Dream come true

  • Bill Buley / The Garden Island

    Kauai’s Lisa Ledesma will be competing in Saturday’s World Ironman Championship on the Big Island.

Lisa Ledesma has four Ironmans to her credit, as well as hundreds of shorter races that involve water, wheels and running shoes.

Since she began running at age 35, and learned to swim at 45, she’s set goals to test her fitness and fortitude — and completed races all over the world.

While she’s called Kauai home for nearly 30 years, she grew up in Hilo. So, combine the 40th annual Ironman World Championship on Saturday with going home, and you’ve got the stuff of dreams.

But it’s not entirely smiling, sleepy dreaming.

There are times her eyes are wide open.

“I’m dreaming about every move that day,” the 56-year-old said. “But what worries me is what’s going to happen throughout the day.”

“I’m scared, I’m nervous,” she continued. “It’s the world championship. It’s the big one.”

About 2,500 of the world’s top triathletes will take on what is considered one of the toughest races — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

Ledesma recalls being in her 20s, living in Kona, and watching the Ironman championship. She was mesmerized by the tenacity and drive of the athletes, how they overcame heat, humidity, the ocean and pain, to reach the finish line.

It would be pretty cool one day to do it, she thought. But she also thought, “I’m not an athlete. I’m don’t run. I don’t know how to swim.”

She does now.

At 5 feet tall and 120 pounds, she is an athlete. She can swim. She can bike. She can run.

And Saturday, she’ll be among the very best.

Ledesma, along with Kauai’s Brandon Jacinto and Matthew Ernsdorf, will be in the mix when the starting gun sounds in Kailua-Kona and sends some extremely fit men and women splashing into waves.

She plans to hold back early and let the masses go out fast and furious in the swim, then let her day unfold. Slow and steady, as is her style.

“The world championship people are double faster than I am,” said the Wailua Homesteads woman. “I’m not fast. Just keep going and just finish.”

Ledesma is outgoing and positive, while at the same time humble and appreciative. She credits Ironman with opening spots for Hawaii residents to qualify for the world championship by finishing well in their age division at Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, known as Honu, in June.

When they called her name, she was in shock.

“Because, by all means, I’m no world champion person,” she said. “They did something special for Hawaii residents. I’m grateful for Ironman doing that to allow people like me who have the dream to race the race.”

The wife and mother of four grown boys has a full-time career as a loan originator for Homebridge Hawaii’s Kauai office, so every minute matters.

In June, she hired a coach and has trained about 25 to 30 hours a week — up by 3 a.m. some days. She gets by on about six hours of sleep.

She’s a regular at the YMCA pool, or bicycling on the road (and a survivor of many close calls with cars), or running on hot days to prepare for Kona’s unpredictable and treacherous conditions.

“I don’t know what the day will present,” the founder of Divas and Dudes on Kauai said. “There’s so many different elements on that day. I hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

She even flew to Kona and biked 104 miles on the actual course, “just to know mentally I could do it,” she said. “It wasn’t that easy,” she added with a laugh. “I knew it could break me or build my confidence. I left feeling really good about it.”

Still, why do it? Why put yourself through it?

“I love to challenge myself,” Ledesma said. “I’d like to see what my body can do and how much better I can be at it. I keep pushing myself. It’s fun.”

Then, she added, “well, it’s not fun, but it’s fun, if that makes sense.”

The gradual transition from mom to triathlete came with cons – time from family — to pros — time alone.

“It just made me feel like I could have that time where I could be on my own and think by myself, and get away from the whole family,” Ledesma said. “I kind of go in a different world while running. And I loved it. It gave me this high that I felt great about and I wanted to do it again the next day.”

Friend Tiffany Foyle put it this way in describing Ledesma:

“When she turned 35 and had her last baby boy, she decided she needed something she could do for herself, alone, without kids. She needed something cheap, so she started running, early in the morning while the boys and husband slept. That way when she got home, it was time to wake the kids up for school and get ready for work.”

Ledesma credits husband Kekoa with encouraging her.

“Amazingly supportive,” she said with a smile.

To date, she has completed about 30 marathons, 20 half-marathons, two ultra-runs, three XTerra trail runs, one Spartan race, and several swimming races. She has competed in Portugal, the Grand Canyon and Lake Placid, New York.

And she’s far from finished.

Down the road are 100-mile and 50-mile runs, more triathlons, more trail runs.

She believes her body is stronger, her mind clearer, than ever.

Her level of fitness, mental and physical, helped her overcome a bike crash that hospitalized her for three days.

“I feel like I can conquer anything I put my mind to,” Ledesma said.

In case you were wondering, she does know how to relax. She enjoys hanging out with friends, going to movies and sitting on the couch watching the Hallmark Channel.

For now, though, she’s focused on her 140.6-mile journey on Saturday.

When she closes her eyes, she sees the finish line. It’s out there, and it’s waiting for her.

And when she gets there?

Ledesma’s eyes tear up just talking about it, and she hesitates as she tries to find the right words.

“I’m sure I’ll cry. I have some friends who will catch me,” she said. “I’ll give my husband a hug.”

“I feel lucky to be in this race,” she adds.

Luck, however, had nothing to do with it.

•••

Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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