No competitor is a failure who has friends, family and community.
That’s how Alisa Wise sees it.
At the age of 48, the Camas High School teacher and head track and field coach trained with Denise Clegg and Liana Gulzow for the 2016 Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico.
On March 20, the three friends from Camas conquered the 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run despite experiencing varying degrees of difficulty.
Gulzow completed her first Ironman race in 6 hours, 48 minutes, 2 seconds. Wise got kicked in the face during the swim and had to change a flat tire within the first 100 meters of the bike ride, but she still finished in 7:26:58. Clegg was afraid she would not be able to complete the run due to a chronic foot injury. Determination on racing day took over, and Clegg crossed the finish line in 8:05:17.
“I just wish I could put it all in a bottle — the scenery, the music, the ambiance, the heat, the people and the culture,” Wise said. “It was just a wonderful experience. To be able to share that with my two friends and to know that all three of us finished the race is special and exhilarating.”
Wise chose to enter the Ironman Puerto Rico because her husband, Jim, lived there for 18 months, while serving in a missionary. He wanted to return and she was up for an adventure. Competing in an Ironman was another challenge to devour. Alisa and Jim were able to share this experience with their son, Stockton, before he graduates from Camas High School.
“I have a lot of gratitude for my family, who supports me and my crazy dreams. I love pain, I love misery and I love training. It’s part of who I am,” she said. “The best part was having my husband and son there for me. We all felt love for Puerto Rico. I cried when we landed there and I cried when we got back home.”
After the race, the Wise’s spent the rest of the week hiking, kayaking and surfing. Alisa enjoyed watching Jim reminiscing and soaking in all the sights and sounds.
“At one point, he said stop the car,” she recalled. “We all got out to watch the sun set and he told us to close our eyes and just listen. We could hear the frogs and birds. It sounded like a rainforest. He said, ‘this is the Puerto Rico I remember.’ I could tell that he loved it there.”
Although Alisa and Jim had a hard time getting Stockton off the surf board, they were thrilled to see their son living his life to the fullest outdoors.
“I hope he has some wonderful memories to take on in his life. Rich memories of family, sounds, sights and smells,” she said. “Stockton was inspired by the entire [ironman] event. He gained a deep appreciation for the culture, and a respect for people and what they believe. That is the kind of stuff that I hope will live in our memories forever.”
All teaching, coaching and parenting aside, there was still a big race for Alisa Wise to accomplish before the family vacation could really begin.
At 6:50 a.m., she found some breathing room in a corner of the starting chute filled by hundreds of other swim-capped competitors and 10,000 more women and men who would soon be nipping at her heels in the water.
“It’s like pressure in a bottle before the cork pops. A lot of prayers are said there,” Wise described. “The first wave goes off and the anticipation just builds and builds. It’s like a firecracker.”
Wise entered the Condado Lagoon courageously. She was afraid of swimming out in open water without a wet suit. Getting kicked in the face right out of the gate killed all of her momentum. She gargled salt water, lost her goggles and her face swelled up. Once she put her goggles back on and restarted, the men’s wave swallowed her up.
The swells near the Dos Hermanos Bridge made the rest of the swim almost unbearable. Wise reached the shore feeling vertigo and frustrated.
She got to her bike and realized she didn’t fill her reserve tank with water. She had to rely on what she had to get her to mile post 15. She didn’t even get 100 meters before her tire went flat. It took her at least 20 minutes to change it.
“It was just one of those days,” Wise said. “I had to keep going. I had to keep racing.”
The sights and sounds encouraged Wise to keep pedaling. Finally, she found her comfort zone and attacked the rest of the course.
“You’re never too old to do cool stuff. I hope I can be a motivation for others to keep moving, no matter how slow. As long as we are moving and doing something we love, the results aren’t always important,” she said. “Keep living life on the edge of your comfort zone. There’s no better feeling than crossing that finish line, or when you’re a mile out and realize you’re going to make it.”
Wise has some words of wisdom for the students she teaches and the athletes she coaches.
“Get out and enjoy life,” she said. “Don’t live it virtually. Live it in reality.”