It takes more than just words to teach students to follow their dreams and be physically active.
Exercise and Sport Science Clinical Assistant Professor Heidi Wegis teaches by example – and in June she completed her first Ironman triathlon in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
“Ever since I can remember, I have had an interest in competing in an Ironman competition,” she says. “My dad competed in triathlons when I was a child, and I can remember watching the athletes and thinking how cool they were.”
Not only were they “cool” – but they were demonstrating the ability to challenge their bodies – something that appealed to Heidi, who trains students in the Physical Education Teacher Education program in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences.
“My desire to be physically active and help others be physically active definitely influences my work training physical education teachers, and I want to continue to be a role model for my students,” she says. “Participating in an Ironman is just one way for me to do that.”
She officially began training last October, and spent about eight months swimming three to four days a week – sometimes twice a day – running four to five days a week and cycling five to six days a week.
“Training was long,” she says. “I did a lot of reading while riding the bike indoors. Some of that reading related to my work within Exercise and Sport Science, while other reading was for fun.”
All of that training paid off. Heidi completed the Ironman triathlon, consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and ending with a 26.2-mile run.
“I really couldn’t believe that I was actually doing it,” she says. “I had planned and trained for so long, but to actually be participating in the moment was quite surreal.”
Heidi was able to get into a rhythm and use mainly her arms during the swim portion in order to not tire her legs, but competing with nearly 3,000 others can cause some hiccups.
“I was paying attention to others around me and trying to avoid being kicked or hit,” she says. “I got kicked a few times and punched pretty hard in the goggles once, but for the most part I was able to avoid getting tangled with others.”
Then, another minor set back.
“The transition to the bike threw me a bit,” she says. “As I ran through the transition bag area, a volunteer handed me my transition bag (which was the same as all the others), and I ran into the women’s changing tent. I opened the bag and realized it wasn’t my helmet sitting on top, I had someone else’s bag.”
After swapping bags, the rest of the race went smoothly. She completed the bike portion and easily transitioned into the run, where she decided to reserve some energy as to not overwhelm or wear herself out.
“I hope that by competing in this Ironman, I have inspired others to follow their dreams and persevere”
“I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel by the end of the run, so my plan was to do run/walk intervals as needed,” she says. “Most others around me were doing the same thing.”
Heidi says she wouldn’t call the experience “fun” – but that it was definitely rewarding and a major accomplishment.
“My favorite part of the whole experience was running down the tunnel toward the finish line,” she says. “Seeing all those people cheering us on and having the announcer call my name and tell me I’m an Ironman was pretty incredible.”
Although not sure she’ll sign up for another Ironman, Heidi says the experience reaffirmed for her how amazing the body is and how much we are capable of, whether it be a physical or mental challenge.
“At the point I chose to compete in an Ironman, I made a commitment to myself,” she says. “I took ownership of a goal and pushed myself for months to be able to make that goal a reality. I strive to teach my students to identify goals they can take ownership of and work to accomplish, no matter how challenging they may seem.”
I want my students to follow their dreams and lead by example,” she says. “They are going to be teaching future generations how to be physically active, and hopefully they’ll be role models for their own students. I hope that by competing in this Ironman, I have inspired others to follow their dreams and persevere.”