During the coronavirus pandemic and in a world that’s social distancing, there’s not a lot of triathlon activity to get energized about with race delays and cancellations. Like many sport fans, I’m turning to EPSN and IRONMAN drawing inspiration from past performances, iconic finishes and underdogs taking the win.  As I reflect on my greatest accomplishment in my 20+ years of triathlon, I thought I’d share the memory.

Ironman Hawaii – A Qualifying Story

To so many triathletes, Kona is the ultimate goal. Our Mecca, Mount Everest, Olympic dream.  I vividly remember sitting in my NYC apartment in 1997 watching Sian Welch and Wendy Ingraham crawling to the Hawaii Ironman finish line in awe at the human spirit and competitive desire.  Having completed one triathlon, I was just beginning to get interested in the sport. I had no idea about Ironman triathlon, but I wanted to learn more.

Fast forward to 2005, I had moved to Atlanta, become involved in the triathlon community and had completed two ironman events – Florida in 2001 and Coeur d’Alene in 2004. With my corporate career becoming more demanding, I had shelved any plans for future Ironman events unless I qualified for Hawaii. At this time, age group competitors could still qualify for the world championship at a 70.3 distance. My goal was set to qualify at a half Ironman event, and I enlisted the help of Karen Smyers, winner of the Hawaii Ironman in 1995. She was a laid-back coach, providing me with a training plan and the option to talk whenever I wanted.  I had a couple of key races that season, but they didn’t pan out. 

Catherine and her Coach

In 2006, my then boyfriend (now husband) and I headed to Santa Rosa, CA for a tri-cation, with plans to compete at Vineman 70.3 and then enjoy everything Sonoma had to offer. After my lack luster performance in 2005, I didn’t have high hopes for this race. When packing, I thought twice about bringing my check book and left it at home. 

Race day was full of California sunshine and good vibes. We both had strong finishes and went to the awards ceremony to see the outcome. I was just off my age group’s podium in fourth, there was one slot available. When the announcer asked the top three if they would like to go to Hawaii – two had qualified, and the third girl passed.

Catherine qualified for Kona

At that exact point it felt like I was in a tunnel, my mind was thinking slowly and clearly: this meant the slot was mine. I think I stopped breathing. They called my name. Whatever microsecond pause I had, shattered. I jumped up like I had won Bingo and said I’d take it. Then I thought maybe I had misheard, that dream-like phase came back and I was thinking “it this for real?”. I looked at the guy next to me and said is this for the Hawaii Ironman? He said, yep – you are going to the show.  

I was elated, euphoric, I was shaking when I went up to the stage. I had to have another athlete front my entry payment. He had brought one check in hopes to use it himself. While he didn’t qualify, he was happy to put his check towards an honorable cause. 

11 weeks later I was in Kailua-Kona. I swam around the Body Glove boat in Kailua Bay, I biked the Queen K, ran to the energy lab and back.  In torrential rain, I finished with my family there. 

In the mantras of All3Sports and IRONMAN for those who dream big and dream fast, anything is possible.


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