Braving danger, solitude, and bike theft to break down barriers – what it means to race Ironman in South America
Boulder Pro Triathlete Nicole Valentine was inspired not only by the world record breaking finishing times at the Ironman South American Championship in Brazil, but of the fortitude of the athletes there
Attending Ironman Brazil in Florianopolis was an experience not only participating in the South American Championship, but an education on what it means to be a triathlete in South America.
All week leading up to the race, camps of athletes from Brazil, Paraguay, Argentina, and Peru could be found in the houses lining the bike and run course. Brightly colored tents and signs advertised their presence and made for a festival like atmosphere. There was a steady parade of athletes biking and running up and down the boulevard, wearing their respective team colors and country flags on their jerseys, and yelling taunts and encouragement to each other in Portuguese, Spanish, and English as they passed.
To be a triathlete in South America is a special thing. “We face danger when we ride outdoors and run in the streets, but I love my country and I am proud to represent it and inspire others” said Marcos Faria.
Marcos, a Brazilian triathlete, was the first age grouper out of the water with an impressive swim of 47 minutes and 46 seconds, and finishing time of 9:09:58. What is especially incredible about this result is that Marcos does 85% of his bike training sessions inside on a spin bike. Not a trainer. A spin bike. Two weeks after the race, Marcos had his bike stolen at gun point by a gang while riding the streets outside São Paulo. This is the reality for a Brazilian triathlete. You face danger and expose yourself to great risk if you want to ride outside. And training on your expensive race bike . . . forget it. Marcos uses his road bike when venturing out onto the streets of São Paulo.
Maria Luz Gill, known as “Lulu”, an athlete from Paraguay who has raced in Florianapolis for the past two years, balances a hectic life of work and family to put in the hours to train for Ironman. “Being a woman and mother training for an Ironman is a humbling experience because it puts into perspective that we are part of something bigger, and we must find a way to incorporate such a demanding sport into our lives in a constructive way” says Lulu. “We must learn to be efficient, and train discreetly: our family wants us to minimize the time spent away from them and friends hate posts about our training as it explains why we left early from the party on Friday.” Lulu finished 11th in her category with an impressive time of 10:52:23.
Alberto Marinoni, a friend and training partner of Lulu’s, was the first Paraguayan to qualify for Kona, placing 5th in Florianapolis. It was a monumental and historic event. A saying of Roberto’s is “Una Vida Mas No Tenemos.” We have just one life to live. Let’s make the most of it.
Marko Pandžić, a Peruvian athlete, who finished in 9:28:44, posted the second fastest time for a Peruvian athlete in Ironman history. AtletasPeru, Marca Peru, and Deportes ULima celebrated his victory with an interview live from Brazil and a flurry of social media postings – an inspiration and a hero to Peruvian athletes.
I’m incredibly grateful that my pro career has allowed me the opportunity to travel to Brazil, to partake in this race where Tim Don broke the Ironman World record, and the top 10 women in the pro field all went under 9:10. It was breathtaking, it was physically crushing, and it was soul shaking. I’ve come away from the event a better athlete for it. I’m so grateful for the camaraderie and inspiration of these athletes racing there, and I hope that others have the opportunity to experience triathlon in South America. I guarantee you will walk away inspired.