Categorized | Featured, Multi-sport

Hometown hero: Kona’s Bree Wee

 

Bree Wee left her teaching career behind to turn professional triathlete. (Photo by Bob Murphy/www.Ironman.com)

Bree Wee left her teaching career behind to turn professional triathlete. (Photo by Bob Murphy/www.Ironman.com)

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It was inevitable: hold the Ironman World Championship in Kona long enough, and some local talent would rise from this lava-strewn triathlon Mecca to challenge the best of the best on the world stage. The year is 2009 and that person is Bree Wee.

Originally a surfer girl from Florida, Wee came to Kona in 2002 for some Hawaiian sun, a few big waves, and the opportunity to teach in Hawaii’s public schools. 

Soon, she was bitten with the triathlon bug, and her life has been a whirlwind of change and opportunity since.

Wee cut her triathlon teeth on Kona freebie duathlons and triathlons – laid back family affairs in which local teenagers who have grown up swimming like fish stand as much chance to win as veteran triathletes.

It was at one of these races that Wee was approached by her current coach, Paul Regensburg of LifeSport Coaching. 

Regensburg, who describes Wee as having “a natural talent,” wanted to know more about the local triathlete who competed in a bikini and routinely beat the athletes he’d send to Hawaii for races.

Being from Kona, it seemed only natural to Wee that she would make racing in the Ironman World Championship her top triathlon goal. Wee clinched a qualifying slot at the 2007 Ironman 70.3 Hawaii and worked with Regensburg to get ready for her first Ironman-distance race. 

With local fans cheering her on, Wee crossed the line in 9:47:40, first in her age group, and 13th female finisher overall. Her time was good enough for a new amateur women’s course record, besting Kate Major’s amateur performance in 2002.

Wee’s performance was also good enough to earn a pro card. In 2008, Wee put her teaching career on hold and declared her intention to return to the 2008 Ironman World Championship as a professional. What followed was a trip around the globe in search of an elusive invitation to race in her own backyard.

Wee took second at the 2008 Ironman Japan Triathlon, but her placing did not earn her a qualifying slot. 

Next, Wee attempted to clinch a slot at Subaru Ironman Canada. Her nutrition went awry and she ended her race in the medical tent with a DNF. 

As soon as Wee was released from the tent, she was on her way to Kentucky, to try for a slot one last time at the Ford Ironman Louisville. Her bike split led the women’s field, but she lost her spark on the run and finished in ninth place, her only ticket to Kona the airline ticket that was bringing her home.

While Wee was circling the globe, she was also writing up a storm on her website. She updated her blog with every excruciating moment of her races, threw in lots of photos of herself, her family, her friends and Hawaii, and began to attract a virtual following. 

Back in Kona to spectate the World Championship, Wee decided to make the best of the situation, Hawaii style. She spread a little aloha, giving support to athletes she knew from near and far, and setting up her website to be a one-stop information guide to her hometown.

Wee then returned to the mainland and clinched a slot for the 2009 Ford Ironman World Championship with a fourth-place finish at Ford Ironman Florida. 

Wee says, “I still pinch myself about the Florida slot.” 

She says she hadn’t trained since Ironman Louisville, feeling “heartbroken” that she hadn’t earned a slot to Kona, and needing time to recover from her travels. The trip to Florida resurrected her dreams, and has removed a lot of pressure from her race calendar.

Now starting her second season as a pro, Wee is looking forward to building her year around that October event in her own backyard, and gaining more experience competing against the sport’s best women. 

She’s also caught the eye of companies like K-Swiss, a new sponsor. A second-year pro and mother to Kainoa, 2, Wee is looking forward to spending years in triathlon and is grateful for sponsors she says who are willing to support her as she grows in the sport.

Still, Wee expects nothing less than top results from herself.

 “The only pressure is the pressure I put on myself,” she says. “I’m so determined to do well. I have no patience.”

Wee recently took seventh in a stacked field at Ironman 70.3 St. Croix. 

Wee says of St. Croix it was “the most prepared mentally and physically” she’s ever been for a race. 

She was disappointed with her finish, explaining she lost her salt tablets during the bike and could not find her legs on the run.

Finding the silver lining, Wee decided her less-than-stellar run meant she has enough left in the tank to compete May 30 in Ironman 70.3 Hawaii. Wee will then take on Ford Ironman Lake Placid. Next comes her October field-of-lava dreams. Wee and Regensburg are looking for a top ten finish in Kona. 

Wee says, “I have the heart and the passion. I just lack the experience.”

In the meantime, Wee continues to gather an international cadre of fans with her blog, which generates 35,000 to 40,000 hits a month and in April included visitors from 63 different countries. 

Wee attributes the popularity to the interest triathletes take in Kona. Who doesn’t like to look at pictures of waving palm trees and clear, blue water? 

But Wee’s also got a way of connecting with triathletes of all abilities and of bringing that laid back Kona feel into everyday life.

Wee originally came to Kona to ride some big waves. It turns out she could have left her surfboard in Florida. She’s found the ride of her life on the Queen Kaahumanu.

— Find out more:

Bree Wee: breeweehawaii.blogspot.com

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