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Nancy Goodnight knows a thing or two about endurance. In addition to finishing 15 full Ironmans and more than 150 marathons, the 52-year-old Waco resident is the only woman to have raced in every single iteration of Ironman Texas since its inception in 2011.
“It’s me and 14 men who are still standing,” Goodnight says of the Ironman Texas streak, “It’s like a bad game of Survivor, only you don’t win 10 million dollars at the end.”
Despite a clear affinity for endurance sports, Goodnight wasn’t always an athlete – in fact, she describes herself as a “quiet, shy, chubby kid who played in the band and was last to be picked in every sport.” Her start as a runner came after having four children and supporting a husband through medical school.
“I was terribly lonely when we had four daughters within five years, and my husband’s medical residency basically left me alone with the children 24/7,” recalls Goodnight. “I found exercise to be a break from all those babies.”
Races were a way for Goodnight to claim something that was hers, and hers alone. She signed up for a 5K, then a half marathon, then a full marathon, then an ultramarathon. “The finish line is the most powerful feeling. It’s a total confidence booster.”
And then the wheels fell off. Like so many triathletes, Goodnight came to the sport while rehabilitating a running injury: “All that recovery time spent on the bike and in the pool made me decide I should at least get a medal for it,” Goodnight laughs. “I decided to give triathlon a try.”
Ironman Texas, a new race in 2011, was particularly appealing to Goodnight, who loved the idea of going long – really long. She trained for the race anticipating a finish time of around 14 hours – and shocked herself when she crossed the finish line in 12:30. She was hooked, and set her sights on getting to the Ironman World Championships.
Over the next eight years, Goodnight has come tantalizingly close to Kona. She has qualified for and raced the 70.3 World Championships, and consistently lands in the top five of her age group at the full Iron distance. Yet she struggled to break through to punch her ticket to Kona.
And then she got the phone call: After 15 Ironman finishes, Goodnight earned a Legacy spot at the 2019 Ironman World Championship. The Legacy program, introduced 2012, provides another pathway to Kona for age-group athletes. Those who have completed 12 or more Ironman triathlons are entered into a special lottery for a spot at the iconic race, allowing 50 athletes each year to experience a dream come true.
For Goodnight, taking part in the 2019 Ironman World Championship is a celebration of everything she loves about triathlon. “I am so excited, especially because I have so many friends and family members going with me.” The Nancy Goodnight Fan Club will include her daughters, who, in a lovely twist, will also serve as her insiders on the Kona course. What started as a way to get away from the demands of motherhood has now become a family affair, as all four daughters are runners and triathletes. Two of her daughters have raced the full Iron distance, and one qualified for and raced in Kona in 2017.
“It’s a full-circle experience,” says Goodnight with a smile.