The 6 Most Inspiring Women from the Ironman World Championship In Kona
Daniela Ryf was the first-place female finisher in last year's Ironman World Championship race, which was impressive enough. But the Switzerland native came back to defend her title in 2016, and let's just say she did that and then some. The 29-year-old made history with her repeat victory, making her only the eighth female to earn more than one Kona title in the race's history. She also broke the female course record of 8:52:14 by 6 minutes—giving her an astounding 8:46:46 finish time. And while she had a solid swim, Ryf's performance on the bike was what really blew us away, as she managed to pull ahead and enter transition 2 with a massive 22-minute lead. She held onto that for the marathon leg, and said at the finish line that her performance was her "best race ever."
While Ryf dominated the female race at the Ironman World Championship, the fight for second place was a close one. Mirinda Carfrae from Australia ended up claiming that slot, but third-place finisher Heather Jackson also pulled out an impressive performance. It was only her second time competing in Kona—she placed fifth in her go at it last year—and she crossed the finish line in an impressive 9:11:32 (just 1:02 behind Carfrae), when she became the first American woman to podium at Ironman Kona in 10 years.
Consider another glass ceiling shattered: Shirin Gerami officially became the first Iranian female to compete in and finish an Ironman when she crossed the Kona finish line in 13:11:07. In order to get permission from the Iran Triathlon Federation to compete, she had to race in full Islamic dress even though she doesn't normally wear a hijab in London, where she currently resides. The 26-year-old says she was willing to do so in order to set a precedent for more Islamic women who wish to compete, reports
. She also had to have a separate tent so she would be out of sight from male competitors when she changed into her cycling and running clothes, and Roka designed and created her swimwear with longer arms and legs to meet the requirements of covering everything but her hands and face. But this race wasn't the first time Gerami inspired millions of women, proving sport can transcend cultural and religious divides: She also made history in 2013 when she became the first female triathlete to represent Iran after completing the International Triathlon Union World Championships in London, which Iranian president Hassan Rouhani even tweeted about afterward.
Turia Pitt crossed the Kona finish line in 14:37:30. But it was the journey before those final steps that proved how much courage, strength, and determination she really has. The 28-year-old Australian suffered burns over 65 percent of her body and had parts of her hands amputated when she was caught in an out-of-control brush fire during a 2011 ultramarathon that left her in the hospital for 864 days. Most didn't think she would survive, and doctors certainly didn't think she would run again, but Pitt made completing an Ironman her goal to help propel her through the recovery of more than 200 surgeries. She met that goal in May when she completed Ironman Australia (and Ashton Kutcher proudly professed his admiration for her), and then went on to conquer Kona and proved to everyone that anything is possible.
We're always inspired by our female veterans (check out these 7 badasses who competed in the Paralympics), and Christina Hopper is no exception. As the first African American female fighter pilot, the Oklahoma native is no stranger to overcoming obstacles and breaking down barriers. During the Iraq war, Hopper flew more than 50 combat missions for the U.S. Air Force, and she's credited with four Air Medals and the aerial Achievement Medal for her bravery. That courage likely comes from her family: The daughter of a mixed race couple in the '70s, she learned that at one time, the Ku Klux Klan threatened to burn crosses on her family's lawn if they didn't move out of the neighborhood. Eventually, Hopper went to school on a swimming scholarship and it was when she served as a member of the Air Force Reserve that she decided to train for Ironman Kona—which she completed in 12:08:11.
While it's fun to have a close-up view while the professionals dash to the finish line for that podium finish, everyone always say the magic of an Ironman really happens at the end of the race. So when CLIF Bar gave us a front-row opportunity to cheer the very last finisher in to get her medal, we were stoked. Every athlete is given 17 hours to complete the Ironman, and with just over two minutes to spare, Jennifer Tait, a Great Britain native, crossed the finish line with a larger-than-life smile on her face. If that doesn't inspire you to sign up for a triathlon, we don't know what will.