Ivy McGowan moved to Hawaii Island six years ago for one reason: to compete in the Ironman World Championship.
On Saturday, that decision paid off as she was one of 24 Big Island residents selected for a slot in the race.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” she said as she wiped tears from her face. “My heart is going about 200 beats per minute.”
McGowan is originally from Kentucky, but she set her sights on Kailua-Kona when she competed in her first triathlon more than a decade and a half ago.
“Sixteen years I’ve been trying to get in this race,” McGowan said. “It’s been a lifelong journey. And it’s been a traumatic year. I had some family losses, personal losses, and I survived a near-death bike crash about a year and half ago, so this is the golden day. I’m very excited.”
“I moved here for this race,” she said. “I said I’d drive a taxi cab if I had to to get to this race.”
She didn’t need to go that far — she works at Kona Community Hospital — but she was right in believing that moving here would help her chances of landing the coveted entry. Diana Bertsch, vice president of world championship events for Ironman, told the athletes gathered for the lottery that their odds of winning a spot were 1 in 1.4. That’s a startling contrast to the 3 percent of aspiring Ironman competitors she said make it worldwide.
“The reason that we do it is because if it wasn’t for the Hawaii community, the event wouldn’t be possible,” Bertsch said. “Five thousand people come together on one day in Kona in October and they put on the most incredible endurance sporting event there is in the world. It’s this community that makes it all happen. This is Ironman’s way of saying thank you to the Hawaii community.”
Ryan Lopossa became a part of the community when he relocated here from Orange County, Calif.
“When I moved over here almost 15 years ago, I volunteered with the Ironman, helping to drive the medical vans,” the 40-year-old said. “It kind of started with that. I’ve been doing a couple of triathlons for the last few years, so it’s a pretty big accomplishment. Luckily, they offer up the lottery slots for the Big Island residents so we can do the Ironman here in Kona. That’s a pretty special thing.”
The drawing was held prior to Saturday’s event, but the announcements were made outside King Kamehameha’s Kona Beach Hotel. Dozens of athletes took part in a free 5K fun run, “Chasing the Lottery,” ahead of the release of the names.
The announcement of each lottery winner drew cheers from the crowd and resulted in a wide range of emotions from those who heard their name called.
“I’m scared and I’m thrilled and I’m very grateful,” said Travis Obrey of Waimea. “I’ve dreamed of this since I was 12 years old. I’ve done a couple of Honus and finally got in the lottery.”
For Peter Bresciani of Captain Cook, winning the lottery was an early birthday present. He’ll turn 66 the day of the race.
“This is perfect timing,” said Bresciani, who didn’t run his first triathlon until he was 60 but estimated that he has done a dozen or more since. “I’m really excited.”
“It’s the perfect way to end the event,” Bertsch said. “Our directors that were here giving out the slots, they worked so hard to make it all happen. Truly, they’re the ones making dreams come true. To have them here and be able to give those slots out, to see the excitement that they are creating for people to have an opportunity, really ends it all in a positive way.”