Tahitian drums resounding during Tuesday’s Parade of Nations along Aliʻi Drive announced that the iconic VinFast Ironman World Championship had arrived in Kona.
The parade kicked off three days of events as more than 2,000 triathletes from about 70 countries and thousands of spectators gear up for the first women’s-only world championship race. The men’s championship was held last month in Nice, France.
The race takes place on Saturday with a grueling 140.6-mile course of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run. They start in Kailua Bay in downtown Kona, race to the top of Hawai‘i Island in Hawī and finish where they started to a cheering crowd.
But first there are the festivities. Despite the heat, hundreds of athletes, visitors and residents roamed the town to take in the Ironman atmosphere. At the Courtyard by Marriott King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel, vendors under pop-up tents sold Ironman merch while loud music blared from speakers playing Disney to Hawaiian songs.
Triathlete Tara Calkins, 45, from Nashville, Tenn., was on Ali‘i Drive with her family to route for her two kids that were ready to participate in the Keiki Dip and Dash. At the sea wall, Calkins said she also was excited that her husband and parents had come to Hawaiʻi to watch her compete in her first Ironman World Championship.
However, her dad will have to watch virtually after breaking his leg on Saturday while body surfing at Magic Sands.
“He’ll be tracking me on the Ironman app,” Calkins said. “I’m sure he’ll go over the race after I’m finished.”
Barbara Tettenborn, 65, of Switzerland, connected with fellow athlete and friend Simone Heber, 35, of Germany, by the King Kamehameha Hotel that serves as the Ironman headquarters. This is Tettenborn’s fourth Ironman in Kona while it is Heber’s first. Heber said her friend inspired her to pursue the Kona championship.
Carol Gallegos, 45, was also waiting for the Dip and Dash to start. Her son and daughter have participated in the race for eight years. Every year, Ironman is an opportunity for Gallegos to connect with athletes from her home country of Chile.
Gallegos has also been a volunteer in the race for 14 years and is always stationed on Palani Road by Kona Coffee and Tea to hand out water, Gatorade and ice to triathletes as they pass her on the course. She will again be stationed there.
During the Parade of Nations, spectator Rebecca Wilson, 29, of New Zealand, couldn’t help but get excited as she bumped her hips back and forth to the beat of the Tahitian drums.
“These women are here being such hard asses,” she said.
Dań Roszkowski, from Cincinnati, Ohio, followed the USA team down Ali‘i Drive during the parade. He is supporting his wife Michelle who will be racing in Kona for the first time.
Roszkowski said his wife has been struggling with her swim training in the rough Kailua Bay.
“She’s been getting sick, but she got earplugs and those seem to be helping,” he said. “The swells are hard to get used to.”
Roszkowski has no doubt Michelle will finish.
“She’s a beast,” he said. “She’ll get through it even if she crawls across the finish line.”