Ironman World Championship: Big Island finishers race inspired on home course

  • J.R. De Groote/West Hawaii Today Jose Graca was the first Big Island finisher on Saturday at the Ironman World Championship.

KAILUA-KONA — Some laughed, some cried. Some did somersaults, while others simply collapsed from sheer exhaustion.

There’s no one reaction to finishing the Ironman World Championship. Every athlete has their own story about how they spent their day conquering the 140.6-mile course that included a morning 2.4-mile swim in Kailua Bay, a 112-mile windy bike to Hawi and back, and a casual 26.2-mile run in the Kona sun.

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But once athletes get their kukui nut lei and hear those historic words — “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” — it’s official, and something that can never be taken away.

“It never gets old,” said Kona’s Jose Graca, who was the top Big Island finisher for a third consecutive year. “Alii drive is the best. Just the energy and I get to see my friends from here, from Brazil and all over the world. It’s so much fun. But it is Kona. You always have to respect it.”

Graca — a native of Brazil who now calls Kona home — clocked a time of 9 hours, 14 minutes and 59 seconds, which put him fifth overall in his very competitive 45-49 age-group.

“I’m just so happy,” said Graca, who now has eight finishes.

On the women’s side, it was Kona rookie Mele DeMille who topped the local field, finishing in 10:52:37.

“My first Ironman [World Championship] was just an amazing experience,” DeMille said. “The volunteers were amazing and family and friends were huge in moments where I needed them. I’m beyond excited about how it ended up.”

Local triathlete, teacher and cross-country coach David Wild was second among Big Island finishers, recording a strong finishing time of 9:48:38 in his second Ironman World Championship race.

But despite his patented post-race grin, the race he left in his wake was anything but easy. He dedicated the hard-fought finish to his students at Konawaena, who helped him push through when the going got tough.

“I wanted to show them that hard work pays off,” Wild said. “I was going to give up and actually considered a DNF [did not finish] because my bike was so bad and slow and I felt totally defeated and destroyed from the head winds. I wanted to go home and just call it a day. But I thought of my kids. And wanted to show them when it gets tough, you just change your strategy. Adapt to the conditions.”

On the run, Wild’s pace picked up as he knocked down the miles, gaining momentum for a memorable finish.

“I walked at first, then I jogged. Then, I settled in. I ran so fast at the end and finished with a negative split. I’m so proud of myself. And I want my students to know that they make me so proud. Even though they may hate me sometimes, they still came out to volunteer. My cross country team, National Honors Society (NHS) club, and other students from Konawaena and Kealakehe all showed up and showed me so much love.”

Wild also dedicated the finish to Native Hawaiians, holding up his hands as he stopped the clock in a triangle — a symbol that has become synonymous with the protests on Mauna Kea.

“To welcome Ironman and all these people here — I wanted to thank them for that,” he said.

There was a minor change to the race this year with the implementation of wave swim starts for age-group athletes. Instead of a mass start, 11 groups started the swim at different times to reduce athlete density on the bike course. Graca said it worked, well, swimmingly.

“The bike course is much better in the waves,” he said. “There is no drafting. It’s like real cycling, not like Tour de France. There are less crowds in the swim too.”

Here is a list of the other Big Island finishers who finished before press time:

Paul Gregg – 11:44:55

Julia Chang – on course 401

Winona Chen – 11:36:10

Tina Eakin – 11:21:34

Mele Demille – 10:52:37

David Wild – 9:48:38

Steffen Brocks – 10:35:37

Billy Rickards – 11:55:38

Sara Bloom – 11:24:14

Gunnar Hillert – 12:41:17

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Don Baldassari – 12:47:14

Keish Doi – 10:48:18

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