May 25, 2024
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May 25, 2024
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Ironman World Championship: Nice 2023

Even my watch thought it was a bad idea to go for a run after completing Ironman UK.
(Credit: David Roher)

“They knew they were making history, and it was the greatest adventure of their lives.” That statement is from the opening of the Ken Burns documentary, “The Civil War,” and it is how I describe the odyssey that became the 2023 Ironman World Championships, in Nice, France. No Shabbos-observant Jew had ever competed at the Ironman World Championships and I was about to get that shot. But first… I had to get here.

When I completed the Ironman triathlon for the first time back in 2010, I couldn’t stop talking about it.

(Nothing has changed.)

I didn’t know how to come down from the experience. The day after completing an Ironman is like the day after your wedding or the day after your bar mitzvah or the day after your graduation and it always leaves me in this limbo state:

“What’s next? Where do we go from here?”

I’ve learned to have something waiting, a “what’s next?” to quote Martin Sheen on the series “The West Wing,” so we went to Scotland … except I could not shake the idea of going to Worlds.

I kept thinking, what if? What if I had put the money down when I was offered the spot and asked for permission when I returned home?

This popped up in my email after finishing Ironman UK. Mike Reilly is the man who coined the phrase, at the finish-line. “You are an Ironman.” (Credit: David Roher).

(It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.)

Maybe I was being Icarus and I wanted too much. Now the universe was sending screaming back to Earth.

(You completed an Ironman, wasn’t that enough?)

Maybe. Maybe that was all I was ever going to do, just get offers to the party I couldn’t attend.

Watch from the sidelines while other athletes got in the game and competed.

Ever since my first year competing in triathlons, back in 2007, when my wife Janet and I watched the Ford Ironman World Championship on NBC Wide World of Sports, I’ve dreamt of going to the big game.

Every time I stepped up to that start line in neoprene, I imagined I was competing at Worlds.

(But you can’t go.)

And this is how the story began … with the desire to achieve the impossible. I wanted something that seemed just beyond my grasp.

(But you’ve completed this race 10 times. Why was the World Championship different?)

The World Championship is held in Hawaii, on Saturday.

(“I don’t roll on Shabbos!”)

When Joanne Murphy told me that the location had been moved for 2023 to Nice, France, on a Sunday I started to think, “This was my chance. God put this opportunity in my path and I blinked.”

(If God wants to you to go to the Ironman World Championship, you will find a way to get there.)

We arrived in Edinburgh and we toured for a day and a half. Then it was back to London, take our picture crossing Abbey Road, in the correct outfits and fly home. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the Ironman World Championship in Nice…

I showed up two days later at the opening of summer school, but the idea of going to Worlds would not let me go.

(You mean “you” would not let go.)

There’s a line from the 2002 Rush album that stuck in my brain.

“Did I have a dream or did the dream have me?”

I called the superintendent of schools and told him my story.

The superintendent told me that if such an opportunity comes up again, I should call him.

In the space of 12 hours I went from sadness to joy to panic. (Credit: David Roher)


(But that moment was gone.)

It was, but then a friend suggested that I, “write the Ironman Corporation a letter and ask for your spot back.”

(Who writes letters?)

I do and that is exactly what I did. In a world where texting and emailing is so convenient, handwritten letters carry weight. I mailed the letter on July 10 … and I waited for a reply.

Three days passed, nothing.

Seven days passed, nothing.

Ten days passed, nothing.

Fourteen days passed and still nothing.

“I guess I’m not going.” I started planning for 2025. If I completed another Ironman in 2024, I could qualify for Ironman World Championships 2025 … but that was a longshot. I would have to finish this race in a location where most of the people in front of me declined the spot.

Then, I opened my email at 5 a.m. and saw, “Hi David, Congratulations! You are now ready to finalize your registration for the 2023 Ironman World Championship in Nice, France…”

I stood in disbelief. This was really happening. I was going to Worlds. I woke my wife, Janet. It was 5:15 a.m. and we were both jumping and exclaiming, “We’re going to worlds! We’re going to Worlds!”

And that’s when the world came crashing down around me…

David Roher is a USAT certified triathlon and marathon coach. He is a multi-Ironman finisher and veteran special education teacher. He is on Instagram @David Roher140.6. He can be reached at [email protected].

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