August 2017 - ATHLETE PROFILE
By Kristen Hislop
Family: Wife, Jennifer; Daughter, Jacquelyn (5)
Occupation: Air Traffic Controller,
Albany International Airport
A 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run. Ironman says “anything is possible,” but how many people really believe that 140.6 miles in one day can be done? On Sunday, July 23, I asked just that question of spectators and volunteers on the Ironman Lake Placid course. The majority said, ‘I couldn’t do it.’ Gigi Hatch of Boonton, NJ has been volunteering for the past four years in run special needs. Arriving at 4:30am she gets the run bags from nervous athletes and then sticks around cheering until the midnight hour. Even after watching her sister, Nanette Hatch of Waterford, cross the finish line twice, it still is a reach in her mind.
So what gets people to say, I can and I will? For Zach Boivin it was watching a good friend compete an Ironman for the fifth time in 2015. The cheering squad was at mile 100 of the bike, and Zach noticed the majority of athletes were smiling. Pondering how someone could smile after a 2.4-mile swim and 100 miles on the bike, they headed to watch the marathon. “I didn’t go into the day with any thoughts of my life being changed, or having an awakening, or anything of that nature,” Zach said. “I went into that day as a 330+ pound guy, there to cheer on some amazing people who decided to take this thing on.”
After watching their friends on the run course, they headed into the Olympic Speed Skating Oval to see the finish. Very often it is life changing and in this case it certainly was a huge turning point. “I’d never experienced something so electrifying. It’s an entire bouquet of emotions. Laughs, smiles, tears. You watch some athletes collapse after crossing the line, while others decide to cartwheel across it. You hear race announcer, Mike Reilly, calling everyone in. That’s what changed me. The ring of ‘YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!’ I knew I needed to experience that at some point in my life. I needed to see if I could push my body to that distance without breaking down. I wanted to transform myself from the overweight, out of shape guy I was, into an Ironman. Looking at my wife standing by my side, and my then three-year-old daughter who was riding on my shoulders, I already had all the inspiration I needed.”
Armed with the daunting goal and garnering the support of his wife, Jennifer, and daughter, Jacquelyn, he signed up for Ironman Syracuse 70.3 in 2016. As happens to many athletes who get the bug, that first event is a raw shock. A triathlon is so much more than just swim, bike and run. At about halfway on the Syracuse run, Zach started questioning his ability to finish. He voiced his concern to his wife and Jennifer’s response was “then you better start running faster.” That was all he needed to get across the line.
Those thoughts of the finish line were still in his mind when he signed up for the 2017 Ironman Lake Placid. Through nutrition and activity changes, he had already lost over 100 pounds, and had hired a coach to help guide him through his journey. Then he saw an email about the Beachbody Performance nutritional supplements “Make Me an Ironman” contest. Race entry, coaching, a Roka wetsuit, a Quintana Roo tri bike, Hoka One One run shoes and more, would go to six regional winners who would each race a local Ironman event. Zach reflects, “The questions they asked seemed tailor-made for my experience at Lake Placid and my goals going forward. I also knew that my story of weight loss and determination has been told a million times, so I told it with as much passion and emotion as I could.” It worked as Zach was chosen as one of the six winners out of 2,000 entries.
One requirement was to use an “Ironman U” certified coach, which is how we got connected in late January. As soon as I talked to Zach I knew this would be a fun journey. He was focused, determined, ready to learn and eager to work. The big goal was IMLP, but we put in some races to get ready including the Cooperstown Triathlon in early June. With additional training and a little more knowledge under his shrinking belt, Zach was now thinking about competing, versus just finishing. We analyzed prior year Cooperstown results, and set the goal of winning the Clydesdale division, as long as he didn’t lose more weight!
Zach remembers, “The fears dissipated at the race start. After some panic in the swim I was far behind where I wanted to be, and so cold. I knew my only chance of warming up on the bike was to ride as fast as I could over the 19 miles. I made up a lot of time, riding much faster than I thought I could. At mile two of the run, I could finally feel my feet again and the sun came out just in time to cross the finish line. I felt great after the race! It’s so rewarding to see months and months of training pay off!” And he won the Clydesdale division.
After Cooperstown the training ramped up and Zach embraced every long swim, ride and run. He credits communication with his wife Jennifer as a key to successful training. They would plan out the week to create a workable plan. Some training was done together to help prepare Jennifer for the Iron Girl Syracuse triathlon in August. Zach’s daughter loves watching Daddy race and train. She came along for the filming of a news piece on WNYT-TV in Albany, and loved being on camera cheering for her Dad.
Heading into the Lake Placid weekend, Zach was calm and focused. The fact that he is an air traffic controller helps in his ability to manage stress. The day before leaving he said to me, “I’ve come so far. It’s time to trust my training and perform as well as I can – it’s time to become an Ironman.”
It is tough to stay calm and in the moment when you arrive in Lake Placid. The nervous energy level is off the charts. I found Zach headed into bike check-in on Saturday at 2:45 – it closed at 3pm. The Beachbody public relations rep, Laura Beechy, wanted to meet him in the transition area for photos. While waiting for her, we talked through the flow of race day, along with a few other athletes who were racking their bikes. Laura took some shots of Zach racking his bike and did short interviews with each of us. Then she asked to take pictures of Zach’s gear. She unloaded all of his packed run and bike bags! Most athletes would have lost it right there, but not Zach. He went with the flow and was even game enough for a fun photo pose. We packed up his gear again and he headed to a pre-race dinner with family and friends.
On Sunday morning he was in transition at 4:30am and ready to go. We got a quick photo with Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, and he headed over to the swim. He’ll never say it was an easy day. He had a stuck zipper, so had to change kits, then his back seized up on the bike into the run, had blisters on his feet, and a nasty sunburn.
But he is ready to do it again. As a coach, my goal is to have athletes cross the finish line with a smile, feel good the next day, and want to race again. So those who think they can’t do an Ironman, should chat with Zach as he says with a smile that won’t leave his face, “I genuinely had a blast racing. I turned into a whole different person. I was hyping up other athletes and the crowd.”
Zach continued, “Right before I turned into the oval, I looked at a group of spectators and yelled at them, “I’M ABOUT TO BECOME AN IRONMAN!” I had no idea who I was for those 15+ hours, but it was so much fun. I felt in control the whole race. I never had a doubt of finishing.”
Kristen Hislop (firstname.lastname@example.org) of Clifton Park is a certified multisport coach who wants everyone to ‘Do, Believe and Achieve.’