Not Your Everyday Athlete
Ironman championship start in Kona, Hawaii.

Tens-of-thousands of triathletes try to get one of those coveted Ironman spots every year. Only 1,800 succeed. Sharon Rodier, of Science Systems and Applications Inc, is one of those triathletes at the starting line in Kona, Hawaii. Credit: ASIPHOTO

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By: Jennifer Collings

When Sharon Rodier, a Science Systems and Applications Inc (SSAI) employee at NASA Langley, is at work, her time is spent weaving together data from multiple satellites to generate a seamless picture of the clouds in the atmosphere. Similarly, outside of work, Rodier spends her free time fusing three sports together– biking, swimming and running, to compete in triathlons.

For Rodier, however, the race hasn’t been without hurdles.

While preparing for one of the biggest triathlons in the world, the Ironman World Championship held in Kona Hawaii, Rodier was bicycling down a steep decline with a group of fellow triathletes when the mirror of a large truck clipped her. As she hit the ground with a broken elbow and several lacerations, the vehicle sped off.

Rodier explains that the emotional pain was worse than the physical injuries. “I was in complete shock. As I was laying there on the ground I knew that there was no way I was going to make it to my next race,” says Rodier. “Then my thoughts immediately jumped to October and the Kona race.”

Sharon Rodier in Ironman championship.

Sharon Rodier on her 80th bicycling mile of the Ironman World Championship Competition in Kona, Hawaii. Credit: ASIPHOTO

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At an athlete’s dinner the next night, Rodier was reminded of the Kona race again, a mere three months away, while highlights from last year’s race were played. “As soon as I saw the video, I was so overwhelmed and I knew I had to make it to that triathlon.”

Rodier’s passion for triathlons began in college after a bad scuba diving accident put her in critical condition. At about the same time, the first Ironman race was taking place in Waikiki Beach Hawaii, and Rodier was inspired. “I was tired of being in and out of hospital, and I knew that if I ever got healthy, I wanted to do it some day,” she explains.

Rodier started out with local marathons and raced her first major triathlon in Virginia Beach, Va. During the season she tries to train every day. “One day I’ll swim, and the next I run,” explains Rodier. “On the weekends, I really practice my distance training.”

For Rodier’s 50th birthday, she completed in her first Ironman Competition in Florida. “I thought that would be the cherry on the ice cream, but my dream to compete in the Kona Ironman still hadn’t gone away.”

The Ironman Word Championship now held in Kona, Hawaii is known for it’s harsh environmental conditions, incredible length, and prestigious competitors. As the story goes, the Ironman Triathlon was created by three Navy Seals who were arguing over who was the best athlete – bikers, runners or swimmers. The created a competition involving all three, and the winner would be given the title of Ironman.

To prepare for the Kona Triathlon, Rodier decided to enter Ironman Lake Placid, in Lake Placid, N.Y., which is where she had her accident. “Most of the women in my age group don’t work as much as I do, so they have more time to train. Since I can’t train 30 hours a week, I knew that I would have to do as much as I could to get myself in top condition for the race,” explains Rodier.

Sharon Rodier finishing Ironman championship.

After 2.4-miles of swimming, 112-miles of biking, and a 26.2-mile marathon run through tough ocean waves, and challenging lava-covered terrain, Sharon Rodier finishes the Ironman World Championship. Credit: ASIPHOTO

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Upon returning to Hampton Roads after her accident, Rodier visited an orthopedist to begin mending her broken elbow. “After we got to talking, I found out that the orthopedist happened to do triathlons himself. He understood my desire to keep training, and made me a special cast,” explains Rodier. The unique cast allowed her to continue swimming, and it was shaped so that Rodier could hold the handlebars on a bike. Rodier also continued to run, even though the trauma to her legs slowed her down significantly.

After three months of training and physically therapy and against all odds, Rodier participated in Kona Ironman competition, and completed the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run in 15 hours. The average triathlete completes the marathon in 13 hours or less, which was the time Rodier had wanted before her accident.

“I definitely had limitations; I was still recovering from the accident, I don’t have as many hours a week to train, and I was a lottery winner amongst the most elite athletes,” says Rodier. “I had to accept all of it, and it was very humbling. But I smiled the whole way.”

To enter the Kona Triathlon, one must qualify by coming in first place in another Ironman competition. There are about 1800 slots to compete, and of those only 300 are first timers, and only 150 of those are reserved for a lottery for “everyday athletes” to give people who did not qualify for the Kona chance to compete. Rodier won one of those lottery tickets.

“It was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I finally had a chance at the ultimate competition,” says Rodier.

After finishing one the most demanding triathlons in the world, one would think Rodier finally found “the cherry on the ice cream” that she was looking for after the Florida Triathlon. “I think I want to go back to Kona, except next time I want to qualify instead of winning the lottery. I’m so ready. I would do it tomorrow if I could.”

NASA Langley Research Center
Managing Editor: Jim Hodges
Executive Editor and Responsible NASA Official: H. Keith Henry
Editor and Curator: Denise Lineberry