See Jane Run. And Swim. And Bike.

By Joshua Jodoin

Picture this: You’re the president of Ironman Canada, you have over 2000 competitors from around the world, 4000 excited volunteers, the city of Penticton bursting at the seams with spectators and plumes of smoke rolling in from the Kelowna forest fires threatening your event.

Do you risk the health of the competitors by holding the race? Is there an alternative that will allow the race to continue, taking every variable into consideration?

Then there is my friend Jane Dafoe, in her early 40’s, who has trained for over a year and now fears her hard work may be threatened by the fires. She has dedicated 20 hours a week for the last year, paid large sums of money for registration, a new bike and training, and is competing to raise money for the kids at Hull Child and Family Services, where she works.

In the end, adjustments were made, ensuring people were close to medical help if needed. So, Jane and the other 2000-plus competitors were able to take part in this remarkable event.

For those who have no idea what Ironman is, it is a triathlon made up of a 3.86 km swim, a 180.2 km bike and a 42.2 km run. Just one of these accomplishments would be a celebrated feat but putting them back-to-back, it’s no wonder they call it Ironman.

Evolving from modest roots in Penticton–there were only 23 competitors in 1983–it is now nationally televised, sponsored by Subaru, and offers substantial cash prizes to its top performers. Canada’s Ironman in Penticton has earned a unique reputation for being one of the most friendly, supportive and well-organized events in the world.

Sun., Aug. 24, 2003 was chilly and mildly smoky. Still, by 4 a.m., downtown Penticton was absolutely mad with Ironman competitors rushing to get signed in. I knew then that the next time I would see Jane would be on the course battling her smoke-induced asthma, the physical demands of the run, bike, and swim and displaying the mental toughness and dedication needed to finish the Ironman. With a look of admiration and a "good luck," she was off to further prepare.

By 6:30 a.m., the competitors were decked out in wet suits and red swimming caps and made their way onto the small stretch of beach provided as the starting area. It was stunning to view the sea of red caps floating on top of black wet suits flailing their arms in preparation for the arduous swim. A cannon fired at 7 a.m. and the competitors shot into the water like a school of fish, splashing and fluttering for advantage.

Jane later recalled her experience that consisted of being kicked in the head several times by other eager swimmers, a leg cramp and the remarkable story of two swimmers who stopped to help her.

The competitors began the bike race anticipating significant climbs and hills that lay ahead on the 180.2 km bike trail. Imagine being fatigued by the intense swim you just endured and now biking, sandwiched between cars and guard rails.

The transition from bike to run is a very interesting one to observe. Competitors come racing in and pass their bikes to volunteers. They then change into appropriate running gear. Most competitors take time to gobble down a banana, some power gel, lots of water, even a slice or two of pizza. It is essential competitors maintain a diet and ensure their bodies receive much needed nutrients to recover from such devastating physical activity.

Finally, they are off on the run. This was the most inspirational part of the entire course to watch, as the competitors fought intense mental and physical weariness. At this point, many people’s goal simply becomes finishing.

Jane’s first lap was the most trying. She began to suffer respiratory problems and severe leg cramps. She persisted however, receiving a quick dose of ventolin from the course paramedics and drinking plenty of Gatorade and water to replenish the lost electrolytes in her legs. Many people broke down and simply walked the 42.2 km course, adding to the others’ mental strain and desire to walk. Jane stayed the course though, ensuring her own pride and challenging herself to the limit.

I cannot express the incredible experience of viewing, let alone competing, in such an event. For those of you who ever consider doing something like it, it will be among the most powerful experiences of your life. My admiration for all people who even dare challenge the Ironman has jumped by leaps and bounds and I have personally been inspired to some day attempt it myself.

Watching Jane’s astonishing performance along with the rest of her competitors, it is clear the Ironman is not to be taken lightly. It is a life-affirming adventure that begins with a dream and a courageous heart.

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