Beginner’s Luck: On Never Getting to Kona

Most of us will never make it to the Ironman World Championship, but that doesn't mean we don't have a valuable spot in this sport.

Photo: Competitive Image / @CompImagePh

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I had the fantastic privilege of attending and being a part of the speakers at the Outspoken Summit in Tempe, Arizona. At one of the sessions, the legendary Julie Moss spoke of her epic and powerful finish at the Ironman World Championship in Kona—you all know it—the one were she crawled to the finish line. (You can watch it here.)

An audience of nearly 100 women listened, captivated to Julie’s recount of her incredible story and the amazing day of courage, fight, and heart. Julie is a powerful trailblazer for women in our sport; her contribution is unparalleled. Julie mentioned how the vibes, the soul, and the power of Kona is forever a place to be remembered and cherished. She asked the audience members how many had the fortune, speed, and hard work to make it to Kona—and a wave rushed through the room as many, many hands popped up.

In that brief, spark of a moment, I felt a bit of loneliness.

While we had all gathered at Outspoken to build connections, inspire leadership, and create solutions to some of the disparity in our sport (and that we did!)—I had a small moment where I thought: A disparity exists because I will never be Julie Moss. I will never be like these hands-raised women who have made it to Kona. I will never (ever) qualify for Kona (unless in my 70’s—then perhaps). I am not good enough. I am not fast enough. I am not…

These are the same words I have heard expressed in our sport over and over again from newbies, slower triathletes, weekend warriors—the small voice that says, “Who do you think you are? You don’t look like her. You will never be…” I have written about these voices for years—and they are loud in some of us.

In life and in triathlon, we must choose “our” Kona, our “Ironman”, our big goals. Not all triathletes are destined for the Ironman World Championship. Not all triathletes are destined to race 70.3 or 140.6 miles or the Boston Marathon, either. Not all triathletes are destined for speed, sponsorships, and prestige in the sport.

And guess what? That is okay. In fact, it’s more than okay.

Something about triathlon and the fact that the pros race with the age-groupers that makes the World Championship so accessible and it feels reachable, close to the average triathlete somehow. But we aren’t over here stomping our feet for not making the Olympics in swimming or weightlifting. We understand the level of performance and work and power in that title—an Olympian—a world champion. Yet, somehow Kona feels closer—and something that we should all experience, somehow.

Yet that isn’t the case.

Even as Julie recounted her tale, the speed at which she raced and ran “back then” was remarkable and mind-boggling to me. And even more remarkable was her most recent Kona (at age 60), she clocked an incredibly 12-hour-ish finish. That is Julie. I am me. I go at the speed of me.

In our lives, it’s easy to speak in terms of subtraction—to see the things that we lack, our inadequacies in sport, life, relationships, and even physical appearance.

Hearing the inspiring story of Julie forced me to ask myself the question of: What AM I in triathlon? Who AM I as an athlete? What does this sport mean to me?

The truth and power of our lives and words comes with asking the proper questions. The question of “Who AM I?” reframes my perspective and shifts what is important.

When I answered those questions for myself, I came up with: I am an athlete. I swim, bike, and run to make myself and my life better. I am ME, and that’s the best version of athlete I can be. While I may never see the beauty of Ali’i Drive in Kona (as an athlete), I have been and continue to be blessed by the amazing body I have, the triathlon experiences I have encountered and am always looking forward to next ones. I remember these answers to the questions about myself, my body—no matter which speed my body likes to go—I am enough, and triathlon is my journey.

In being “Outspoken,” I have learned to gain inspiration from the greats like Julie Moss and Sally Edwards. But to also remember to listen with an open heart and ears—in order to remind myself (and others) that we—even at the back of the pack sometimes—are also enough.

Meredith Atwood (@SwimBikeMom) is a recovering attorney, motivational speaker and author of Triathlon for the Every Woman: You Can Be a Triathlete. Yes. You. She is the host of the podcast, The Same 24 Hours. Meredith lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children and writes about all things at In addition to Triathlon, she has a second book due out Fall 2019.

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