Myoung Kwon, pastor of the Waukesha and Milwaukee Northwest churches, recently participated in the Wisconsin IronMan. The following story was published in the Lake Union Herald weekly newsletter in November, 2022 and also on their website: lakeunionherald.org.
Ironman of God
Since becoming a triathlete in the summer of 2021, I had one great goal. I wanted to be an Ironman.
Ironman is a triathlon event consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike, and a 26.2-mile run. Initially, this goal seemed impossible, but I convinced myself that with proper training, I could do it. I registered for Ironman Wisconsin, scheduled for September 11, 2022 in Madison, and began a rigorous 20-week training regimen with two buddies, Kory Frantz and Justin Rittenhouse.
By race day, I felt ready. Rain was forecasted, so I prayed earnestly, asking God to clear the skies. While motivated to meet personal goals, I would also be running as part of a fundraiser for the church. I couldn’t let weather get in my way. God had answered my prayers before. I fully expected Him to do the same again. But God had a different plan.
It rained continuously on that Sunday. 300 of the 1700 registered athletes dropped out even before the race began. Later, 27 percent dropped out due to treacherous weather conditions and hypothermia. This percentage was among the highest dropout rates in Ironman race history. The remaining participants carried on, miserable and very wet.
Swim 2.4 miles
Swimming is typically the most difficult discipline in the sport for me. But on this day, the water was calm, with a temperature considerably higher than the air. My swimming was solid. I wasn’t fast, but I was comfortable.
Triathletes view open water as a battlefield, with swimmers kicking, pushing,
grabbing, and even swimming over competitors, but I wasn’t bothered. At about the 25-minute mark, I was becoming bored. I decided to pray for whatever names came to mind.
About 2500 yards into the swim, a faster swimmer passed me and hit my goggles. I could still see, but I stopped swimming to reposition the goggles. Suddenly, both legs cramped. I flipped over to stretch, but that didn’t help. Refusing to give up, I continued swimming while stretching, knowing that doing both created more drag. I prayed again, and God eased my pain. With a grateful heart, I finished the swim in 1:31:13.
Bike 112 miles
Before this part of the race began, one of my training partners gave me his bike jacket to help protect me from the rain. Due to an earlier injury, Kory had to defer competing until the next year. I was grateful for his support, but still believed the weather would clear. Not wanting to overheat, I wore only one layer, my bike jersey. A mistake. I should have worn Kory’s jacket too. It rained heavily, and it was cold. Thankfully, my body tends to heat up well, even in the cold, so I survived the weather.
The moment I began riding, I realized this event would be extremely dangerous due to the wet, slippery conditions. I knew I had to be extra careful. For the first 5 miles, I kept my pace slow. I ended up praying during the whole ride–almost 8 hours. This time I prayed for just one thing: protection. Riding down each massive hill, I prayed aloud, “Father, hold me and keep me safe.”
In training, I rode this bike loop 3-4 times over 3 weeks. It was paying off. This course, with its hills and climbs, is notorious for its elevation gain. Because of my training, the hills seemed much easier this day. I wasn’t fast, and the ride wasn’t easy, but neither was it particularly difficult. One pedal at a time, I climbed those hills. I enjoyed hearing people cheering for me. So far, the ride was actually fun!
Riding back, I soon realized that I was becoming tired. With a strong headwind, I just couldn’t pick up the pace. The thought of running a full marathon next was mind-boggling. I was approaching exhaustion. Soon, Monona Terrace came into sight, and with only about a
quarter mile to the helix, I saw familiar faces yelling at me: my family! I had seen my good friends several times during the ride, but seeing my family at the most difficult
moment brought me pure energy. I lit up! My emotions exploded! I cried with happiness as I passed my family and rode up the helix. I was pleased to finish in under 8 hours in such challenging weather. 7:45:49. God had protected me.
Run 26.2 miles
I had a mission for this run. I would pray for one particular request every mile. Using a sharpie, I wrote each of the 26 prayer requests that I had collected earlier (plus two more) on the back of my bib. I planned to flip over the bib every mile, check the requests, and pray. Once evening fell, however, the list became difficult to read. Whenever I was under the lights, though, I checked the list, noting the remaining prayer requests. By the halfway point, I was very fatigued. Focusing on prayer became more difficult, but praise God, I was able to pray for everyone on my list.
I had started my run strong. My goal was to finish the triathlon in under 15 hours, placing me in the highest tier of my fundraising goal. At this pace, I knew I could achieve my goal. But God had another plan. Perhaps He wanted to humble me. At mile 8, every time I bent my left leg or took a step, I felt excruciating pain in my knee. I was forced to walk. I tried running again after a while, but it was still painful. I tried alternating walking and running, but that didn’t help. To make matters worse, both rain and wind had intensified.
I was comforted to see my family twice during my run. By my calculations, at this walking pace, I could still finish the race before the cutoff. But I wouldn’t finish in under 15 hours, or even 16. Why had God permitted this setback? Maybe He foresaw that if I were to make my original goal, I might brag about my accomplishments and the money raised. I might fail to fully give God the credit. Maybe God saw that I needed to be humbled. Or maybe I just hadn’t trained enough.
After some running and more walking, I finally let go of my ego and left everything to God. As I walked to the finish line, I heard Mike Reilly, the voice of Ironman, announce, “Myoung Kwon from Korea! You are an Ironman, Myoung!” 6:31:06. Final time 16:27:33.
Ironman Wisconsin 2022 delivered the worst race conditions since 2006, but God used the experience to transform me. He used race day to teach me to trust Him, to swim, bike, run and walk with Him confidently and prayerfully. I trained hard, heard Mike Reilly pronounce the words I had longed to hear, but it was God who made me an Ironman that September day.
To read the story on the Lake Union Herald website, click HERE.