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Meet Kona’s Youngest Competitors

Meet two of the inspiring age-group athletes who will compete in next week's Ironman World Championship.

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On October 12, some 2,500 triathletes will descend upon Kailua-Kona, Hawaii for the Ironman World Championship. While the average athlete hovers around the age of 43, there will be some much fresher faces among the crowd. Among them? Pauline Dauvergne and Valentin Carboniero, both of France, who are respectively the youngest female and male competitors in the field. Here’s a look at these two triathletes–and the journeys that lead them to Kona.

Youngest Female: Pauline Dauvergne

Age: 19
Hometown: Lamoura, France

Although Pauline Dauvergne has been competing in triathlon since she was 13, it wasn’t until this past July when she decided to give Ironman a go. Her first race, in Zürich, exceeded her own expectations and she finished in 14:15, good enough to win her age-group and earn a Kona slot–though she was hesitant to take it at first. “After the race, I was so exhausted, I told my parents that I wasn’t going to take the slot,” she recalls. “But I’ve been dreaming about Kona for a long time. After a bit of a rest, I decided to go for it. Qualifying was my biggest accomplishment in my life.”

This month, the teen will travel some 7,700 miles for her next major milestone: Shining on the world’s stage. And she’s got an insider’s guide to the course from none other than her father, who raced in Kona in 2012 and 2014. “He told me it will be hot, windy, and a long day,” says Dauvergne. “And that I have to be patient and focus and all will be okay.”

Dauvergne’s goal for the day is mostly of the celebratory nature–she’s just happy to be there along with her entourage, including her parents, her sister, her boyfriend, and her grandmother. And she hopes to snag a selfie with her idol, Swiss professional triathlete Caroline Steffen, whom she’s been following for a decade.

“Other than that,” says Dauvergne, “I just want to finish the race, and enjoy every moment.”

Youngest Male: Valetin Carboniero

Age: 20
Hometown: Albertslund, France

Valetin Carboniero was simply seeking a way to kick his smoking habit. He’d recently moved from France to Denmark to pursue his Bachelor’s degree and felt like committing to a major challenge–say, Ironman Copenhagen–would be just what he needed to give up smoking for good.

Carboniero’s choice to train for Copenhagen did lead him to quit smoking. And in a rather unexpected twist, it also led him to the starting line in Kona. As it turns out, by registering for Copenhagen, Carboniero was automatically entered in the Kona Dreamin’ lottery, a program spearheaded by Ironman co-founders John and Judy Collins. Each year, the organization provides automatic entry to 40 athletes who have or will participate in an Ironman race in the calendar year. And last December, Carboniero found out his name had been drawn.

“I was excited, but rationally thinking I would not be able to participate,” says Carboniero. “I’d never even done one Ironman at that point, yet alone swim more than 500 meters at that point. But it was too good to pass up.”

In August, Carboniero finished Copenhagen in 15:21, which gave him some confidence going into Kona. Still, he admits he was initially intimidated by the thought of racing in a field of the savviest and strongest triathletes on the planet. “My ability is nowhere near what the top athletes can achieve,” he says. “But the reason I began this Ironman journey was not for a specific result or finish time, but to become a better person and beat the person I was yesterday.”

As for being the youngest in the crowd? Carboniero relishes in his unique status. “It’s the cherry on the cake,” he says. “I don’t know if I will ever have the physical capability to qualify for Kona, so I’m very thankful for this opportunity.”