COEUR d’ALENE _ After a wet and cold spring, the weather won best in show Sunday for the Ford Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
A brisk breeze brought cool relief to thousands who came to watch 2,500 athletes compete from all ages and from all corners of the world. But the wind also put a heavy chop to the water, making the 2.4-mile swim in 60 degree water even more treacherous.
Despite the challenges, the racers plodded forth and volunteers on kayaks flanked the chaotic throng to help direct swimmers to the sandy beach just off Coeur d’Alene Park.
“I was supposed to do it, but I got injured two weeks ago. Considering the temperature of the water, I’m almost happy … I twisted my ankle,” said 57-year-old Martine Dor of New Jersey. Her husband Bertrand, 59, and son, Etienne, 31, both were competing. The Dors moved to New Jersey from France 33 years ago.
“This would have been my 22nd Ironman, so I know what they are going through,” Dor said. “I’m in the race mentally.”
Spectators crowded along the path between the beach and the transition area, where volunteers peeled off wet suits. Many of the contestants jogged in a daze, looking for their plastic bag containing their biking gear.
One female athlete stopped long enough to reach over the fence and give her husband a wet kiss. He told her, “Have fun,” as she turned and headed to the 112-mile bike portion of her race.
Along with Dor, was Florence Leyssene. Her husband, Bruno, started racing after Bertrand Dor. The Lyessene couple also immigrated to New Jersey from France a quarter century ago.
“I am the runner. I don’t like to swim,” Florence Leyssene said. “I am here for support. It is a long day. But when you are here, it is good because you are so inspired by everybody. It’s so wonderful.”
The elite racers chased a title. But many of the contestants were chasing a goal of just finishing the grueling race, which also includes a 26-mile marathon.
Some of the athletes emerged from the water with pained grimaces. But one woman came out smiling and gave high fives to every person she could reach as she jogged through the sand to the peeling area.
The Callan family, all three generations of it from Walla Walla and Olympia, found a solution to make them stand out from the thousands of other well wishers. They purchased pink flamingo hats at a local Dollar Store.
“Nobody wanted to wear them, but they are being good sports,” said Shaun Callan, whose husband Kim, was racing. “We figured it was a great way to find our group. We position ourselves in different locations so they have someone cheering them all along the race.”
Participating along with her husband was her brother-in-law, Steve Hatton. All the family’s parents were there, two other sisters and five cousins had to wear the gaudy hats. As Shaun talked, her husband emerged from the pavilion and grabbed his bike.
“Come on Kim, today’s the day. You’re a rider. Yeah. We love the bike. It’s a great day to be an Ironman,” she said.
As she turned to gather the flamingo-clad kids, she said: “He’s hurtin.”
Farther down the race, spectators moved from the swimming venue to the sidewalks of Coeur d’Alene to cheer as the racers completed the bike course. The searing sound of racing tires on pavement was followed by cheers and cow bells.
Seven-year-old Lindsay Rambo, of Lewes, Del., found the perfect way to bide the time until her father, Chris Rambo, came riding by. She and her 11-year-old sister, Sarah, drew their own support posters on the street in chalk.
“Go Dad, 1157 Rambo,” Lindsay wrote. The Rambos made an even dozen with the family of Rick Brokaw, who was also competing in the race.
“We’re having a great time,” said their mother, Jennifer Rambo. “When we left home it was 101 degrees.”
Pam and Glen Ramsey, of Riverside, Calif., came to Coeur d’Alene to cheer on Pam’s son, Todd Allington. But they were calling their other son in Loma Linda, Calif., who was following the race online and could tell them his position.
“I didn’t know they were having Hoopfest in Spokane,” Glen Ramsey said. “It was hard to get a hotel room.”