Ironman Champion & Smashfest Queen pro Haley Chura just completed her first ironman after a horrific car+bike accident leading into Kona in 2015. Her comeback began in 2016, when she clawed her way back from multiple injuries to ironman fitness for Ironman Arizona in November, only to be taken out by food poisoning two days before the race. We are continually in awe of Haley's ability to stay motivated, focused, and--most importantly--positive in spite of all obstacles. Here she talks about her true COMEBACK at Ironman Brazil just a couple weeks ago.
Ironman Brazil has been an important race for my entire history in the sport. In 2006 my coach, Matthew Rose, raced his first Ironman in Florianopolis, just three years before he founded Dynamo Multisport, the team that launched my triathlon career. In 2013 I traveled to Ironman Brazil on my first solo international trip. I was simultaneously thrilled and terrified, especially having just left the relative comfort of my accounting job. I did my best to embrace the adventure, bringing home a 5th place trophy and several incredible friendships, including an increased regard for Smashfest Queen founder Hillary Biscay.
In 2015 I started Ironman Brazil, now an Ironman Regional Championship event, as one of the “pre-race favorites”. I did my first ever pro press panel and pre-race interviews and I wore my very own Green and Yellow Smashfest Queen “HC Kit.” I led the swim and bike portions of the race before a nagging back injury threatened to end my race in the early miles of the run. Holding on for sixth place on day when I thought I might not finish is still one of my proudest triathlon memories.
The two years between Ironman Brazil 2015 and Ironman Brazil 2017 challenged my participation in the sport. The crash, Kona DNF, and and lengthy physical and mental recovery have been well covered by a recent WISP Sports podcast and TriZone article. My return to full Ironman distance racing was further delayed by food poisoning before 2016 Ironman Arizona, a relatively minor disappointment in that I was re-hydrated, re-fueled and back to normal training in just a few weeks.
When I decided to keep racing post-crash I set a few goals. One was to finish an Ironman. A second was to finish an Ironman in less than nine hours. Outcome oriented and time-based goals are exactly what I encourage my own athletes NOT to do, but I allow myself certain liberties at this point in my career. I didn’t need to chase these goals at Ironman Brazil, but the timing was right and I do love racing in South America, so I booked another ticket to Floripa.
Being back at Ironman Brazil this year was really special. I reunited with some of my favorite people, made new friends, and just enjoyed being at one of my favorite races. My race embodied everything that is terrible and wonderful about Ironman; it was a day full of challenges, but also full of opportunities to figure things out and keep going.
I unexpectedly struggled with sighting and temperature issues on a relatively fast swim course, exiting the water with just a minute lead. On the bike I managed the wet roads much better than I expected. I rode alone for about 68 miles before Susie, Magali, and a pro male caught me. I managed to stay with them through about mile 90, when I resumed the lead on the hillier section of the course and pushed the pace as much as possible through T2.
Once on the run Susie quickly passed me, but I kept her in sight and actually caught her on the largest hill around mile 2 or 3. I felt very strong on the hilly section of the run, and decided to press while I felt good, putting about a 40 second gap between myself and Susie, which I quickly lost during an emergency bathroom break around mile 12. My two year absence from the distance revealed itself on the second half of the run, where I struggled mentally with the distance and the kind of hurt that comes from 7+ hours of racing. Sonja passed me around mile 22 or 23 and I knew I could quickly go from third to tenth given how tight the field was behind me. Mentally, I sort of pulled it together in those final miles, making a few promises to myself like a new houseplant if I would just run hard for 20 more minutes. It worked, and I held on for third, a 3:09 marathon and an 8:58 finish time!
I am so thankful to be physically and mentally healthy enough to race a full 140.6 miles. I’m also thankful for everyone who has cheered for and supported me through the very drastic ups and downs of the past couple years. I am so happy to finish an Ironman post-crash, I’m so happy to break nine hours, and I am extra happy I got to do both at Ironman Brazil in Florianopolis. I’ll be celebrating this one for a while. Obrigada!