New faces abound


One has to fight the temptation to snorkel; another is praying he can finish the run.

One feels like she is in constant triathlon mode, chasing four children ages 7 or younger; another has been tempted to turn professional.

With a variety of motivations and goals, 25 Big Island athletes will swim, bike and run their way toward the goal of being crowned an Ironman at today’s Ironman World Championship Presented by MyList.

Many familiar names are missing from this year’s crowd of participants seeking to finish the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle run and 26-mile marathon run. At least nine of the 25 triathletes are participating in the event for the first time.

“I just really love to challenge myself,” said Tiffany Lindsey, one of the first-timers. “I have four little boys under age 7. I want them to grow up around an active lifestyle.”

Lindsey was a professional dancer aboard a cruise liner, where she met her husband, who worked on the cruise line as well. He already lived in Kona, so when the two got married, Lindsey moved to Kona, where the couple started a family.

Now, the former Radio City Rockette hopes to dance her way to a strong finish.

Asked how she balances the job of mommy and triathlete, she said she is comfortable handling both roles.

“Your weekend training is where you do your long distances,” Lindsey said. “You do have a few more two-a-day workouts. You do a run and swim, or swim and bike. You have to do a few extra workouts.”

Lindsey hopes to finish the triathlon in less than 13 hours, but she realizes many factors are out of her control.

“It’s really so unknown. I don’t know what is going to happen,” Lindsey said. “I pray for no wind.”

While Lindsey prays for no wind, especially on the bicycle portion of the race in perennially windy Kohala, Bryan Sawaya is praying he is in the race long enough to battle the wind.

The lifelong asthmatic from Anchorage, Alaska, now living in Kailua-Kona, faces a serious challenge every time he tries to swim the first leg of the race. Another Ironman world championship rookie, Sawaya hopes to finish before the cutoff time.

“Growing up, I was not able to compete in any kind of sports,” Sawaya said. “I was always on some kind of medicine for my asthma. I never swam more than what I had to on my surfboard. I just completed my first mile swim a month before the half-Ironman this year.”

Sawaya’s lung capacity problems force him to take a different approach to the swim.

“I’m also doing the entire swim breast stroke, which is kind of unheard of,” Sawaya said. “With the way my lungs are, it seems to be a more comfortable stroke. I’ve done the 2.4-mile swim three times, and I’m going to be cutting it close. One time I finished in (2 hours, 4 minutes), and another time in 2:19. As you know, the cutoff time is 2:20.”

“Once I get out of the water, I’m good to go.”

Another Anchorage transplant is Jeremy Withrow, also living in Kailua-Kona, who will also be competing in his first Ironman world championship. A lifelong gym rat, Withrow got bored with the gym scene and looked for something different. An air-traffic controller at Kona International Airport, Withrow has learned to pack his training into the available time.

“I mostly work four 10-hour days,” Withrow said. “It frees up the weekends. I put all my training into the three days.”

But not everyone is a newcomer. Waimea’s Andrea Bess, a native of Brazil, was the only Hawaii Island athlete to qualify without the lottery.

Bess qualified with a third-place age group finish at the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii on June 2 in Kohala. The 35-year-old completed the half-Ironman in 5:01:24.

Bess regularly competes in triathlons, running three half-Ironmans and three full ones a year. This is her third appearance at the Ironman world championship, but her first with new coach Thomas Vonach.

“He pulled me through some intense sessions,” Bess said.

Bess, who runs her own fitness business, had to back off training others this year to focus on her own workouts. She believes the change will make her stronger this year.

She finished the 2011 championships in 12:21:36, a bit slower than her 2010 finish of 11:48:44.

Her goal this year is to finish around 11:30.

Bess has had offers to turn professional, but she declined to focus on her family and work.

“I have four jobs, and I have a daughter,” Bess said.

Another veteran competitor is Mike Hamilton, who will compete in his 11th Ironman world championship.

“The third year was the best as far as overall,” Hamilton said. “Just over 12 hours and 15 minutes on that day. It was a good day, the winds were good. Everything was really good, the swim went smooth.”

Hamilton, a pharmacist from Keauhou, enjoys the entire experience of the race, whether or not his time is impressive.

“(My goal is) just to finish, just have a wonderful day,” Hamilton said. “The volunteers are great. It’s just one of those super days where you see everybody. Volunteers are there, willing to help.

“Once I get out of the water, everything is great. I’m accused of snorkeling instead of swimming, I’m so slow. I saw manta rays last time.”