Bree Wee was frustrated during the middle leg of the Ironman Canada race Sunday.
After a strong swim, she wasn’t making up the ground she had hoped to in the bicycle portion of the race. Nothing less than a guaranteed spot in October’s Ironman World Championship in Kona was riding on her performance and, after missing the past three signature events, she couldn’t imagine losing out on a bid this time.
Instead of forcing herself to pedal faster, which likely would have worn down her legs and made the 26.2-mile run that followed much more difficult, the Kailua-Kona professional triathlete focused on her training. She trusted the work she had done and the race plan she had put together with coach James Cotter, a former Big Island resident who has since moved to Texas, would pay off in the end.
By mile 16 of the run Wee had caught the leaders. She eventually overtook them and built on her lead to the point where she had a sizable lead. As she neared her dream, she was overcome with emotion. Tears started flowing, but her legs kept pumping toward the finish line and a spot in Kona.
“I was crying the whole last mile when it became apparent that I would win unless I started walking,” Wee said. “It’s like a big deal when you can finally start to trust yourself and your abilities. It was pretty emotional to finally believe that I could do something after trying for three years and getting shut down, shut down, shut down.”
As she crossed the finish line she jubilantly punched her arms in the air and got hugs from her 8-year-old son, Kainoa, and her mother, Ericka Davis, who race officials allowed into the chute to congratulate her.
The victory moved Wee from No. 44 in the Kona Points Ranking System to No. 26. She was back on island Tuesday morning when she received a letter from Ironman congratulating her on qualifying for the world championship. Although she had until Aug. 5 to answer it, she immediately responded that she would be taking part in the Oct. 11 event.
“I’m still pinching myself,” she said.
Wee, whose only previous Ironman victory came in Louisville in 2012, was nervous heading to Whistler, British Columbia. She typically likes to compete in warm-weather events and was dreading the wetsuit she needed in Lake Alta. She needn’t have been, as she was only two minutes, 51 seconds behind the pace set by New Zealand’s Anna Cleaver coming out of the water. That was much better than at Ironman New Zealand, where Cleaver had an an eight-minute lead on Wee heading to the bike transition.
Wee plans to compete in the state paddling championships on Oahu this weekend, and she credited that sport with her improved time in the water.
“At the transition area, I heard the times and thought ‘Damn, paddling must have helped my back and shoulders! I must be a better swimmer now!”
She said the transition area proved to be a bit problematic, as she piled on layers of clothing — including mittens and arm warmers — in temperatures she estimated at 52 degrees. Halfway through the 112-mile bike ride, she began taking off some of those layers as the temperature rose to about 85.
“I think that helped me as well,” Wee said. “I started feeling at home.”
Aside from the weather, Wee felt at home among the Canadian fans who lined the course.
“It was crazy,” she said. “The crowd was screaming so loud for me. I must have had a tremendous amount of support from the Canadians. They must have known how bad I wanted it. Every mile there were people screaming my name.”