For the first time in the event’s 40-plus year history, the spotlight will exclusively shine on female triathletes as Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i will welcome the first standalone Women’s VinFast IRONMAN® World Championship triathlon on October 14.
Over 2,000 registered of the world best female triathletes will embark on the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship journey in Kailua-Kona after the top male triathletes conquered their edition of the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon on September 10 in Nice, France.
Women have been an integral part of IRONMAN and the IRONMAN World Championship® triathlon since the inaugural event in 1978, from IRONMAN Co-Founder Judy Collins helping to make the first races happen to owner and race director Valerie Silk moving the race to the Big Island and pioneering equal prize money for professional athletes. This year, IRONMAN celebrates Senior Vice President of World Championship Events Diana Bertsch’s 20th IRONMAN World Championship as leader of the event, directing two decades of impactful and progressive history.
“We are thrilled to welcome a record number of female athletes to beautiful Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i for the first ever dedicated women’s IRONMAN World Championship race,” said Bertsch, Senior Vice President of World Championship Events, The IRONMAN Group. “From its humble beginnings in 1978, the IRONMAN World Championship event has witnessed spectacular performances and epic battles to the finish line from some of the best in sport, including significant and impactful women. In 2023 this iconic global sporting event will shine a spotlight on the very best female professional and age group triathletes as they become part of the rich legacy of women who have raced before them. Our team is ready to ensure it is the experience of a lifetime.”
Among the female triathletes descending on Kailua-Kona this week, 53% of those registered to race are from North America, followed by 28% from Europe and 9% from Oceania. Latin America makes up 5% of the field, Asia 4%, while Africa and the Middle East account for 1% apiece.
The United States of America is the most represented nation with 976 registered athletes, followed by Canada (160), Germany (144), Australia (122), and the United Kingdom (112). Other athletes from countries as far as Estonia, Kyrgyzstan, New Zealand, Namibia, and Singapore are traveling from around the globe to race at the 2023 Women’s VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon in Kona.
With all eyes focused on those competing this coming Saturday, the women’s edition of the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship provides a platform to celebrate women and share their unique stories of achievement, dedication, and perseverance.
Annie Brooks (GBR) is an athlete proving ‘Anything is Possible’ against a backdrop of adversity. Brooks was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 28 years old but despite living with the terrifying unknown of such a condition, Brooks is a passionate triathlete who’s dreams of one day racing at the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon in Kona are about to become a reality. To help others and to document her own journey, Brooks shares her experience with epilepsy openly across her blog and YouTube channel where she describes triathlon as giving her mind a focus and helping with stress and anxiety, which are triggers for her seizures.
“It doesn’t get more iconic than the IRONMAN World Championship triathlon in Kailua-Kona, and to be part of an incredible start list, alongside truly inspirational fellow female triathletes, I can’t help but feel like this is the ultimate pinch me moment! I’m both simultaneously nervous and ridiculously excited about the race!” said Annie Brooks. “I have worked hard in training with the added challenge of juggling my epilepsy and my seizures. I want to go do my best and just soak in the atmosphere at this once in a lifetime opportunity, showing that neurological conditions like mine won’t stop you from getting to the finish line.”
Those taking part in the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon come from all walks of life, each with their own story to tell, from 18-year-old Adrienne Bunn (USA) the youngest competitor in the field who also aspires to become the first known female athlete with autism to complete the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship to blind athlete and two-time Paralympian Kellie Dewveall (USA) to professional triathlete Els Visser (NLD), who survived a shipwreck and went on to become a two-time IRONMAN champion.
Lucy Bartholomew (AUS) is an athlete that’s no stranger to incredible feats of endurance and resilience. Less than six weeks ago Bartholomew finished 10th at UTMB® World Series Finals at UTMB Mont Blanc, the most famous and one of the most challenging 100-mile ultra-trail races in the world. Bartholomew’s debut VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon attempt will be only her second IRONMAN race and if she finishes, she’ll become just the sixth athlete, and second female ever to complete UTMB Mont Blanc and the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon in the same year.
“I feel very excited. To do the pinnacle of two sports in one year is just an incredible privilege and something I thought, let’s just chase the unknown and see what that looks like,” said Bartholomew. “Here at the IRONMAN World Championship triathlon, I feel like a small fish in a big pond, just trying to find my way through it. There are so many moving parts, but I can’t wait to get to the island and experience what Kona is all about, the race that I’ve watched for years with my dad. Through this process what I’ve realized is that you never lose, but you always learn. I’m really excited to problem solve my way through Kona and put some more tools in my toolbox of how to navigate things.”
Sara Whittingham (USA) is a retired Lt. Col. in the Air Force who served in Afghanistan and Korea. At the age of 47 Whittingham was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Learning that cardiovascular exercise is one of the best ways to slow the progression of this terrible disease, Whittingham focused her energy into her passion and enjoyment of triathlons. This week, she is hoping to raise awareness of the disease and what is possible with a commitment to a consistent exercise regimen.
“I have been racing since I was six years old. The IRONMAN World Championship triathlon will likely be the most meaningful finish line I will ever cross. Three years ago, when I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, I didn’t see any more running in my future. A clinical research study got me back on the bike and the support and encouragement from family and friends led me to set some big goals. I have always been one to dream big, and the finish line at Kona for me is as big as it gets. The thought of making a right turn onto Ali’i Drive to the Kona® finish line brings tears to my eyes and means that even the impossible can be possible.”
The benefits of exercise in Parkinson’s disease are likely better than any medication we currently have. There is research suggesting it may actually slow the progression of the disease. I hope to educate and inspire people with Parkinson’s to find a way to move that inspires them and to push themselves and set big goals because with persistence, hard work and a little luck, Anything is Possible®.”
Other notable age-group athletes competing at the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon include:
Lisa Kuntze (Phoenix, Ariz., USA)
Kuntze spent much of her early life in and out of homelessness, growing up in an unpredictable and chaotic environment. Despite her circumstances, Kuntze would go on to attend college at the University of California Davis and eventually completed her first IRONMAN triathlon at the age of 40 – juggling her training around life as a single mom. Ever since then she has been chasing a spot at the IRONMAN World Championship triathlon, a tough journey with several setbacks that until now have prevented her from getting to Kona. Most notably, she had a major health setback in 2017 when, after nearly a year of suffering, she was diagnosed with Small Fiber Peripheral Sensory Neuropathy – essentially meaning the nerves in her body are dying. Despite all the pain associated with her condition Kuntze never stopped chasing her dream. Against all odds, this Saturday Kuntze will line up at the start line on the shores of Kailua Bay for the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship.
Maggie Swanson (Excelsior, Minn., USA)
In the summer of 2014, while training for the upcoming cross-country season, Swanson was hit by a bus. She suffered a traumatic brain injury, a shattered pelvis, broken ribs, and a broken elbow. She was medevacked home and spent three weeks in Minneapolis hospitals. Within a year she was back doing sport and eventually completed her first IRONMAN race in 2021. Swanson qualified for the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon after finishing as the fastest female age group athlete at last year’s IRONMAN Wisconsin event. She and her father have also raised $346,000 through The IRONMAN Foundation to benefit The IRONMAN Foundation and three other charities.
Karen Wood (Waxhaw, N.C., USA) – In 2020, Wood was diagnosed with Lupus and Small Fiber Automatic Neuropathy. Training with Lupus has been an incredible challenge for her, and she didn’t know if she was going to be able to continue to compete. Wood doesn’t know how many years she has left but she’s joyfully pushing herself to be the best athlete she can be at this year’s VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon.
Prue Young (Nelson, New Zealand)
A helicopter paramedic, Young was told that she would be in a wheelchair in five years after she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Eighteen months later she finished her third IRONMAN race. Just getting to the start line of the VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon is a dream come true for Young, a triathlete before her diagnosis. Prue has maintained an effervescent attitude since her diagnosis, and, knowing exercise would hugely benefit her in the long term, continued to train and work towards returning to IRONMAN. Despite the challenges she’ll face with her condition in the heat and humidity of Kona, she’s determined to represent her MS brothers and sisters around the world and get to the finish line on Saturday.
Rachel Zambrano (Cedar Park, Texas, USA)
Zambrano, a firefighter, got her start as a competitive triathlete in 2011. Five years ago, she was returning to the fire station when a when her coworker who was driving the firetruck began to experience a medical emergency. While attempting to assist, the fire truck struck a pole and rolled, leaving Zambrano with neurological and musculoskeletal impairments. Her recovery involved a permanent nerve stimulator implantation, but she says triathlon is what gave her strength again and allowed her to return to firefighting.
To hear some of these inspiring athletes share their stories of overcoming adversity and empowering others to prove that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE®, the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship Ambassador Athlete Panel will be taking place at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 12 at the IRONMAN Village Stage at the Hale Halawai Park on Ali`I Drive and is open to the general public.
Additional historical facts and stats on the field competing in the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship women’s race in Kailua-Kona, Hawai`i:
- Cullen Goodyear (CAN) is the oldest participant at 75, while Adrienne Bunn (USA) is the youngest at 18 * Subject to change
- 44 is the average age of all registrants
- Eight athletes will be celebrating their birthdays on race day
- This year’s field comprises five age group champions from the 2022 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship race: Brazil’s Ana Augusta Soares (F35-39), Czech Republic’s Jana Richtrova (F40-44), United States’ Liza Rachetto (F45-49), Canada’s Sharon Mackinnon (F60-64), and United States’ Missy Lestrange (F70-74)
- 49 U.S. states plus Washington, D.C. are accounted for, with the greatest number hailing from California (125), Texas (87), Washington (67), Florida (60), Colorado (51) and New York (44)
- 1,169 athletes racing in this year’s Women’s VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon are IRONMAN All World Athletes™
- 48 is the total number of qualifying races for the 2023 Women’s VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon, two of which were new qualifying races for 2023 – the 2022 IRONMAN California race and the 2022 IRONMAN Israel – Middle East Championship race
- More than 5,000 volunteers will help make the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship event a success
Beginning in the crystal-clear waters of Kailua Bay, athletes taking part in the 2023 VinFast IRONMAN World Championship triathlon will tackle the 2.4-mile (3.8km) ROKA swim course before heading out on the 112-mile (180.2km) FulGaz™ bike course, renowned for its historic long sustained climbs, strong crosswinds, and exposed terrain beauty with lava fields on one side and the ocean coastline on the other. The final leg of their race sees athletes take on the 26.2-mile (42.2km) HOKA run course, an out-and-back that takes athletes past the spirited crowds on Ali`i Drive, up Palani Road to the Queen Ka`ahumanu Highway which leads them to the long-awaited HOST Park at the National Energy Laboratory Hawai`i Authority (NELHA). Athletes will complete their journey to the roar of thousands of spectators as they cross the historic Ali`i Drive finish line.
*Percentages rounded, approximate