Asheville woman of steel leaves Half Ironman competition in the rust

On Sunday, May 15, 2011, Daphne Kirkwood, one of Asheville’s most promising athletes, left her Rev3 Knoxville Half Ironman competition in the rust with her first-place victory in her age group (overall, she finished 9th among all women competitors).

Ryan Madamba — her teammate on the Hearn’s Triathlon Racing team — got third in his division in the Rev3 Olympic Distance Triathlon.

Completing a Half Ironman is what modern-day adventure seekers do when there’s no nearby Darien Gap to ply or sources of the Nile to discover. This isn’t about pumping up weekend warriors either:  It takes many months of such a complete obedience to training that bystanding Big Mac lovers jiggle in their slippers at the thought of the the daily sacrifice and dedication athletes like Kirkwood have for the sport.

(For those who don’t know, the Half Ironman is 70.3 miles of gushing lactic acid that sadistically sears every millimeter of oxygen hungry tissue throughout multiple veins of torture: a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run.)

Pre-Race Prep
The tapering, which is a gradual reduction of training that precedes any race, is devastating to the mind and body. Apprehension builds and the body leaks even the tiniest signals of pain and weakness to the brain. Atonement lies only in the release of all the bottled up energy that was amassed during the taper. The start of any race is like a cork popping in every one of the body’s 500-plus muscles. That moment justifies all the sweat, hurt and tears; and what’s more, it gives highly trained athletes permission to test themselves to the max against the ultimate contestant: the self.  There’s also the intoxicating gratitude that fills the heart at the starting line, which if it weren’t for that full-body muscular rumbling, the athlete would melt with emotion before the start gun’s sharp roar.

Says Kirkwood, “I don’t ever want to take for granted the fact that only a small percentage of people ever even have the ability or fitness to compete in a race such as this. I also know that from doing other races that the experience goes by so fast, so I really wanted to be sure to enjoy the experience, soaking it in and staying in the moment.”

Race Day Swim, Bike & Run
Swimming through 1.2 miles of choppy water was what the race organizers had in store for racers on May 15. Not that participants wanted this leg to be like paddle-board kicking in the bathtub, but the choppy waves and vigorous fin-slapping match among the female swimmers almost sent Kirkwood into panic mode. Thankfully, she shook herself together and blended the water so furiously that wildlife officials probably worried that locals were fishing with dynamite sticks again.

The bike was a rolling countryside route that reminded Kirkwood of her training grounds in Asheville. The only worry was whether her new Tri bike would do her right. Anyone who has tried anything new at a race regrets it 99 percent of the time. Ask any runner who has drank down several cups of coffee for the first time at a race in hopes of boosting performance.  But the new bike didn’t end up dropping her by any cultish snake handler encampment or anything like that during the 56 miles of hard pedaling and face-in-the-wind-huffing.

By the time she made it to the 13.1 mile run, she knew finishing up would be a push. She said a few prayers and gave herself a little pep talk, but the run was hilly and she could feel some leg cramps closing in fast.  But again, she trusted that her training in mountainous Asheville had prepared her for this. Plus, to give further purpose to her miles, Kirkwood was buried deep in the throws of a spiritual exercise she had read about some time before: dedicating miles, one after another to people she loves.

The last half mile of an event like this is the culmination of all the hopes, dreams and desires of a competitive triathlete. It can, and does, try racers during their weakest, most vulnerable moments to rally soul and body to give one last heave. Some during that last burst of energy falter. Some weep. Some lose control of their bowels. Kirkwood beamed.

“It was such an incredible feeling that washed over me to have traveled so far over rolling waters, wheels, and ankles, and to have still felt good even at the finish!”

It takes community
That race finish photo of Kirkwood crossing the line alone isn’t totally accurate; every one of the many friends who helped train and coach her went across the line with her on that day too. Each one of them brought something special to her journey and achievement that won’t ever be forgotten.

Some wonderful sponsors were with her the whole way too: Without Hearn’s going all out adjusting and re-adjusting Kirkwood’s Tri bike before the race,  Jus’ Running providing a super-fly pair of BRIGHT Asics running shoes (her racing kit and shoes were so flashy that a race day photographer told her she looked like a billboard), a friend lending an awesome Ironman Aquasphere Phantom wetsuit , and FastPivot’s sponsorship of the Hearn’s Triathlon Racing team, she would have been forced to watch the race stream across her computer screen.

This article was originally published at Kirkwood is FastPivot’s HR director.


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