NAME: Desirée Ficker | AGE: 30 | HOMETOWN: Austin | QUALIFICATIONS: Placed second at the 2006 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run), the first American woman to stand on the podium since 1998 / Competing this year in the St. Croix Ironman 70.3, Ironman Austria, and Kona’s Ironman World Championship, among others
• I grew up competing in track and field, and in college I ran for the University of Alabama. When I graduated, I wasn’t quite good enough to be a professional runner. A friend was training for the Hawaii Ironman, and I thought, “It’d be great to train together and try this out.” So I got a bike and started going to swim practice, which was torture for me.
• I made it to Kona for the first time in 1999. I started getting better and better, and I sort of arrived at a crossroads: I was either going to go into the Peace Corps—I wanted to teach English in Africa—or I was going to dedicate myself to triathlon racing. I called up the director of USA Triathlon and said, “Do I have a chance at this sport?” He said, “You should turn pro.”
• The best part about Kona is the beauty of the island, to be on a gorgeous adventure with people cheering on the sidelines. The worst part comes in the last six miles of the run, when you’d rather be on the sidelines cheering.
• When I was little, my dad would make us drink a huge glass of orange juice every morning. I used to imagine while I was drinking that it was Coke instead. That’s how it is when I race: I change my thinking, to focus on something enjoyable and remove myself from the pain.
• You can get your body to do whatever you want it to, as long as you have the patience, the mind, and the willpower. And the time.
• An average week includes four or five swim practices, six or seven running workouts, and four or five days of biking. If I’m ramping up for an Ironman, I’ll spend some 35 hours in training, including gym time. That’s about 12 miles of swimming, 250 to 350 miles of biking, and 60 to 70 miles of running a week.
• Sometimes I wake up for a workout and just roll over. There are days when it is better to keep sleeping.
• My most prized piece of equipment is my Guru Crono bike. But I’d also have to say I love my Asics running shoes. I really look forward to putting those on after being in bike shoes for five hours.
• I’ve become pretty good at reading my body. I eat healthy, but if I’ve been working hard and craving a cheeseburger, then I’ll go get one.
• When I think about what inspires me, there’s one moment that sticks in my head. It was 1995, and I was watching the Hawaii Ironman on television when [all-time winningest Ironman] Paula Newby-Fraser had her famous collapse [about four hundred yards] before the finish. Tears were streaming down my face, and I thought, “Wow. To be in an event that drives you to those limits must really be something special.”
• I used to have people think I was crazy. Now they accept triathlons as something I do. In any case, most people I’m around have either done an Ironman too or are just as crazy.