring women and the other talked about diversity in the sport.
Ombac said her ethnicity is a combination of Filipino, Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Polish and German.
“Itʻs great being a person of color from a small town and being able to show my students and community that we can all dream big and have representation out there,” Ombac said.
Ironman organizers highlighted Ombac as one of a handful of local athletes who were competitors to watch.
She started her Ironman journey during the COVID-19 pandemic. Ombac approached retired pro triathlete Bree Wee, a fellow elementary school teacher, to train with her. Ombac set big goals that now don’t seem as large anymore. They ran a 50K (31 miles) and in March 2021 she ran all of Mana Road, more than 40 miles.
“Doing big things like that made me believe we can do hard things,” Ombac said.
Eddie-O Ombac said the family thought Skye was crazy to take on the Honu Ironman 70.3 (which is half the distance as a full Ironman) so soon into her long-distance training journey.
He said training begins as a part-time job that ultimately turns into a full-time job six months before the race. He said Skye put in the time to pull it off.
Since qualifying for the World Championship, she has been through many tough training days. Athletes can fall into a dark headspace where they question why they’re doing this grueling sport. They can feel self doubt. For Ombac, that big question mark came after taking two weeks off of training to travel after Honu in 2021.
“When I came back in mid June I felt really out of shape,” she said.
Doubt creeped in that she wouldn’t be ready for the Ironman World Championship, which is a 2.4 swim, 112-mile bike and marathon (26.2-mile run).
“But we’ve done all the work,” she reassured herself. “Honestly, my biggest fear is getting the post race blues since this has been my dream for so long. I’m sad and happy. I want this dream to last forever.”
Along Ombac’s journey to the starting line at Kailua Pier, she’s collected a tribe of fellow athletes who have trained with her. They have been with her every step of the way, through the good days, bad days and everywhere in between. She said she wouldn’t be getting to the start line without them.
“I’m looking forward to seeing our tribe out there,” she said. “We’ll be separate, but cheering each other on. I keep picturing what it will be like when we all finish. It’s going to be sad when it’s all over.”
Her tribe includes Sierra Ponthier, also 26, who qualified this year at the Honu 70.3 Ironman.
“It’s been a long mental battle to stay focused, but she’s never wavered,” Ponthier said of Ombac. “She has definitely been the most focused out of all of us.”
Ponthier said Ombac was the glue that helped the tribe of five all realize their dream to compete in the Ironman World Championship.
Ombac said she canʻt wait to line up on the starting line and hear the playing of the state anthem, “Hawaiʻi Ponoʻi.” Sheʻs also excited to hear the conch shell and the cannon fire, which signals the start of the race and the realization of her dream.
And, what she said she is looking forward to most is seeing her friends, family and students along the course, cheering her on.