Categorized | Multi-sport, Sports

Ironman: Checking in with Wee ahead of Ironman 70.3 Hawaii

(Dawn Henry profiles local favorite Bree Wee)

Among the crowd of more than 1,600 triathletes participating in the Rohto Ironman 70.3 Hawaii on June 5 will be hometown girl Bree Wee. Now a professional triathlete competing around the globe, Wee raced her first Ironman 70.3 Hawaii back in 2007 as an unknown in the age-grouper ranks.

Wee, originally from Florida, had moved to Kona in 2002 to teach in Kailua-Kona’s public schools. Taking full advantage of the wonders of her new home, Wee dove into the aqua waters of Kailua Bay, where the swim portion of the Ironman World Championship takes place each October. Whenever her school schedule would permit, Wee surfed, swam and paddled canoe in the clear, blue water of the Pacific Ocean.

At some point, a fellow paddler talked Wee into coming to land and going for a spin on a bike. Running followed, and Wee was soon racing multisport. She was new to triathlon, but she trained fearlessly, pushing herself to excel.

Bree Wee (Photo courtesy Ironman)

Welcomed by the supportive web of the Kona triathlon community, Wee immersed herself in the swimming, biking and running opportunities along the Kona Coast, absorbed the tips of veteran coaches and athletes, and challenged herself to be her best every time she took a step outside her front door.

By virtue of convenience, Wee was swimming, biking and running every day on triathlon’s most hallowed ground. The Big Island is some of Planet Earth’s newest surface. Its volcanoes flow daily, building new land from molten lava in a ritual of birthing and creation. On land so new, anything is possible.

For decades, triathletes from around the world have found that Hawaii is the home of transformation – an island where mere mortals fly in from the corners of the world, and through a ritual of releasing blood, sweat and tears, leave days or weeks later as champions and legends, as warriors and creators.

Joining hundreds of other triathletes on Hapuna Beach for the start of the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii back in 2007, Wee was in the midst of a transformation herself.

Racing the only way she knew how, Wee plowed through the field of competitors and finished the day third, in 4:47:08, behind hard-running Samantha McGlone, then-current 70.3 World Champion, and Michellie Jones, then-current Ironman World Champion.

Wee’s placing earned her a qualifying slot to the 2007 Ford Ironman World Championship, where she took 13th place overall and set a new course record for female age-groupers, crossing the line in 9:47:40.

The island had spoken, so Wee left her classroom in 2008 and turned to the vagabond life of the professional triathlete. Traveling the world in search of competition and professional qualifying slots, Wee still considers Kona, Hawaii her laid-back, friendly hometown.

This is where she lives and trains year-round. This is where her training buddies join her for early morning ocean swims along the Ironman World Championship course and then meet up with her later in the day for cliff-jumping and surfing. It is where she leads the pack at local races until she meets up with her pre-school-age son, Kainoa, and runs with him as long as the course holds his attention.

And it is where she’ll have the opportunity in just a few weeks to once again compete against some of the world’s best long distance triathletes at the Rohto Ironman 70.3 Hawaii.

Among them will be defending champion and Ironman veteran Belinda Granger, a 12-time Ironman distance champion who is already blazing her way into 2010. Granger added another Ironman champion title to her books this February at the Lotto Ironman Langkawi Malaysia, and went on a few weeks later to win the Ironman 70.3 China.

In 2010, Wee says she is working with a new coach and will be looking forward to doing her best on race day. Wee has had her sights set on turning in another strong performance here since that fateful race in 2007 that sent her on her way to becoming a pro. In 2008, Wee was unable to start due to illness, and in 2009, she dropped out during the run because she was not feeling well.

Wee says it will be a “luxury” to sleep in her own bed the night before the race, and that she’s looking forward to racing with a crowd of 1,600 on roads that she often cycles without any company at all.

She advises newcomers to “bring your salts. That run course has no shade.” And she says to come ready to embrace the winds that blow down from the hillsides on the road to Hawi. But she says she always enjoys riding along the Kohala Coast, and that Hapuna Bay “is beautiful. It’s such a great swim course.”

After racing along the island coast that Wee calls home, she will start traveling once more. Ford Ironman Coeur d’Alene is next on her list as she pursues that qualifying slot for the 2010 Ford Ironman World Championship that will once again give Wee an opportunity to race in her own backyard.

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