Local Triathlete Competes in IRONMAN World Championships in Hawai’i

Racing Is a Family Affair for Romas
By JULIET KASZAS-HOCH | Nov 07, 2018
Supplied Photo

Triathlon’s elite assembled in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i, in mid-October for the IRONMAN World Championship. The athletes competing in this most prestigious endurance race had traveled there from all over the world, including Germany, South Africa, Sweden, Australia ... and Long Beach Island.

Ken Roma, born and bred in Beach Haven and a current resident of the borough, left one island for another, and was joined in Hawai’i by his wife, Kathy, son Jeff, daughter Ginny and his grandchildren, who watched him participate in the 40th installment of this iconic event. “It was a blessing to be able to go,” said Roma. “It’s a pretty big deal” – basically the IRONMAN Super Bowl.

A decade and a half ago, Roma, 59, likely wouldn’t have imagined himself on the triathlon world stage. As a commercial fishing boat captain, his lifestyle was rather sedentary, as he was on the ocean hundreds of days a year, plus he smoked and regular exercise wasn’t his thing. But at some point, around 2006, Roma decided to flip the script, to stop smoking and get in shape.

“Both of my kids are athletes,” he said of Ginny and Jeff, who graduated Southern Regional High School in the early 2000s. Ginny played sports through high school and college, and eventually found her way to long distance running. “I ran my first marathon in ’04,” she noted. The event was in Disney World, and her parents and Jeff were all there to cheer her on, and, she thinks, that race sparked an endurance interest in her dad and brother.

Ken started running short distances, then longer distances. 5Ks became 10Ks, and beyond.

Eventually, the Roma triad gave triathlon a shot.

Ken and Jeff, a local commercial fisherman like his dad, raced their first IRONMAN in Wisconsin, and afterward, Kathy called Ginny, a teacher in Cape May, and said, “You have to try this.”

All three Roma competitors were initially skeptical about the swimming component of triathlon’s swim-bike-run. “I was absolutely not a swimmer,” said Ken. Ginny concurred: “I’m an on-land kind of athlete,” who skied and raced motorcycles, as did Dad and Jeff, in addition to her team sport history and foray into running.

But soon enough, Ginny was on board, and all three Romas competed together in a triathlon in Lake Placid in 2010.

Since then, the three of them, or sometimes two of them, have often raced together, and when they can, they’ll train together, usually on bikes or in the bay. Ken admits it’s harder for him to keep up with the youngsters on foot. “Both kids are faster than me,” he remarked. “Both are better athletes than me.”

Ginny, though, noted her dad’s knee problems, which makes running more of a challenge. She added, though, that his biking has really improved over the years.

Despite the knees, and the late start to serious competition, Ken has clipped off a number of triathlons, and even won the LBI-Bayview Park Triathlon a couple times.

The opportunity to race in Kailua-Kona came about like this: Because Ken had competed in 12 full-distance events, and was registered for one at the time, he was able to put his name in for a spot in Hawai’i, which was first come, first served. The only other way to make it to that race is to finish in the top three in an age group in one of about 30 global events.

Ginny described the experience in Hawai’i: “We’ve all watched that race on TV for 10 years, and to be there in the atmosphere was unreal. I was blown away.”

Before the day of the event, Ginny and Ken even got to swim a bit of the course together. “It was a real moment for us,” she said. “It was a triumph for all of us” that her dad was there, competing in that event. And “all of us,” she pointed out, includes Kathy. “My mom is just such a supporter,” she stated. “If it wasn’t for her, her push and encouragement … She always makes sure we have what we need. She is the glue.”

As for the race itself, Ken recalled, “It went great. I think I was blessed because it was an open water ocean swim, and it was extremely calm, no current. The bike ride was a little overcast and, by Kona terms, not too windy. By the end, it started raining, which was great.” He finished in about 16 hours, and was happy.

“I’m always happy to be there,” he remarked. “It doesn’t make sense to worry. In Hawai’i, It took effort to tell myself, ‘It’s just another day.’”

Triathlon days, though, are not quite like other days. “It’s hard to explain the experience,” said Ginny. “After you finish, you look back and kind of laugh, like, ‘Did I really just do that?!’

“It’s a good mental builder, and a character builder,” she added. After successfully completing triathlons – and combating wind or hills or humidity or the cold – “you feel like, when you’re faced with a challenge, you can rise to that challenge, no matter what it is. You really can do anything; once you say it enough, you really believe it.”

Triathlons: Just another day … but a really demanding, really awesome day.

juliet@thesandpaper.net

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