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'It makes me happy', Competitors share why they participate in Ironman

They have their sights set on that finish line on Sherman Avenue in downtown Coeur d’Alene.
Credit: CDA Press

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Early Friday, Independence Point has become Ironman Point.

Hundreds of athletes gather here throughout the morning as their launching pad for practice swims in Lake Coeur d’Alene. It is two days to Ironman Coeur d’Alene.

They sit on the steps in groups and chat. Some are friends, while some just met. There is a lot of laughter, a lot of smiles. Others sit alone and stare out at the blue water and sunny skies and ponder what's ahead.

On this morning, like most this week, they came to swim.

Wearing swim caps of yellow, orange and blue, they pass each other in the clear water, heading out and coming in. They seem to be going in every direction. Most are out for a short swim, maybe 20 minutes or so, just to get the feel of the water, which is pleasantly warm for this time of year. Others go longer just because it feels good to be out there.

In this crowd of people in their 20s to 60s, there are Ironman rookies, about to try their first, full of nervous energy, but also filled with high hopes for a good race day.

There are veterans, who have done several and don’t seem too concerned about the triple digits expected on Sunday. Overcoming difficult conditions is what Ironman is about. As they say, if it was easy, everybody would do it.

Everybody doesn’t do it.

In fact, it’s a small, often considered crazy, group that does a full official Ironman race, fewer than 25,000 annually.

That’s not too surprising. Most folks aren’t that wild about forking over hundreds of dollars to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and then run 26.2.

But some are. For them, it is priceless. And they have their sights set on that finish line on Sherman Avenue in downtown Coeur d’Alene.

The Press interested five of those registered for today's Ironman Coeur d'Alene.

Here’s why they do it.

•••

Heidi Slomer of Kenmore, Wash., is going after Ironman number eight with a goal of finishing 12 so she can qualify for the Ironman championship in Kona, Hawaii. She’s also scheduled to do an Ironman in Muncie, Ind., and Sacramento, Calif., both in October.

“I feel great,” she said after a 26-minute swim.

Slomer likes the consistency and the personal responsibility it takes to do Ironman.

“I like challenging myself and setting a goal. I’m very goal oriented,” she said.

She never works out just for the sake of working out. There has to be a reason.

“Ironman is the best reason I’ve ever known," Slomer said.

She completed her first Ironman in 2011 after learning to swim, which is now her favorite segment of the 140.6-mile race.,

“I love the swim. I hate getting out of the water,” she said, smiling. “It’s like liquid yoga. It really is. It’s just relaxing.”

And today, at 55, she is strong and confident and for that, gives thanks to Ironman.

“It makes me happy.”

•••

David Toms of Tampa Bay sits on the steps of Independence Point after a short swim.

“Felt awesome,” he said. “Flat and beautiful. I’m from Florida. I’m used to waves and salt water. This is a nice change.”

This will be his fifth Ironman. He did an Ironman in Tulsa, Okla., just a month ago, and also completed the inaugural Ironman in Youghal, County Cork, Ireland, in 2019, where conditions were brutally cold and rainy and the swim was canceled.

He didn't mind.

“I like exercise and fitness, even though I’m not super skinny like everybody else,” he said.

He’s a good swimmer, solid biker, and as for running, well, it’s his least favorite part of the race.

"Running, I do," he says.

Toms played football in college and enjoyed sports. He was looking for something different and began doing triathlons.

“Ironman was kind of like the next step up,” he said.

He finds it an event that is fun, but also demanding and requires him to dig deep.

"It’s a test for me to take my body across those stretches,” he said, laughing.

In Tulsa, he hit a personal best on the swim in one hour, 22 minutes, had a strong bike in 6:34, just off his PR of 6:13, and finished the run in 6:13, though he’s usually about a 5:30 in the marathon.

“My run isn’t there,” he said.

••••

John Sheridan of San Diego will be starting his eighth Ironman.

“Hopefully my seventh finish,” he added, smiling.

He races with Ironman’s Team Challenge to raise money for the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation.

His wife of seven years has Crohn’s disease, which is described as a “chronic inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract” and “can sometimes cause life-threatening complications.”

He started doing Ironman after watching a friend do one.

“I was surprised by it,” Sheridan said. “Typically non-triathletes think it’s just a bunch of uber-competitive nut jobs. It’s not. Most are supportive. It’s very not what I was expecting.”

Sherman had done some swimming, biking and running and said he thought, “I had done all this stuff. Why not?”

His training for this race has gone well.

“I feel real confident in that. You have to worry about the heat a little bit, but you have to adapt to it,” he said.

At that, Sheridan decided it was time for a swim.

He looks out at the water and smiles.

“Go join all the crazy people out there,” he said.

••••

Laura Marcoux of Colorado is sitting at Independence Point stretching her legs. She is excited to be doing her first Ironman since 2019.

“I can’t wait to be back here,” she said. “This distance is my happy place.”

For Marcoux, this will be Ironman number nine.

“It’s the pinnacle of our sport,” she said.

She recalled hearing about the Ironman championship in Kona.

“The first thing you think of is how does anybody do that. Then 30 seconds later, the second thing you think is, I’m going to do that.”

So she does. Marcoux is a literal bundle of energy with a big smile and engaging personality. Her best Ironman time is about 10 hours and 20 minutes, which is fast.

“It’s awesome. I love this sport,” she said. “This is my life.”

Marcoux played Division I lacrosse at the University of Connecticut. She is a triathlon coach and co-owner of Nyx Endurance. Twelve athletes from Nyx will also be in Ironman Cd'A.

“All different times abilities, supporting each other,” she said.

That’s what she loves about the community of Ironman.

“That’s my favorite thing about it. I love that anybody can do this if they just have enough heart and they believe in themselves enough,” she said. “It’s really cool to just be in an environment where that is on display in full force you just feel like you’re with good people.”

Her goal in Coeur d’Alene is to qualify for Kona, so she won't be holding back, despite extreme conditions, about 100 degrees, that await.

“I’m little so the heat works for me,” she said, laughing. “I don’t have a whole lot of body to keep cool.”

••••

Tony Buoncristiani is an orthopedic surgeon from Ketchum, Idaho. He has a lot of nervous energy that serves him well as he has a busy life with a family, three kids and his office is moving.

“Life kind of gets in the way and you’ve got to find time to train,” he said.

As an orthopedic surgeon, he tries to practice what he preaches, and lives an active, healthy lifestyle.

“I’m amazed with the human body and what it can do. You test it to the different limits,” he said.

Buoncristiani tested himself in 1988 at the age of 18 when he completed the ironman in Kona in 10 hours and 45 minutes.

“I was pretty good back then,” he said, smiling.

When he turned 50 a few years ago, he decided to do Ironman Canada. He decided to give it another go in Coeur d’Alene.

“It’s been awhile. I’ve always missed it,” he said.

Buoncristiani laughs as he recounts a story of not finishing his first Olympic distance triathlon several decades ago. This was back in the days, he said, when they had no endurance drinks, gels or bars. This was before PowerBar.

“They had water at the aid stations,” he said. “That’s all."

He said he reached the point of crawling on the run, and finally collapsing.

When organizer woke him up and told him his day was done, he looked at them and said, “All I want is a banana and I’ll finish the dang thing."

For Buoncristiani, Ironman today is about training and finishing well. He cried when he finished in Canada.

“It’s a lifestyle. An active lifestyle, healthy living,” he said. “I think that’s important.”