Helen Zurek competed in her first triathlon five years ago. It was a sprint triathlon in which she won her division.
She hasn’t slowed down since competing in triathlons all over the U.S. as well as Switzerland and Budapest.
The energetic and upbeat 45-year-old triathlete is now a member of the USA triathlon team and is looking forward to representing her country June 1 at the International Triathlon Union World Championships in Belfort, France.
“To wear the red, white and blue is amazing,” Zurek said. “It’s like a mini-Olympics for us, they have an opening ceremony, we all walk in with our flag, and there’s countries from all over the world doing the same. There’s 4,000 competitors. There’s a closing ceremony. It’s like the Olympics for old people.”
Zurek competes in the Athena division, which is a category of triathletes who weigh 150 pounds or more. It’s a division she has dominated since joining.
In 21 triathlons, Zurek has placed first in 17 of them in the Athena division.
“Thats what I’m known for is Athena,” Zurek said. “Anyone can do a triathlon. You don’t have to be a little skinny girl.”
Zurek has been a member of the USA team since 2010 and qualified for the 2012 team after placing first at a 70.3 triathlon in Oklahoma.
The 70.3 triathlon is broken up into a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and a 13.1 mile run.
When Zurek competes in Belfort, she will tackle a 2.5 mile swim, a 75 mile bike ride, and an 18 mile run.
For Zurek, she excels on the bike.
“Getting on the bicycle is like instant happiness,” she said. “In a triathlon, you have to be strongest on the bike. Because when you get off the bike, you still have to have strong legs because now you have to run a marathon.”
The elite triathlete, who works as the director of medical records at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, has completed three Iron Man marathons which are longer than World Championship triathlon.
An Iron Man triathlon is comprised of a 2.4 mile swim, a 100 mile bike and finally 26.2 run.
The funny thing is, Zurek has never run a marathon without it being at the end of Iron Man.
This year she has already run four half-marathons and will run another in May.
Zurek is currently in training for the Belfort race. She trains 2-3 hours each week night with at least two of the three disciplines and that on weekends she embraces all three aspects of the triathlon.
“Pain is only temporary, but winning lasts forever,” Zurek said. “I always know I will finish. Once your brain says ‘stop,’ your body will too. My mantra is ‘I run eight-minute miles’ I’m always thinking ‘I run eight-minute miles,’ and then I just start running eight minute miles.
“Your brain tells your body what to do. It’s very powerful. There has to be no fear and you have to be having fun.”
Zurek has competed in two world championship events in her career, placing 30th in Budapest, and ninth in Switzerland.
Her goal this year to leave Belfort with a top-10 finish.
“Being on the podium is awesome,” Zurek said. “You just have to dig deep and get that sense of accomplishment.”
After the Belfort triathlon, Zurek will compete in the first ever Lake Tahoe Iron Man in September.
“I want to win it,” she said. “It’s in my back yard. I should win it.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.