Staff Sgt. Joel Pena
10th Mountain Division Journalist
Many things in life are free; some you have to earn.
On Oct. 12, nearly 1,800 athletes – including two from Fort Drum – will embark on a 140.6-mile journey that presents the ultimate test of body, mind and spirit to earn the title of Ironman.
Now in its 35th year, the Ironman World Championship centers on the dedication and courage exhibited by participants who demonstrate the Ironman mantra that “Anything Is Possible.”
One person who hopes to demonstrate that anything is possible is Capt. Jessica Lee Forman, commander of C Company, 710th Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.
Forman was picked by the Kona Ironman Championship to represent the Army in the Military Division, along with Sgt. 1st Class Josh Horsager, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 75th Ranger Regiment.
A native of Manchester, Conn., Forman is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. After graduating, she reported to Fort Lewis, Wash., where she met up with one of her friends from the academy who happened to be on the post’s 10-miler team.
“My friend invited me to run with the team,” Forman said. “That was the longest run of my life. They ran eight miles! That’s the longest I’ve ever ran in my life, but ever since, I’ve run every Army Ten-Miler since 2006.”
During those days at Fort Lewis, Forman said they trained five days a week.
One of those days was a swimming day. She recalled a lifeguard on duty there noticed that she was a pretty good swimmer.
Her face lights up when she recalls childhood memories of swimming.
“Ever since I can remember, my mother used to take me and my sister to swimming lessons,” she said. “The first time she took us, I refused to get in the water, but a few weeks later, I got in the water and I’ve been hooked ever since.”
Forman has been on swimming teams throughout her childhood and high school. She also was part of the West Point swimming team.
The lifeguard at Fort Lewis told her she was a good runner and a swimmer, and he asked whether she had ever considered doing a triathlon.
“What’s a triathlon?” she responded.
He explained that a triathlon consists of three sequential endurance events: swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles and running 26.2 miles.
Forman said she asked herself, “How hard can it be? I rode a bike when I was a little girl, and that’s something you don’t forget.”
During her first triathlon, Forman said that she used a mountain bike. She laughed out loud as she remembered how it was absolute torture and detrimental to her race. Forman vowed she would never again race on that mountain bike.
It’s been a few years since her biking incident. Today, Forman is a more disciplined athlete, which she credits to her experience in the military.
“The Army has definitely prepared me for the Ironman competitions,” she said. “I still haven’t figured out if the Ironman is more a physical battle or a mental battle. When I race, and I’m physically hurting, I repeat the phrase ‘mind over body.’”
She has completed a few Ironman events since 2006, including the Syracuse Half Ironman, for a total distance of 70.3 miles — a perfect buildup to the popular Ironman Lake Placid, which she completed in July.
She said all of this training has prepared her for her toughest challenge yet: the Ironman World Championship at Kona, Hawaii, where thousands of athletes from around the world will meet to compete against other athletes.
The event will start with a grueling 2.4-mile open water swim on an ocean that cannot be duplicated by any training session.
Immediately after the swim, competitors will embark on a 112-mile bicycle race, and at the end of the bike race, hopefully they have stored enough strength to survive the 26.2-mile run to the finish line.
Without a doubt, the mass swim start is the most emotionally charged start in the sport, thanks to TV helicopters, enthusiastic spectators and the sun rising over Mount Hualalai.
The swim starts at the Kailua Pier and finishes at the Kamakahonu Bay. Currents can be a factor, so a few pre-race practice swims in the bay are advised. Water temperature in Kailua Bay is typically around 79 degrees Fahr-enheit.
After the swim, competitors will get on their bikes and head north al-ong the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway. From Kailua-Kona to the turnaround in Hawi, they can be exposed to intense trade winds that buffet much of the exposed western and northern coast of the Big Island. The winds vary in intensity from steady 5 mph to heavy 50-60 mph blasts that can blow cyclists across the road.
For this reason, disc wheels are not permitted. Winds may subside during the gradual climb to Hawi but pick up again as athletes make their way to the finish line.
Besides battling the winds, cyclist will have to conquer hills varying from 300 to 350 feet at the 20-mile marker; at the 60-mile marker, the hills reach their peak at 645 feet. Throughout the course before arriving at the 112-mile finish line, they will battle many other hills that will test their resolve.
The final event of the course is the 26.2-mile marathon. Runners will traverse through town before taking on Ali’i Drive, where spectators will pack the roads. Athletes will then retrace their steps, climb up Palani Road to the Queen Ka’ahumanu Highway to make their way to the Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaii Authority. Unless there is cloud cover or nightfall spares them, runners should anticipate high heat and humidity on the run course.
Another athlete from Fort Drum who is no stranger to Ironman competitions is Audra Adair.
Adair is a mother of three children, including a 19-year-old who is at Fort Benning, Ga., experiencing basic training. She is the spouse of Capt. Charles Adair, 91st Military Police Battalion.
“I knew I was different,” Adair said. “I was 10 years old when I started running six miles to and from school each day. I stopped when I graduated.”
She ran her first triathlon in 2000 and won. Since then, she has participated in more than 100 triathlons.
Adair qualified for the Ironman World Championship by winning her division in the Ironman Arizona back in November.
She said that she trains the same volume and intensity as a professional who gets paid for it. An easy week consists of 13-15 hours of training, which she allows herself every three weeks. Heavy weeks hold 20-30 hours of training.
Adair swims five days a week, bikes six days a week and runs five days a week. “I have one rest day about every 60 days,” she said.
For someone who has competed in as many triathlons as Adair has, one might wonder what kind of goal she has set for herself in Kona.
“My Kona goal is the same as every race I compete in: WIN,” she said. “I will go to the Big Island with the respect that it deserves and give it all I’ve got,” Adair said. “Hopefully, the island gods will be kind.”
Kindness or not, athletes who compete in an Ironman have their own stories – the reason they are doing it and how they got there.
“There are definitely many inspirational stories,” Forman said. “It’s those stories that keep me going in a race – like running alongside the bilateral amputee that has a hell of a lot more in his heart than I could ever begin to imagine.
“There are unbelievable, extremely driven athletes out there, and it’s an honor to race alongside them and a privilege to represent the Army at this caliber of competition,” she continued. “The feeling that I feel throughout the duration of an Ironman and when I cross the finish line is by far the best pain that I have ever felt.”