Eleven Big Island women will share the world stage with more than 2,000 triathletes as they descend on Kailua-Kona for the VinFast Ironman World Championship this Saturday.
The youngest Hawai‘i athlete is Skye Ombac, 27, of Hilo. This will be her second Ironman triathlon.
Ombac’s first Ironman was last year where she trained and shared the field with friends, including Bree Wee, a retired pro-athlete and former Ironman division winner.
Starting with the 2.4-mile swim in Kailua Bay, Ombac remembered every time she took a breath she saw a rainbow.
“It was a dream day,” Ombac recalled of last year’s race as she was surrounded by friends and family, on and off the course, cheering her name. “I couldn’t have pictured it any better. I was so happy, I just wanted to live it over and over again.”
This Saturday is the first time in the history of the championship race, the women are competing in a different location than the men, who raced last month in Nice, France. Last year, the Ironman held a two-day race event after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the race to be canceled in 2020 and 2021.
With the primary goal to finish the grueling 140 miles of swimming, biking and running happy, Ombac also wants to push herself, beating last year’s finishing time of 13:47:55.
“Last year the whole day was fun, I kept my heart rate really low,” Ombac said. “I know what I’m capable of and I want to see how fast I can go.”
While Ombac hopes to recreate the happiness she felt in 2022, other women are coming to the starting line with their own ambitions and goals.
Brenda Bettencourt, 64, is tied as one of the oldest Hawai‘i resident athletes competing. She ran her first Ironman in Kona in 2014 and this one will be her fifth.
“For some arbitrary reason, I wanted to do it five times,” she said.
Bettencourt was sick last year on race day, needing 16 hours to finish. She found out later it was COVID-19.
“I need a redemption race,” she said.
Greta Friesen, 36, of Hōnaunau, is getting over COVID-19 just in time to compete in her second consecutive Ironman in Kona. She said she is not back to 100%.
“It’s definitely not the race I was hoping to have,” Friesen said. “If I make it to the finish line it will be a huge victory.”
Friesen finished Ironman last year at 15:28:25. She qualified for Saturday’s race in June at the Ironman 70.3 Honu race in Waikōloa.
“It was pretty dang exciting,” she said.
Brenda Avery, 58, of Kailua-Kona, finished her first Ironman in Kona last year but hadn’t intended to compete again. But like Friesen, she qualified at Honu.
Avery sees Saturday as an opportunity and feels fortunate to participate.
Avery’s goal for this race is to keep moving on the run.
“Last year what got me was dehydration,” she said.
From the get-go she was upset and angry because she wasn’t meeting her goals. She still finished 19th in her age group at 12:17:24.
This year, Avery plans to smile. She also plans for better nutrition and hydration while on the bike so when the run comes she will keep on moving at a good pace.
Lynn Mattix, 42, of Kailua-Kona, was selected from the Ironman lottery to participate in this year’s race. She’s been competing in triathlons and half triathlons for 12 years and this will be her first Ironman Championship in Kona.
“I saw the world championships on TV (11 years ago) and thought it would be the coolest thing ever,” Mattix said.
The 42-year-old does triathlons because of the way it makes her feel: strong, healthy and full of life and energy.
“I feel ready,” Mattix said Friday. “Because the course is hard I think I decided I wasn’t going to have a time goal.”
Mattix hopes she has a strong day and will have the presence of mind to cheer on as many other women as possible in the field.
While the list is subject to change, there are 29 athletes from the state of Hawai‘i competing in this year’s race. The Big Island athletes competing this year are:
The other Hawai‘i resident athletes competing this year are: