You’ve seen the NBC special coverage showing an athlete staggering across the finish line in Hawaii, weaving back and forth or collapsing. Looks fun, eh? Most would think that swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running a marathon back to back is insanity. Believe it or not, entry to most Ironman races sells out in a day, and entry fees ain’t cheap, so what’s the appeal? I sat down with 2011 Ironman participants and friends, Cindi Glenn and Jody Genessy, a few days before Ironman Coeur d’Alene and asked, “Why Ironman?”
Glenn says her reasons stem from childhood. Her father would tell her dreams were foolish, listing all the reasons why she shouldn’t or couldn’t try. She does Ironman “because it allows me to surround myself with people who believe they can and that I can, and should.” Her first attempt at completing an Ironman didn’t go as planned. She became hypothermic in the icy waters of Ironman St. George on May 1, 2010, prematurely ending her race a few hundred yards from the swim finish. Undaunted, she promptly entered the next possible Ironman race to prove to herself that she could do it. When she triumphantly exited the swim last year, we knew she wouldn’t stop until she crossed the finish line.
Genessy’s a first-timer. He says it was the video of his friend Glenn’s finish last year that inspired him to sign up. He wasn’t able to shake the feeling after a couple weeks. He imagined how different his life would be if he spent the next year training for Ironman. He decided to go for it. Ironman was the midlife reboot he needed.
Genessy has battled with weight all his life — at most he’s weighed 371 pounds, but in recent years he was able to drop to 199 pounds. And the battle is not over — recent setbacks almost convinced him to give up on his Ironman attempt — almost, but Genessy fought back. He told me his father died seven years ago — there are the official reasons, but for Genessy, the real cause was due to his dad weighing almost 400 pounds. He doesn’t want to suffer the same fate. “The Ironman, start or finish, is about as far away as you can get from being 6 feet under.”
Genessy is a beat reporter for the Deseret News, covering the Utah Jazz and traveling all over the country. He is a husband and father of three little ones; to fit training into his schedule became nearly impossible. In fact, he gave up for three months — managing to put on an additional 75 pounds. He posted his situation to an online forum, hoping for encouragement and advice. The comments were so negative about his Ironman attempt, Genessy asked to have the discussion thread removed. He was determined to prove the naysayers wrong. With the support of friends, like Glenn and triathletes from the Desert Sharks triathlon club, he renewed his efforts.
To keep things fun, Genessy started posting the crazy hours and places where he’d do his training on the Sharks’ website forum. When the Jazz didn’t make the playoffs, Genessy was freed up enough to train in earnest. He completed his first half-marathon the end of April. This was a turning point. It wasn’t an Ironman, but he accomplished something he thought was impossible. It was enough to believe “you can do this.” OK, so the goal of losing over 100 pounds and winning the “biggest loser” prize at the Ironman Coeur d’Alene award ceremony, or sporting six-pack abs at the starting line were abandoned. But these were replaced with a more lasting goal of enjoying the Ironman journey and celebrating small victories.
You may wonder, how’d they do? Genessy finished, well within the 17-hour time limit, surrounded by family and friends. I can’t wait to hear his race report!
The cold water temperatures prevented Glenn from completing the swim. Devastating, but Glenn is a fighter. In true Ironman spirit, she’s already planning her next attempt. Seeing Genessy’s face in the finish line pictures, she says, “I am pretty sad right now, but THAT almost makes the pain disappear.”
Why Ironman? Why not?!
Paula Eldredge is a 10-time Ironman finisher, including the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.