By SHANE RICHARD BELL/Staff writer/Coeur d’Alene Press
One moment they all stood together, the morning sun on their faces, before the ocean. The next moment they were under the warm green currents, 1,400 athletes swimming as one into the Pacific.
“This is what I want to do,” said Coeur d’Alene resident Ivanka Kuran, witnessing her first Ironman Triathlon competition in Kona, Hawaii.
That was in the early 1990s.
Now she’s completed 18 Ironman competitions and is planning to participate in Ironman Coeur d’Alene 2013 on Sunday.
“My favorite event is swimming,” said Kuran. “It’s like you’re swimming in a school of fish. And it’s real quiet down there. It’s amazing.”
But Kuran didn’t start off swimming. “My history is running,” she said. “I’ve run 60-something marathons. I like sports.”
Born in Montreal, Kuran lived all across Canada growing up. Her father often transferred jobs, troubleshooting for various paper mills. Her father is of Yugoslavian descent and her mother Dutch. As a child, Ivanka was encouraged to play hockey and enjoy the outdoors, but never to attempt participating in a triathlon.
Competing in long-distance triathlons is not a Kuran family tradition.
“When my mom and dad came to watch an Ironman for the first time, I couldn’t find them after the race,” said Kuran. “Two hours later I found them sleeping in my truck since the race ‘took too long’ and they were tired of waiting.”
“Really they think I’m missing a few marbles,” she added. “My dad can’t believe people pay $700 to exercise all day and end up at the same place they started. They are European and prefer wine, cheese and Danishes to all this healthy ‘stuff.'”
Kuran knows she’s not in the same place she started, though.
“What I enjoy the most is hearing everyone’s story of how they get there,” she said.
“This takes some grit. You’ve got to toe the line; you’re going to figure out how to get there. It’s like life. Not everything is going to go your way, but it’s what you make of those problems that matter.”
Kuran admits after 18 Ironmans, understanding the methods for success makes competing easier. One of those methods, Kuran realizes, is to rely on others – volunteers and athletes – to make it to the finish line.
“How can you have a bad day when you have 3,000 volunteers helping you realize your goal?” asked Kuran.
Kuran likes to volunteer for Ironman as much as she likes to be an Ironman triathlete. Since she started competing in Ironman she has set up swim courses and organized athlete registration for Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
“She volunteers all over for Ironman,” said Mac Cavasar, Race Director for Ironman Coeur d’Alene. “She’s a real asset to our community. And she’s a constant performer as far as an athlete. It’s phenomenal.”
“Her volunteer position is not a one-day position,” added Michelle Haustein, Ironman Coeur d’Alene volunteer director. “She’s out there for four days before the race volunteering, then she races, and then she comes back the morning after to volunteer again.”
Haustein knows Kuran as an athlete, volunteer, friend, and physical therapist.
“As a friend, she is one of the most loyal friends you could ever ask for. Once she has your back, she has your back. She is so determined, too. She never gives up; she never gives up on anything.”
At 49, Ivanka’s friends and family wonder when she’ll retire from 2.4-mile swims, 112-mile bike rides, and 26.2-mile runs.
“That’s the biggest prize, though, having good health. It’s tremendous,” said Kuran. “Anyone can do it. You don’t have to be the best at anything. You just have to work hard and have perseverance.”
The events will test your patience, reminds Kuran – like when she slipped and fell in a portable toilet and nearly knocked it over. “Thank God, I had a helmet on,” she said. “You can laugh or cry, and I’d much rather laugh.”
Or that race three years ago when she didn’t make a personal record and ended up walking the last 10-15 miles of the race with a three-time cancer survivor. “At first we were both a little discouraged,” said Kuran, “but then I realized what we’d both been through in life. That’s when I looked at her and said, ‘We’re going to make it.'”
Last December she had knee surgery after an athlete accidently ran into her at an Ironman competition. “I want to say I’ve made a full recovery from the knee injury and that I’ll keep the streak alive,” she said.
Last year she volunteered and participated in Ironman Coeur d’Alene while completing her Ph.D in physical therapy and working as a physical therapist and co-owner of River City Physical Therapy in Coeur d’Alene. “What I like about Ironman athletes is that everyone’s a doer,” said Kuran.
In the end Ironman is not a trophy case to Ivanka Kuran, full of shining personal records, medals, and names of exotic places, but rather a mindset, a core conviction, fueled by an elevation of thinking beyond obstacles through the power of unrelenting determination and radiant optimism.
“It’s about the whole day, the whole experience, but one of the best parts of the day is the last six blocks,” said Kuran. “You can hear the finish line from Tubbs Hill and when you turn onto Sherman Avenue, you can see all the way to the finish line.”