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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Competitors, spectators fill Coeur d’Alene for 20th year of Ironman competition on Sunday

By Elena Perry The Spokesman-Review

About 1,300 athletes zoomed through Coeur d’Alene on Sunday at the 20th Ironman triathlon to be held in the city.

Families, friends and strangers came out to watch racers in the event that closed streets downtown and caused delays from Northwest Boulevard south to Missile Base Road.

Athletes, hailing from 46 states and 15 countries, plunged into the waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene at 6 a.m. to begin the race, starting with a 2.4-mile swim, followed immediately by a 112-mile bicycle ride through downtown. After biking approximately the distance from Spokane to Moses Lake, racers dismount, change their shoes and in the blink of an eye, charge into a marathon.

The fastest finish was in about 81/2 hours, though all competitors have 17 to cross the finish line.

Race spectators leaned up against barricades that line the course. Some had been there since the race started, marking their spots with picnic blankets and camping chairs. Others stopped from their stroll through City Park to see what all the fuss was about.

The most spirited swung cowbells and held signs, frantically refreshing an app on their phone that tracked each racer. Supporters’ encouragement to their athlete doesn’t start with the encouraging shouts along the route, rather with the unsung aid provided while athletes begin their rigorous monthslong training stint.

The Coeur d’Alene race was the seventh time Natalie Kennel had been present to cheer for her husband, Chris Kennel, in an Ironman competition. This time, she craned her neck to catch sight of him coming around a bend in the street while wrangling her three young sons, each carrying their own handmade sign that ranged in legibility. The kids were excited to see their dad, looking forward to a sweaty high-five when he passed them on foot.

“It’s important for them to be part of the training and be here for the actual race so they can actually see this is why we do it, this is what the celebration is for,” Natalie Kennel said. “It teaches them the importance of being athletic and healthy, and working toward a goal and not giving up.”

The Kennel boys weren’t the only spectators inspired by the event. Jayden LaVecchia signed up to volunteer at the event on a whim, and found watching the feats of athleticism whet his appetite for competition.

“There’s only 24 hours in a day. We sleep for eight hours, we work for eight hours so that’s another eight hours in a day that we can use to train, or we can use it to sit on the couch and watch TV all day,” LaVecchia said. “Watching these guys makes me want to do less of the watching the TV and eating the crappy food and more getting up and running, doing more pushups, more exercise. The thought that maybe someday I could be on a track like this, it blows my mind.”

Before LaVecchia graduates college, the 18-year-old made it his goal to enter an Ironman 70.3, this event’s younger sibling that involves a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. Ironman and Coeur d’Alene have agreed to a three-year deal to host the 70.3 race in North Idaho beginning next year.

This year’s batch of competitors inspired generations of competitors. Monte Higbee, 58, has two Ironman races under his belt. It’s been four years since his last finish, but spectating this event makes him want to get back on the bike. Maybe he’ll start with a half, he said, not expecting a future race to be as good as his last one.

“The full would be fun, but since that day went so perfect for me, I feel like it can’t be that good again,” Higbee said.

Higbee’s last Ironman involved seven months of diligent training, which isn’t unique for Ironmen.

Lani Seaman has lost track of her Ironman finishes. Her first was in 2014. She wasn’t competing Sunday. Instead, she took the trip from New Mexico to cheer on her best friend and members of her online racing club, “I Race Like a Girl.”

During the pandemic, women from across the nation raced each other virtually as part of the club, often using apps such as Discord to communicate while racing hundreds of miles away from each other.

“I’ve met all these women in real life, but it’s pretty cool how we’ve developed these friendships by just breathing heavily over Discord,” Seaman said.

While Seaman’s a cheerleader for this race, it’ll soon be her turn to conquer the course. She’s been training 20 hours each week for an upcoming Ironman-style race in Norway in August and another Ironman lined up for September.

“Once you do one, you tell yourself you’re never going to do another one,” she said, laughing. “Yet here I am, nine years later.”