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Norwalk Woman Embraces Spirit Of Hawaii Ironman

NORWALK, Conn. – Norwalk native Lauren Madaffari completed her first Kona Ironman World Championship race last Saturday in Hawaii, finishing in 11:31:21 and ninth in her age group out of 26 finishers.

She was also the fourth American. She qualified for the race by winning her age group in August at a race in New York City. The race consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, for a total of 140.6 miles. She finished strong, running a 3:53:50 marathon, an improvement of nearly 36 minutes from her New York race.

Madaffari, a Brien McMahon grad who now attends graduate school in California, answered questions submitted via email after the race:

You were the fourth American and in the Top 10 in your age group. What are your thoughts about placing so well in an event that had such great competition?

Honestly, the goal of the entire day was to finish. The setting of Kona is so different from the environmental circumstances that I am used to training in, so I just really wanted to finish the race. The swim is extremely rough. It is a mass start, so you have 2,000-plus men and women starting all at once. It was absolute chaos, very much like a washing machine for an hour or so. The bike was brutally hot, and the wind was constantly pushing me from all directions. Once you get off your saddle, you have the run. You're on the pavement when Hawaii's sun is at its peak, and there is absolutely no shade..

When I finished, I was amazed by my time, as I didn't expect to finish in 11:31. I thought I was going to finish more around 12 hours. I was screaming the entire last mile because I broke a four-hour marathon, something that I didn't even expect to do. When I finally got to my phone to see my splits I was just shocked to see where I had placed compared to the rest of my competition. I'm very hard on myself, and I thought that I would finish at the end of my age group. It's very satisfying to see all your hard work turn into something statistical, as my placing did. I also don't know how to give myself credit. I always feel as though I could do better, after all, there is always room for improvement. However, in this circumstance, I am so happy with my results, I couldn't have asked for a better day. Everything fell into place perfectly; the Hawaiian spirits were definitely with me.

Can you describe your feelings and emotions going through the race? Was it different than any other triathlon or Ironman competition?

Just being in Kona is an absolute dream for any Ironman athlete. It is the Super Bowl, World Series, NBA finals, Stanley Cup of Triathlons. I have to admit, I felt a bit of guilt qualifying for Kona at my first Ironman as people will participate in Ironman events for years trying to get a chance at Kona. Since my age group has typically 20 or less participants at each qualifying Ironman, my chances of qualifying were higher.

On race day I was just in awe of the spirit that is so alive; no matter if you are a professional athlete, or if you're the last one to cross the finish line. The energy that literally engulfs the town of Kailua-Kona during Ironman week is just absolutely amazing.

On race day, I started crying in my goggles as the National Anthem played; just being in the water with all of these incredible athletes was such a gift. While on the bike, I just kept saying to myself, "Lauren you're actually doing this girl!" On the bike course there was a woman with a sign that read, "Don't Dream it, Be it." It was this sign that carried me through the rest of the race. Before I competed in Kona on Oct. 13, I had always dreamed of competing in Kona and here I was, actually doing it. It was a phenomenal feeling, something that I am sure I will carry with me through my life. During the run my feet felt like I was running on clouds, nothing could stop me. I had a constant smile on my face. Triathletes talk about the Hawaiian gods grasping a hold of you on Ironman day, and I am sure that they fled through my body more than once.

Finally, given the choice: Beating Norwalk with a goal in field hockey or finishing Kona. Which is a better feeling?

The two events are both special moments in my athletic career, and something that I don't think I could ever compare. Being involved in McMahon's field hockey program was something that really helped mold me as the competitive person that I am today. The whole aspect of team sports is something that I think everyone needs to experience, it teaches you how to be responsible, how to work with others, how to take wins and losses as a group and not as an individual. Teams don't win because of one person, and they most certainly don't lose because of one individual, either. The goal that I made during my senior year against Norwalk High really made me feel like a superstar because I gave something to my team. My field hockey team at BMHS was my family, and I wanted to give my best effort for my family; making that goal during that important game did that.

Finishing Kona was an entirely different kind of achievement. While the Ironman is an individual sport, getting to the finish line on race day is anything but individualistic. Physically you carry yourself to the finish line, you face ups and downs, and you are the one that moves yourself through the 140.6 miles. However, through all of the training, my family and friends have helped me more than I could explain, and it is because of them that I was able to reach the finish line. Training for an Ironman is an extremely selfish commitment. Putting in 18 to 25 hours of training/ week since December 2011 has been a huge part of not just my life but my family's as well. I am very fortunate to have parents and a brother that understand what Ironman means to me. They deal with my crankiness when I'm having a really tough week of training, they put up with me going on six-hour bike rides on the weekend during the summer when I could have been enjoying time at the beach with them. Also, during my races my family members and friends have been there to support me, and that is something that I will never forget, tears start to form when I think about how supportive everyone has been of me.

So, to answer the question, I would say the two events play equal importance during the particular time of my life.

I would say during my teenage years the goal against Norwalk High made me feel like a savior for my team, and looking back I am proud that I was able to make that play at that moment. I am also proud of how my team worked together during my senior year, We were very much a unit. This is also why that moment was a special one for me: I didn't make the goal on my own, my team members were the ones who got the ball to the opponents net, I was just the one to direct the ball into the net. It's a sentimental feeling giving back to girls who have your back as much as you have theirs.

Finishing the Ironman at Kona as a young adult showed me that there are no limits, that you are limitless. I think that I needed to prove that to myself at this point in my life. I think that everyone does things to prove to themselves what they are capable of. It's our human nature to venture out and see what we can withstand, what our breaking point is, and to see if you can go past that breaking point the next time around. If you break down the Ironman, I would have to say that yes, if you don't train your butt off, you're going to have a very difficult journey come race day, but even more so, mental confidence is the key player. Your mind needs to believe, that's where you are able to truly find yourself. Growing up is hard, life isn't easy, but if you set your mind to something and you keep at it, nothing but good things can come of it.

If there is anything I would like to say to others out there: Inspire yourself. If you want something, go get it. All you need is heart, you will get there. One step at a time is all it takes.

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