With just three days to go to Ironman Maryland on Oct. 3, Kauai’s Lisa Ledesma was feeling good.
She and friends had attended the mandatory athletes’ meeting that Wednesday morning to go over race details, went for a one-mile swim in the Choptank River, then went out for lunch.
They were trained and ready for the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
“We were all excited,” she said.
Not for long.
While at a restaurant, Ledesman received a text: They are canceling the race.
Whatever, she thought.
“You are such a liar,” she texted back. “Don’t kid around.”
“I’m not joking,” the friend texted back. “It is canceled.”
About then, an email arrived from Ironman Maryland officials. The race was canceled due to weather concerns and projected flooding due to Hurricane Joaquin.
Ledesma, along with James Largo and Leigh Drachman, both of Kauai and also there to race, were crushed. Within minutes, there was crying and hugging between other Ironman athletes at that same restaurant who got that same message.
While Ledesman has completed three Ironmans, it would have been a first for Largo and Drachman.
“It was a bummer, but what could I do?” Largo said of his reaction, which really sunk in on a connection flight back to the West Coast while returning home that weekend.
“I’m never going to finish an Ironman,” he remembers thinking, adding that he put in a year of hard training that included several 100-mile bike rides, swimming, running and CrossFit. “It’s been pretty hard on me.”
While Ledesma said she understands the move was make for safety reasons, it still hurts.
“It was pretty devastating,” Ledesma said. “There was a lot of disbelief for a while. People couldn’t figure out what was going on.”
Ledesma, along with more than 2,000 athletes registered for the race, had logged hours of swimming, biking and running to prepare for the competition. They planned vacations around it, bought plane tickets, shipped bicycles, reserved hotel rooms and rented cars.
The cancellation led to scrambling for plane flights home, returning rental cars early and leaving hotels sooner than expected. There was anxiety, despair and emotional distress.
“It was a nightmare we wanted to end,” Ledesma said.
While the race has been rescheduled Oct. 17, Ledesma returned home Sunday and can’t return to Maryland. Athletes have been offered a free entry into some select Ironman races this year, and half-off entry fee for any Ironman race next year.
She hasn’t decided what to do.
For Largo, his Ironman dream is still alive. The Kauai Island Utility Cooperative working foreman has a son who works for Delta Air Lines, so he’s trying to fly standby back to Maryland in time for the race. And his boss granted him more time off — despite being recently promoted — so he can make the trip again.
He estimated it cost him a couple thousand dollars to rebook, but a friend on the Mainland is lending him a bicycle so he doesn’t have to reship his ride.
But it does mean tackling the race on an unfamiliar bike, something that can be uncomfortable, as any Ironman would know.
“I need to finish this,” Largo said, then added, “I’m lucky my son works for Delta.”
There were a few silver linings.
Ledesman would have been competing with a stress fracture of her right foot.
“My husband said it’s a blessing in disguise for you,” she said.
And the family of Ironman Maryland athletes developed a bond that saw them through a tough time.
“We all got much closer and learned a lot,” she said.