It is absolutely incredible how inspiring it is to be a part of the determination, passion and camaraderie that defines the Ironman. This event demands the best and claims the best as it can be the worst of conditions through the 2.4 mile jelly fish infested ocean swim, 112 mile bike ride in the blistering heat that reaches over 110 degrees and the desolate 26.2 mile marathon. Despite the grueling conditions, athletes from all 50 states and the District of Columbia were represented in addition to 60 countries, 15 of which only had 1 athlete. The youngest athlete was a 19 year old girl and there were 2 competitors at 82 years young. Talk about grit!
This year we had the privilege of working in the medical tent again and we also served as “Catchers” at the finish line. Yes we did what the name implies; we caught world class athletes from South Africa, Vancouver, Australia and the good old US of A. It was fascinating how strong people looked as they sprinted to the finish and how they just crumbled in our arms at the end of the race. We were warned that we’d fall in love with our athletes in the short 100 yard walk and it was true. Life stories, dreams and disappointments where shared along with an ice towel and ice cream. There’s a benefit, if you burn 10,000 calories in a day you get pizza and ice cream at the end.
Truly one of the most inspiring sights was Fireman Rob. For the 9th time this year, in full firefighter gear, Fireman Rob finished the Ironman with only 11 minutes to go before the cut off at midnight to build awareness for “Code 3 for the Cure”, a cause that raises money for firefighters struggling with cancer. You should have heard the crowd – absolutely incredible!
Just as inspiring, the crowd was able to cheer every single athlete on the course back to the finish before the clock stuck 12. The final finisher only had 11 seconds remaining, but he was 77 year old, and he’d done it!
Although our main purpose of traveling to Kona was to volunteer at the Ironman, we did manage to squeeze in some other exciting adventures as well. The dolphin swimming in their natural habitat was so much fun last year, we decided to do it again and yes, it is just as thrilling the second time around. Swimming along these graceful animals and being part of their community is a must.
One unique thing we did was drive the Ironman bike route all the way to Hilo and then go zip lining on the northern part of the Island. Almost all the 400 ft. trees are imported and nestled in the midst of the macadamia nut farms. The vantage point was so high, we could literally see Maui from our platforms. Screaming through the rainforest over flumes, under the canopy with the view of the ocean always to your side is cool, but meeting people from around the world and sharing the special bond that is required on this trust activity is always just as exhilarating.
Since we’d gone as far north as we could, we also decided to go as far south as we could. The cliff at the most southern tip of Hawaii looks like the perfect spot for a death defying cliff dive – maybe next year. On our way to the tip, we went to both black and green sand beaches. Who knew there was a green sand beach? It is an incredible hike through a forgotten lava field and should not be taken without a guide, plenty of water and lots of sunscreen.
We also stopped off at the volcano and really enjoyed the “Indiana Jones” feel of the rainforest that led to a lava tube. It is unfathomable how Mother Nature can create such beauty out of such devastating environmental conditions. The special bonus? The steam vents were an intriguing adventure that provided warmth on a rainy day and then seared the skin right off your shins. It was that weird rush of pleasure and pain, like jumping in the snow after a sauna that kept us going back again and again like moths to the flame.