I went here to: Race the Ironman World Championship in memory of my friend/teammate, Marisela (Mari) Echeverria.
I traveled here with: My dear friend Huma. She was my brain, my secretary, my sherpa, my photographer, my caretaker and as always, one of the best friends a girl could ask for. We were joined by my awesome parents, my boyfriend, Nestor, and more than 30 friends/teammates to came to cheer and represent TEAM Mari.
I stayed at: A condo that I rented through Airbnb. Months ago, before I had won a slot into the World Championship via Kona Inspired, I had inquired about several condo rentals within a couple miles of the race start. Most owners let me know that since it was Ironman week, the rentals were going at a higher rate, were a minimum 1-week stay and were not flexible for any changes or cancellations. One owner named Fern, however, not only told me she was flexible with dates, number of guests and cancellation, she offered to hold her condo for me until I knew whether or not I was coming for sure! She removed the available dates from her rental site, and held those dates for me for several months. When I won a slot through Kona Inspired, Fern kept her word, and granted me the rental! I'm convinced she is an angel for being so selfless and simply wanting to help someone without asking for payment or favors in return!
The best thing I ate was: Usually when I visit Hawaii, it is a food fest of my favorites -- fresh fish, shaves ice, loco moco, mochi ice cream, etc. This time was a bit different because I was so busy and in pre-race mode with race dinners, social functions, etc. However, during a couple hours of free time, my friend Huma and I found Umeke's, a local Hawaiian poke spot, and enjoyed awesome fresh fish poke bowls for lunch on the eve of the big day. It was definitely the best!
Don’t miss: The Ironman World Championship finish line at midnight. Triathlete or not, there is no way that you won't get goosebumps and feel inspired by the last finishers of the race! I wish I hadn’t: Been left with such horrible road rash from a bike crash at Mile 36 of the 112-mile bike ride on race day. It not only cramped my beach time post-race, but also I'm still dealing with taking care of the wounds everyday as they heal. The bright side of the battle wounds is the scars will forever remind me of one of the most incredible days of my life.
My advice for first timers to Kona would be to: Go during the Ironman World Championship Week! Yes, it is super busy, however you will be inspired by the buzz of excitement surrounding the athletes at this world-renowned event. Tons of energy, inspiration and strength will have you on a high ... not only from the athletes, but also from the volunteers and spectators alike!
My advice for first timers competing in Ironman would be: To remember the journey in which you arrived there. Racers say is about enjoying your day and letting the hard work pay off! For those who are not competing to podium, remember my little R.A.C.E. acronym: Reflection And Celebration Event. When it comes to packing, be sure to bring: Your race gear in your carry-on, just in case. If you are cheering … your best wardrobe that will make the athletes smile!
Next time I’ll definitely: Be ready to volunteer for the world's most incredible endurance event as a volunteer. It would be an honor to be in Kona for the event every year going forward. Not only to honor Mari, but to be amidst the excitement of the “World Cup" of triathlons while having the chance to give back. My favorite part of the trip was: The final stretch to the finish line when Huma ran with me as I neared the end, then seeing 2 of my dear friends, Marvin and Raul, waiting to "catch" me as the volunteers after crossing the finish line. The icing was them taking me to my parents and boyfriend for huge hugs and emotional tears of sadness, happiness, triumph, thankfulness and relief. After that, our night to visit to the giant manta ray was pretty dang incredible!
For more of Kelly's inspiring journey to Kona, check out her Q&A about being an Ironman "Kona Inspired" athlete.