The Twists and Turns of Life Along the Course to Kona

The author, Melissa Grieco, with her mother at the finish of an Ironman.
All smiles with my mom at the finish of Ironman Lake Placid.

For the past several years, I’ve been on a mission. A mission to make it to the starting line of the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. I’m not fast enough in a 140.6 event (comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run) to qualify with a top Age Group placement, so I chose to get my slot via the IRONMAN legacy program.

The goal of making it to Kona has been an anchor in my life and an added incentive to successfully complete fourteen full IRONMAN races so far. In early 2019, I received the exciting news that I had received a slot for the 2020 IRONMAN World Championship. The auspicious email greeted me with “Aloha Melissa” and laid forth the framework for all my remaining free time through October 10th, 2020.

With this epic and hard-earned race glimmering on the horizon, I felt especially energized and focused during the 2019 race season. I tweaked my training rides and race registrations with the Kona course in mind. I welcomed extra watts and steep hills; I sought out heat and humidity and embraced salt-water swims and strong cross-winds (just keep pedaling to maintain balance!).

2020 Ironman Kona logo

As 2019 drew to a close, the first significant life change cropped up. After over thirty years in banking technology, my husband transitioned from commuting into Manhattan to working within the fitness industry. This development, amongst others, reignited my desire to head back to full-time work after a decade-plus of entrepreneurial, freelance and volunteer pursuits. I rang in 2020 by refreshing my LinkedIn profile and investing in a crisp, new interview suit.

A whirlwind of networking and interviewing has ensued. I’ve greatly enjoyed the process so far. I’m meeting interesting people and learning new things. Amidst all of it, my IRONMAN training and Kona preparation has offered a steady routine and healthy outlet to return to at the end of a hectic and unpredictable day. Hammering through a power spin class or clipping into my indoor trainer for a 3-hour ride provides structure, decompression, and focus. Plus, the gains in physical and mental endurance as my training plan ramps up are helping me endure the rigors of the job search circuit.

Despite the career transitions underway, the journey to Kona still seemed fairly straightforward as of early 2020. Then in late February, my family received some devastating and unexpected news. My fit-as-a-fiddle mother, who regularly heads out for 10-15 mile rides on her hybrid bike at 78 years old, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The weeks after the diagnosis have been a surreal blur of doctors’ offices and hospital rooms. During the thick of it, my training regimen fell by the wayside. But like clockwork, I’m getting back to it as much as I can to keep me grounded and focused.

At the finish of Lake Placid in 2012 with my mom.
At the finish of Lake Placid in 2012.
Melissa with her mom on a balcony overlooking Lake Placid.
The most recent trip to Lake Placid for the 2019 Ironman.

As of the time of writing this on March 20th, 2020, the headlines are full of Coronavirus news stories, travel warnings, and “stay-at-home” orders. My family feels fortunate that my mother was able to get surgery before hospitals inevitably become inundated by COVID-19 patients. We are currently focused on minimizing my parents’ exposure to this dangerous virus. The pandemic could add a further life twist along the now bumpy course to Kona. Will the virus continue to spread? What will that mean for Americans? Will we be able and wanting to travel come October? Will flights still be grounded or canceled, and hotels boarded up?

My personal reality has shifted dramatically since the dawn of 2020. Making it to the starting line at Kona has gone from a long-term dream in the making to the least of my priorities in a matter of weeks. However, despite the switchbacks and hairpin turns, I plan to continue to prepare and train as regularly as possible for as long as I’m able to. At the end of the day, there is comfort in controlling what one can and leaving the rest up to Pele and the other Hawaiian gods of Kailua-Kona.

My mom enjoying the smiles out on a ride.
Old school PEARL iZUMi kit too!
Melissa working on the stationary bike
Still working towards Kona!
We're hoping she can get back to riding after all these years.
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Melissa fell in love with endurance riding after competing in her first sprint triathlon in 2009. She's since gone on to complete twelve full Ironman triathlons, ten half-iron distance triathlons, and numerous shorter distance races. She enjoys spreading the love of riding and triathlon through volunteering and talking up the sport to as large an audience as possible. As a high school cross country runner, college tennis player, recreational mountain biker, Tae Kwon Do blue belt, and snowboarder, Melissa has always been athletic. But once she dialed it up to the Ironman distance, riding and engaging in an active, healthy, multi-sport lifestyle became a full-time enterprise. To that end, she received a Graduate Certificate in Nutrition Science for Communication Professionals from Tufts University Friedman School in 2016 and became a certified USAT Triathlon coach and RRCA running coach in 2017. Melissa resides in Rye, NY with her husband who is also an avid triathlete.

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5 thoughts on “The Twists and Turns of Life Along the Course to Kona

  1. Melissa can do anything she sets her mind to. Prayers that COVID-19 will pass soon and you are on that plane to Kona!!

  2. I’m sorry to hear about the twists and turns, but I’m all of these hurdles it really brings what’s important to the forefront. I have high hopes for you to still make it to Kona this year!! Much love!

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