Photos by Efrat Eshel
Six weeks ago, at the end of a delightful ride in the mountains of Jerusalem, I flew off my bike after a sharp turn and broke four ribs. I could barely swim or run for the most intensive part of my Ironman training. The Ironman triathlon consists of a 3.8 km swim, a 180 km bicycle ride, and a full (42 km) marathon. My interpretation of this potential setback was that I would undertrain and go to the competition fresh and ready based on many hours of training over the last three demanding years.
We were 20 teammates in the Pipman team from Israel, most of us competing in our first international full length Ironman race in Klagenfurt, Austria. On Sunday, July 3, we woke up at 3am (we are so used to the early morning hours from our many months of training together), and had a banana and coffee. The dining room was filled with friends preparing sandwiches for the long bike ride. We walked together from our charming hotel (for our team and supporters only) to visit our bikes and make sure all our bags (bike bag, run bag, street bag) had the proper equipment and then we continued to the lake to get ready for "take-off".
We planned to do yoga to get us in the right frame of mind before the start, but it conflicted with the dancing music so we danced before leaping into the lake. One of the girls from our group, Reut, who is aged 40, had the largest support team including her amazing husband Yaniv, her two sons and her parents, who all came to the lake at 6:30am to give her a big family hug. I felt at that moment as if all of my children: Keren and her husband Eshchar, Michael and his wife Roni, my son Daniel, and my parents (my mom is my biggest fan on earth and my father in heaven), were hugging me as well. My sister Lisa was cheering from heaven, especially when it was tough, and I felt her spirit with me during the entire race. I call it "Lisa Power".
Swimming in the canal for the last 900 meters was not the enchanted forest I tried to imagine in my mind. It was impossible to see under the water and fellow swimmers were climbing on top of one another. The "Tour de France" ambiance of the Austrian people in the surrounding towns as we rode was the best feature of the entire race. People of all ages were cheering. "Hop, hop, hop!" "Super!" "You can do it! "Go Aviva go!" There were lots of water showers from people's homes and water bottles along the biking and marathon paths. I loved that part of it. Due to the crazy heat, it was by far the most challenging bike ride of my life. Every time my legs cramped due to the lack of salt and water, I breathed deeply and did my own "bike yoga workout". How the hell do you run a marathon after that, you may ask?
After 8 km of running I saw an Israeli participant slowing down. "Yalla, you can do it," I said to him. And we did it, together. We ran 34 km cooperatively. A local Austrian ski instructor who enjoyed our pace joined us for a few kilometers, and we tried to collect a few of my teammates as well. We gave the last two kilometers all we had.
Hezie, my husband, chose to be there with me, to support, encourage, experience, share, help, smile, and simply feel what it means to complete a full Ironman race. He was there at the changing station after I completed the bike ride in 37 degrees heat. He lifted my spirit and cheered me on to run the full marathon. With 10 km left to complete the marathon, he was there again with the entire family on the phone shouting all the way from Israel, again giving me the extra energy to run to the finish line, He was waiting at the finish with the flag of Israel that I could grab. I soared with it to the finale.
Riding for the children of Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem every November gives me the best motivation for every race. If they can heal, anything is possible. Endurance athletes need lots of mental power and by far the best part of the Ironman experience was being part of the incredible Pipman team led by our modest and loving coach, Shay Pipman, and the best team manager on the planet, my very dear friend Tami Shoham. Together with my star-studded teammates and their families, we did it.
I am filled with gratitude and love - and pride in coming in first place in my age category. We all made our dream come true.