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4 Athletes’ Journey To Kona

The drive and motivation to train and sacrifice so much for a passion so strong simply can’t be explained. With IRONMAN World Championships in Kona less than two weeks away, we had the opportunity to speak with a few of the incredible athletes heading to the Big Island, and learn more about how they fuel their passion for triathlon.  From lifelong goals to honoring loved ones, read about these four athletes and the underlying drive that’s helping them achieve this 140.6 mile journey.  

VLAD SCHMIDT: FULFILLING MY DREAM.  

Vlad HOTSHOT

After watching the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona on TV for 20 years, I finally found time to train for my first IRONMAN four years ago. I was happy to finish my first Ironman, but wanted more than that. So my coach and I came up with a plan for me to qualify for Kona, and last year I finally qualified — and got second in my age group. I couldn’t believe it!
 
My sponsor, Melissa, is the CEO of deaffriendly.com, and has been a big supporter of my journey.  Being a deaf athlete myself, we wanted to show that deaf people could do the Ironman too. It’s an awesome opportunity to learn about deaf culture as well as inspire others to pursue their dreams. 
  
I experienced terrible cramps in the race where I qualified for Kona. When I heard about HOTSHOT, I didn’t think to wait; I just went ahead and ordered my first pack. I felt great and no symptoms of cramps.
 
I used HOTSHOT along with my nutrition and water in my “Kona stimulation” training — a hot chamber without air, just heat and tons of sweat. I love it and cannot wait to race with it in Kona! 
 

 

 

MARK SAMUEL: HONORING MY FATHER.  

Mark Samuel HOTSHOT

It all began 7 years ago, when the LA Marathon ran by my home.  I was with my two and half year old son, Chason who said to me, “Daddy, will you run the marathon next year?” I said yes even though I had no training, no coach and no endurance background. With determination, I went online to find a marathon program.  And my journey began. 
 
My father in law, Howard, was my number #1 fan since day one. He took me to Dodger Stadium at ‪4 am to run my first LA Marathon.  At 18 mile, my legs began to cramp. I was in so much pain.  I finished the race, with tears in my eyes, some from pain, but above all for accomplishing my goal.  Since then, I’ve run over 10 marathons, cycled century rides and found a love for swimming and did my first triathlon, IRONMAN 70.3 Oceanside, all with Howard by my side.
 
When I qualified for Kona, Howard had tears in his eyes so proud of my accomplishment. He couldn’t wait to see me at the finish line and give me a big hug. 
 
On August 1, Howard was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and started chemotherapy right away. Yet, his only concern was making it to Kona to support me at my first time at Kona.  Unfortunately the doctors told him that he wouldn’t able to travel for the next six months. He felt so guilty that he wouldn’t be able to watch me race in Kona. I told him that I was going to race IM Florida and try to qualify for Kona 2017 so he could be there. On August 30, my Dad, Howard, passed away.
 
Kona has a very special meaning to everyone, but for me, this race means the world. My goal is to do my very best in honor of my father, Howard Pilch.  I am hoping to bring awareness from my IRONMAN journey that we need find a cure to beat this insidious disease, in honor of Howard not in memory of him.  I lost a father in law, father, best friend, and grandfather to my children, and in my opinion IRONMAN’S greatest fan.  When I cross the finish line, I will have done it for Howard! I love you Dad!

CINDY MIRLY: JUMPING OVER LIFE’S OBSTACLES.   

Cindy Mirly HOTSHOT

Everybody has hurdles in their life.  Everybody has tough things to overcome.  Everybody has their issues.  It’s how you handle your issues that distinguish you.” — Maria Shriver
 
As I count down the final days to the Kona Ironman World Championship, quite often I think about these words. In 2006 I was diagnosed with Lupus. I decided I would not let Lupus hurdle stop me in my tracks, but would jump over this hurdle and keep living!
 
It was at this time that I entered the world of triathlon. Although many doctor’s advised against the tough training schedules required, I found the exercise alleviated my inflammation and stiffness, and more importantly, I felt I had gained back control of my life from the disease. 
 
Fast forward to November 2010 and a visit to the doctor; another hurdle – early stage breast cancer. After watching my mom, grandmother, aunts, cousins, and even an uncle all go through cancer treatment, I again decided to take control and chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. For me, this was the easiest and best decision in my life.  After my recovery, I decided to up the ante – 70.3’s and hopefully a full distance Ironman.  During the next five years I raced in five Half IRONMAN’s, continually jumping the hurdles of life.
 
Fast-forward again to July 2016.  After a DNF at IMAZ last year, I had signed up for IRONMAN Vineman, which I prayed would be my first successful completion of a full IRONMAN distance. I decided to make my goal the finish “line” not the finish “time”. Having taken the “race fast” pressure off myself, I went out and actually enjoyed it.  The result? A second place age group finish and a Kona qualifying spot! Miracles do happen!
 
Looking back at the past 10 years, I feel blessed!  Yes, I have Lupus.  Yes, I have had cancer.  Yes, I have issues. But the way I am handling my issues on a daily basis is what is distinguishing me as the Kona qualifier that I am!

STEVE NABITY: PROVING THEM WRONG.   

SteveNabity-hotshot

I started training for triathlons in April 2014 after recovering from a waterskiing injury in October 2013.  I thought I was younger than I really was and I tore off all three upper hamstring tendons from the bone. After being life-flighted, having surgery and enduring 16 weeks of recovery, my doctor said swimming and biking would be good for me. Around that time, a friend convinced me to buy a road bike and start biking with him to lose the 20 pounds I had gained. Well, one thing led to another and the triathlon journey started.  I had to learn to swim.  I didn’t know you breathe out underwater.  I thought you held your breath.  I looked like the Loch Ness Monster swimming.
 
It is with the grace of God that I’m able to race after my surgery as a 60-year-old age grouper.  In the past two years, I’ve raced multiple length triathlons and qualified for Kona at IRONMAN Canada in July 2016.  The thought of having the opportunity and privilege to race at Kona creates this internal fear and excitement that propels me to finish strong.  Since the swim is my weak segment, I also look forward to using HOTSHOT to keep the cramps during the swim in check. 

 

 

 

Meet the rest of our incredible KONA HOTSHOTS: 

  • Anne F Hughes: “My trainer convinced me it would be fun to go to the World Championships. He said together we could get me to Kona. At 61 years old, there aren’t many of us competing but among those that show up there are always 3 or 4 that are highly trained and very competitive. That’s me!”  (Anne qualified for Kona at IMWI 2015)
  • Barry Lewis: “This will be my 5th time doing Kona. This race is the pinnacle of our sport –it’s the most unreal experience. It’s a treat to race it. I respect what it’s about and what it takes to get there!”
  • Becky Paige: “This will be my 4th Kona. I love the competition! I’m excited to be in a new age group (45) and am at the younger end, which tends to help.”
  • Bryan Dever: “I was flying for work and when we landed, right there on the runway I got a call from a Tampa, Florida number. It was some guy from IRONMAN foundation telling me that I got in. I’m excited to race the course and see the landmarks you always hear about.”
  • Eduardo Jurcevic: “Kona really is a dream came true. I fought for four years to get the slot!”
  • Greg Colvin: “My wife convinced me to do my first triathlon in 2008. It was a local sprint and I loved it so much I came home and signed up for an Ironman. I’m excited about having another chance at Kona!”
  • James McGowan: “I am typically plagued by cramps at the IRONMAN distance — I’m a big fan of HOTSHOT!”
  • Jason Smith: “I started doing IRONMAN seriously a little later in my career. I’m excited about the experience. Kona is a sentimental place for my wife and I.”
  • Jim Moore: “I had a fantasy about maybe being an IRONMAN someday, so I just decided to start training. It took four years to finally get up to the distance, and in 2013 I raced Kona, and from that point on, it’s been a large part of my life.”
  • John Austin: “The first time I did Kona, it was a great experience. Crossing the finish line was an amazing feeling. I’m looking forward to going back.”
  • John Critchfield: “About 3 years ago I hadn’t run, I had the 0.0 sticker on the back of my truck, was overweight and unhealthy. My doctor said if I wanted to see my daughters graduate high school, I had to lose weight. I started running the next day. I fell in love with it. I always saw this “thing on TV, in Hawaii,” where people looked like they were going to die! I did an Olympic triathlon then a few full Ironman, and now here I am, ready for Kona.”
  • John Potter: “A friend recommended I get into triathlon 32 years ago.  Now, this is my 12th year at Kona!”
  • John Ratzan: “As a result of my heart surgery, I wanted to do an IRONMAN. Once I did it, I wanted to do THE IRONMAN.  This will be my second Kona. I’m aiming to do it under 10, last year I did it in 10:42.”
  • Karel Sumbal: “I qualified for Kona in my second full year as a triathlete and I raced on the Big Island at the IM World Championship. HOTSHOT was a big part of helping me qualify for my second Kona.”
  • Karen Perzyk: “When I qualified for Kona last year I was crying. I’m honored to be going, I never thought it was possible.”
  • Laura Rogers: “I like to volunteer to help out at Kona and eventually decided to try racing too. I signed up for a Lavaman and then Ironman 70.3 and now going to try the whole IRONMAN. Kona is my home and I want to represent our local triathlon community. ”
  • Michael Alan Kloosterman II: “I can tell you the exact day that Kona became my goal. Kona is one of those things that has always held a feeling of awe and inspiration but I never thought it within my reach or even possible for me to fathom taking part in.”
  • Sabrina Swift: “I am excited to be a part of the Kona group and cannot wait for the race!”
  • Scott Shumate: “Kona represented the pinnacle of the sport and I set my sights on it. I missed out by one spot in my first IRONMAN and my hunger grew that much more. I was lucky enough to qualify on my second attempt in Louisville last year.”
  • Steve Morris: “I’m looking forward to Kona because I’ve heard its brutal. I have pretty lofty goals that I am going after, I have only one IRONMAN to back myself up with, I really push and test myself.”
  • Tana Christine Jackson: “When I first saw Kona, it was a dream that I would some day race there. It was a distant dream because I didn’t yet know how to swim or bike. After my second Ironman in New Zealand where I placed 3rd in a smaller field, the dream started to get more real and then later that same year (1999) I did qualify in a dream come true at Ironman Canada. This will be y 12th Kona!”
  • Thomas Waldrop: “I qualified for Kona twice and didn’t do it at first. I did sprint distance and half. In 1994, I said ‘I’m 50 I’m going to go to KONA.’ I got in, and this will be my 14th time there!”

 


MORE ON THE HOTSHOT BLOG 

Train Smarter:  5 things every triathlete should incorporate into their IRONMAN training plan. 

Carbs and Protein: 7 tips for proper intake for optimal fuel. 

Crowie Alexander: Tips on training for IRONMAN, how to conquer obstacles and why he trusts HOTSHOT to keep cramps – and limitations – out of the picture.  Click here

6X Ironman Finisher Karel Sumbal: Read about his training mantra, goals for the World Championships and more.  Click here