The 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and full 26.2-mile marathon comprise the race whose finishers can boast exceptional physical endurance and excellence. Williamson wasn’t going to let her cancer get in the way of that goal.
For David Nielsen, co-president of Overstock.com and neighbor to the Williamson family, “Honestly, it (Williamson’s Ironman goal) didn’t surprise me. Alayna is extremely driven and very goal-oriented, but also very caring and kind. And she pushes herself. She is the kind of person who doesn’t want anything to define her, especially a disease. I know the cancer threw her, but she got very tough, physically and mentally.
“Not many people can raise a family, work full-time, do an Ironman and have cancer at the same time.”
Even with everything going on in her life, Williamson knew waiting for a more convenient time wasn’t an option.
“As humans, we always say ‘someday,’ ” she said. “With my cancer, I’m still functioning. So instead of saying ‘When I don’t have cancer,’ I say ‘Why not right now?’ ”
And that became her creed as she strove to turn her goal into a reality.
Training included biking indoors on a trainer and biking to work, spending several hours in the pool at Gold’s Gym or at Willard Bay, as well as several lunch breaks running up and down the stairs at Overstock.com. She even had the chance to run around the Eiffel Tower while on a study abroad in Paris that fell just before the triathlon.
Though she has a determined and driven personality, training did not come without obstacles. Common side effects of CLL are extreme "can't lift your head off the pillow" fatigue and increased weakness of the immune system — which showed up periodically. Her trip to Paris specifically left her feeling more worn down than usual, but by the time race day came, she wasn’t going to let that stop her.
That June 23 morning, along with her husband Troy, her brother-in-law, two family friends and 2,500 other participants, Williamson began the race with a 2.4-mile swim in the clear waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
It was a rocky start, to say the least.
By her second lap in the 63-degree water, Williamson found herself getting very cold. “Like, hypothermic,” she added.
Luckily, Troy was constantly keeping an eye out to make sure she was doing OK. When he saw her struggling, he came and stuck by her until she was able to finish the swim — after which she found herself in a race-provided warming tent for 20 extra minutes.
When athletes sign up for an Ironman triathlon, they agree that if medics see fit to take them off the course at any time, they have the right to do so. Williamson recognized that, but she wanted to move on to the next phase of the race before the cutoff time.
Participants must finish the race in 17 hours to be considered an Ironman, but there are also cutoff times within the race: the swim must be completed in less than two hours and 20 minutes, the biking portion finished by 5:30 p.m. and the marathon finished before midnight.
“If you don’t finish by midnight, you just don’t finish,” Williamson explained. “So I kept telling the medics I’d get warm on my bike so I could leave.”
It was a close call, but Williamson beat the first cutoff with five minutes to spare.
Though she says most of the rest of the race she was chasing the cutoff times, by the time she got out of the warming tent, the experience got better.
“People keep asking me now, ‘Weren’t you suffering?’ but at that point, I was too grateful to care,” she said. “Before the race started, I was pretty stressed about the whole day, but after that (swimming), I was just glad to be there.”
The rest of the race went without a glitch. The leukemia even gave her a little break.
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