Sharing the blessings that endurance events and training have brought to her life
On most afternoons, Diane Tracy can be found at the St. George Race Department, performing such glamorous tasks as hosing out Gatorade containers, and helping her colleagues reorganize the race trailer. Diane, it should be noted, does this after devoting an average of five hours each morning to swimming, biking, and/or running.
Such commitment to her training regimen has paid off: In May 2022, Diane bested all competitors in her age group – women 70-74 years old – at the 2021 IRONMAN World Championship.
Diane’s road to IRONMAN triumph has been long and colorful, and one accented by perennial gratitude. From her days as a teenaged track and field star to her participation as a field hockey and softball player as a BYU undergrad to her embrace of running while completing her doctorate at the University of Oregon, she has amassed an extensive circle of friends, abundant honors, and a wealth of stories.
In the mid 1970s, when a colleague suggested that Diane join her on her morning jog, Diane complied. Soon after she heard of the budding “streak running” challenge, in which runners compete to see who can log the most miles in a year, and from year to year. The concept appealed to Diane on multiple levels.
“That’s when it really all began for me,” she recalls. “I fell in love with the discipline of running all those miles, but also the feeling of sort of meditating when you’re out in nature. I’d have friends drop me off at the canyon, and I’d run for miles on the trails … and this was before there were trail shoes!”
Diane was one of just 25 women who took part in the 1977 Deseret News Marathon, her first race of that distance. She finished euphoric – and committed to endurance running. She continued piling up the miles through her days in grad school at University of Oregon, where she occasionally shared trails with the likes of running icons Alberto Salazar, Mary Decker Slaney, and assorted local Olympians.
After receiving her degree in exercise Science and wellness, Diane began what was to become a 35-year career with Intermountain Healthcare, launching the organization’s cardiac rehabilitation and wellness program in Logan. In those days, running and backpacking were her work de-stressors and greatest joys.
“When I finished up the job in Logan and transferred to Salt Lake City, I lived a mile from the Sugar House Park Loop, and I trained there for 14 years,” Diane says. “In the early ‘90s I did my first St. George Marathon, which I then did for the next 22 consecutive years. That race has always been a love of my life. And if I were dealing with some problem at work, the solution would always come to me while I was out there training.”
When Diane learned that the Boston Marathon would allow an expanded field of entrants in celebration of its 100th anniversary in 1996, she was eager to participate. “I knew it would be a big dang deal,” she says, grinning at the memory. “I spent a year and a half training so I could qualify. Every runner wants to do Boston for the history, the honor, the joy of being there. And it truly was a wonderful experience.”
After her move to St. George (and an internship at the City of St. George’s Race Department), Diane began toying with the idea of participating in triathlon. “I’d watch IRONMAN competitions on NBC Sports, and would just cry, hearing people talking about the adversity they’d go through; those athletes were so inspiring to me. So, when IRONMAN first came to St. George in 2010, I was really curious, and went out and watched,” Diane says.
Diane saw her good friend Debbie Zockoll – best known before her passing as the godmother of the local running community – make it across the finish line, despite not being a strong cyclist. Though Diane was, by then, confident on the trails and on her bike, she knew swimming might be her nemesis. Workouts with friends who were pursuing triathlon helped her improve, although she acknowledges that being in the water still isn’t her strongest suit. “I loved the enthusiasm of my training buddies. We all buoyed each other up. I thought I could teach myself to swim. I got coaches, but I never got better,” she laughs.
Still, by 2013, Diane had upped her game enough to secure a slot in the prestigious IRONMAN competition in Kona (she hasn’t missed a year since qualifying again in 2016, and she has competed at IRONMAN competitions in several other cities). Thus, when the 2021 edition was postponed, and then moved to St. George, Diane was ecstatic. For her, the fact that the event would be held on the home turf that she loves so much was a fantasy come true.
“We are so blessed to live here!” Diane exclaims. “I’ve ridden the Veyo Loop hundreds of times, and it never gets old; there’s always something inspiring to see. Our trails are amazing, and we can swim at Sand Hollow, Quail Creek, or Gunlock. It’s just so much a part of my soul to be here. I love to listen to athletes talk about why they come to St. George. They all say we are truly blessed to have all of these resources.”
Remembering how the events of May 7 played out, Diane is by turns exasperated and exhilarated. Miraculously, her swim, which she deems “very calming,” went as well as it possibly could have. Hopping on her bike and heading out on the familiar trails she adores, she says, “I had to pinch myself. I knew I’d done these hills a zillion times, and I was riding in my town, on my course. Plus, I knew someone at almost every aid station, so there were many joyful tears.”
And then came the heat. And the wind. And the reality of what happens when a nutrition-starved stomach tries to digest itself. “I succumbed to the heat and nausea,” Diane reveals. “But so did everyone else. We were all just hugging each other, trying to help each other. The last three miles were definitely a challenge. But I made it! And when they yelled ‘YOU are an IRONMAN!’ and someone put the medal around my neck, I was so happy.
“It turns out that the guy who gave me my medal was Kristian Blummenfelt, who’d won the whole thing,” Diane adds. “That’s the tradition with IRONMAN, that the winner puts the medals on the last finishers. So that was incredibly special for me.”
Even more special was the realization that Diane had won her age division, and now can rightfully claim the title of IRONMAN World Champion. True to form, she’s already looking ahead to the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in St. George in October, as well as her next Kona contest.
Fortunately, her job at the Race Department affords Diane the flexibility she needs to maintain her training schedule. Additionally, she makes the time to mentor local triathletes, and provide extremely generous support.
“I’ve been blessed with the resources needed to help athletes,” she explains modestly. “Sometimes I sponsor someone to enter a race, or I’ll get them a watch, because that’s so important to their training. At times I’ll share the cost of buying a bike, or maybe get someone a gym membership so they can use the pool. It gives me great pleasure to help athletes realize their dreams.”
Diane also encourages her fellow triathletes to recycle still-usable bikes, helmets, shoes and other gear, and offer it to younger athletes with meager budgets. “If your bike still works, or your shoes are still good, you can always find a new home for them,” she advises.
Summing up her triathlon experiences – particularly as an IRONMAN competitor and champion – Diane says each one has been invaluable. “The athletic events I do, and the friends I do them with, contribute so greatly to my life. And that’s the magic bullet for me: My life has purpose; I have a mission.”