Becoming an Ironman |

Becoming an Ironman

Joanna Cote Thurmancompetes at the Ironman Triathlon World Championships Oct. 13 in Kona, Hawaii. Cote-Thurman finished in 15 hours and 36 minutes.

“It’s not your physical capacity. It’s your indomitable will.”

That’s what Mackenzie Thurman wrote on a card to help inspire her mother to finish the Oct. 13 Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii.

It was her daughter’s words and the words of so many others that helped Joanna Cote-Thurman finish the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in 15 hours and 36 minutes.

The 51-year-old mother of two had her friends and family offer an inspiring quote or saying before she undertook the Ironman contest. She put these offerings on note cards, and with each passing mile, she grabbed another, read the words and thought about that person for the entire mile.

“Those people were all with me,” Cote-Thurman said. “Not only was my family there in person for every minute along the way, but I had all these people. These were the people that carried me across and made it all possible for me to do it.”

Completing the daunting Ironman race is an incredible feat for Cote-Thurman, considering 11 years ago the thought of running a sprint triathlon — the smallest version of a triathlon — terrified her.

At age 40, Cote-Thurman decided to take on her first sprint triathlon with much hesitation. But she completed that one, then another and another and another until she had competed in more than 50 triathlons in eight years.

But life soon caught up with Cote-Thurman, keeping her busy, and for two years, she did not compete in any triathlons, but then she found the urge again.

“I just felt like getting back into it,” she said. “I decided I wanted to do an Ironman.”

For an amateur to compete in the Ironman in Kona, a participant must enter a lottery and have also completed at least a half Ironman prior to the event.

Cote-Thurman won the lottery, being just one of 100 people chosen out of 25,000 people who entered. Then in June, she had to take on a half Ironman in Boise, Idaho.

“I’ve exercised my whole life, but I’m not a gifted athlete,” Cote-Thurman said. “I never was a competitive athlete, so I just started focusing on the 70.3 (half Ironman) and went back to basics with swimming, running and biking.

“The minute I got the lottery slot, I said, ‘Now I’m going to do it.’ I knew I was going to cross that finish line and hear those words, ‘You are an Ironman.’”

While the distances were manageable for Cote-Thurman at the half Ironman, the elements offered much more of a problem.

“That was an amazing experience because it was freezing in June,” she said. “It was really nice weather the week before, but as the event approached, it just kept getting colder and windier, colder and windier, until the day of the race. It was raining, it was in the high 30s, and the water was in the 50s.

“Literally, when we got to the starting line for the swim, there were snow crystals, and everyone was hypothermic before they got into the water. It was crazy. It was something that I would have never done if I didn’t need it for Kona.”

Cote-Thurman braved the Boise half Ironman as well as the elements to earn her right to compete in Kona.

In the weeks leading up to the Ironman, Cote-Thurman said she spent a lot of time focusing and visualizing the race.

Cote-Thurman arrived in Kona a week before the race and found it to be an experience unlike any other, she said.

“It was an amazing experience,” Cote-Thurman said. “Just being there because everybody was just so positive. The environment was just crazy electric with the most positive energy you could imagine. Everybody was just so excited.”

Cote-Thurman struggled with the swim, she said, but was able to manage the bike ride just fine, outside some big wind gusts that pushed her from one side of the road to another, then she completed the run, finishing 24 minutes faster then her goal.

“When you turn that final corner and there is all these faces and these people reaching their hands out and saying, ‘You did it. You’re an Ironman’, it’s like nothing else. I can see why people do this again.

“I said I would never do this again, but after that experience, I’m not quite sure because that experience is absolutely unbelievable.”

Cote-Thurman did most of her training on her own, running at Empire Mine and around her home, swimming at the Sierra Club and in Lake Wildwood, but when it came to biking, she got some help from Real Wheels Bicycle Studio owner, Chris McGovern.

“She was definitely confident on the bike,” McGovern said of Cote-Thurman. “But she wasn’t in a position to increase her power.”

With eight weeks of McGovern’s help, Cote-Thurman was able to ride nearly 2 mph faster than what she was hoping for.

“She had a goal in mind,” he said “And she was going to get it.”

Cote-Thurman’s experience has been one that has inspired her to give back to the sport.

“People think the triathlon is an individual sport,” Cote-Thurman said. “But this experience in particular shows that it’s not just one individual but that it is truly a community of people that enables you to do something.”

Through her trials and tribulations Cote-Thurman has inspired her daughter.

“I’m very proud of her,” Mackenzie Thurman said of her mother. “I knew that she could do it and am very happy that she finished it. It’s very inspiring. I hope that I can do something like that one day, too.”

To contact Sports Writer Walter Ford, call (530) 477-4232 or email him at

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