When Rhinelander High School graduate Jesse Marquardt signed up for his first Ironman triathlon, he probably didn’t realize he was signing his mother up at the same time.
When Marquardt competed in Ironman Wisconsin in 2007, 2009 and 2010, his mother, Cindy DiGiacomo, traveled to Madison, woke up at 3 a.m. on the day of the race and went to cheer him on.
In 2011 and 2012, Marquardt ran Ironman Lake Placid in New York. His time this year qualified him for the Ironman World Championships in Kaliua-Kona, Hawaii. He was one of 1,584 athletes from around the world who qualified and competed in the event in October.
While DiGiacomo did not make the trip to Hawaii to see her son race in the world championships, she was able to track his progress and see his finish online.
“My sister and I were watching it on the computer live, they just let the cameras roll without commentary and announced the names as they came across the finish line,” she said. He completed the course in 10 hours and five minutes. Based on analysis by runtri.com, the average finishing time is 12 hours and 35 minutes. The 1991 RHS grad is way above average.
Of course, this is not something you need to tell his mother.
Billed as “the ultimate test of body, mind and spirit,” the original Ironman started in 1978 in Waikiki with 15 competitors. Part of the handout given to the competitors read: “Swim 2.4 miles! Bike 112 miles! Run 26.2 miles! Brag for the rest of your life!” (www.ironman.com). That 140-mile Ironman journey is now attempted by many the world over.
Marquardt’s wife Tracy also competes in Ironman triathlons. In 2009, when both were in Ironman Wisconsin, DiGiacomo designed T-shirts with her son’s picture on the front and Tracy’s on the back. For Tracy’s parents, DiGiacomo had a T-shirt made with Tracy on the front and Marquardt on the back.
That is something a lot of people do to wear on the day of the race, DiGiacomo said. Many also track their athletes online using their phones. Each competitor is registered by their bib number and can be tracked online as they pass through checkpoints. The first checkpoint is when the athletes come out of the water, DiGiacomo explained. That may be the checkpoint mothers like best.
“[The water] is the scariest part for me,” she said. “Jesse’s been kicked, he’s lost his goggles.” In Madison, spectators stand on Monona Terrace overlooking Lake Monona. “It sounds like a bunch of flying fish coming by, it’s so noisy. You can’t even pick anybody out. It’s incredible.”
From the water, the athletes head for their bikes and ride out to Verona while fans hop on a bus for the 16-mile trip. Buses are running back and forth to Verona all day, DiGiacomo said.
The crowd waits at the chute in Verona to ring cowbells as the bikers pass through to complete two 40-mile loops. “Then you get back on the bus to head back to State Street,” DiGiacomo said. The athletes run out to Camp Randall Stadium and back twice. “The finish is right near the Capitol. We usually go get something to eat, and then wait at the finish line for them, checking checkpoints on our phones the whole time.”
It was on this last leg of a competition in 2007 in Marlborough, Mass., that DiGiacomo received a phone call that all parents dread. A driver under the influence of drugs drove his car through the barriers and hit Marquardt. “Traci called me crying, and said he had been hit and they were on their way to the hospital,” DiGiacomo said. “I pictured him broken and dead.” But it resulted only in some broken bones in his foot. It was a huge relief, she said.
Marquardt will turn 40 next year and compete in a new age bracket. If he qualifies, DiGiacomo is planning on traveling to Hawaii to cheer her son on at the 2013 Ironman World Championships.
“When they are done racing you feel like you’ve run the race too, because you’ve chased them all around,” she said. “That’s what you do….It is so much fun.”
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