Her daughter was born with a congenital heart defect, and “it’s pretty much a miracle she’s still alive,” and her grandson recently was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes.
It’s no surprise, then, that Henderson resident Melodie Cronenberg values her health — so much so that she has completed close to 40 triathlons in the last six years, including nine Ironman events consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a 26.2-mile run.
“I love the training; I love being healthy and setting personal goals to achieve,” said Cronenberg, 60. “I love the sport of triathlon, and I do well at it. I kind of found my niche later in life.”
Cronenberg, who started competing in triathlons shortly after accepting a challenge from co-workers to run a road race, will compete Saturday in the world’s most prestigious triathlon — the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
She qualified for the event, which will feature close to 1,800 athletes, by winning her age group (60-64) at the Ironman UK, which took place Sept. 7 in Sherborne, Dorset, United Kingdom.
Cronenberg was disappointed with her finish of 16 hours, 21 minutes, 28 seconds, but it was enough to qualify her for the Super Bowl of her sport for the first time. She competed in Kona in 2006 via a lottery spot.
“This is the first time I’ve actually qualified,” she said proudly. “Getting a lottery spot is lucky; qualifying is tough.”
Cronenberg, who suffers from plantar fasciitis in her right foot, said most people need three months to recover from an Ironman event and wait six months before entering another one. But she’ll barely have one month in between events when she starts Saturday’s race.
“It’s a tough turnaround time, but I’m ready for it,” she said. “I’m excited. It’s what I wanted.”
History is on her side. After completing Kona in 15:08:08 in 2006, Cronenberg posted a personal-best time of 14:25 at Ironman Florida about two weeks later. She hopes to better that mark Saturday.
“That’s my goal, depending on the elements over there,” she said.
In her first race in Kona, Cronenberg battled rain, wind and cold weather, not to mention hills and mud, to finish. But she said it was well worth the effort.
“Absolutely. It was amazingly rewarding,” she said. “When I crossed the finish line, it was absolutely exhilarating. It’s hard to describe how you feel. It’s just totally uplifting.”
Along with the chance to travel and make friends, Cronenberg said she loves the atmosphere at Ironman events.
“The energy, when you’re in an Ironman, you can almost touch it, it’s so thick,” she said. “Everyone in the sport of triathlon is an inspiration. There’s a wonderful camaraderie, and the support you get from other triathletes is phenomenal. It’s a very unselfish sport.
“The bottom line to all this is I’m having the best time of my life.”
Cronenberg said she trained six days per week, for an average of 20 hours, to prepare for Kona. She swam, biked and lifted weights an average of three or four times a week but ran only three times a week because of her injury.
Cronenberg also said she completed one long run (15 to 18 miles), one long bike ride (80 to 100 miles) and one long swim (11/2 to 2 miles) each week.
“I don’t train as much as some people, generally because of my age, but it’s still a lot,” she said.
Cronenberg concedes she has wanted to quit in the middle of an Ironman event “many times.”
“That’s the whole deal with the Ironman — the mental toughness it takes to talk yourself out of stopping,” she said. “People use a lot of different tricks. Sometimes you shame yourself into going on because you don’t want to look bad.
“I just like to remember the feeling I get when I cross the finish line, how motivating it is, and also how much I get to brag.”
Cronenberg said she also uses for inspiration her daughter Lara, who has undergone two open-heart surgeries and also recently had a pacemaker implanted in her chest.
“She had the first surgery when she was six months old. I was just 19. It was very difficult,” Cronenberg said. “They didn’t think she would live past her teenage years, and she’s 40 now.
“I am just so fortunate to have the health that I do that allows me to be in this kind of sport. It’s a gift. I feel very blessed.”
• NOTE — Six other local triathletes are scheduled to compete Saturday in Kona: lottery winners Michael Sullivan, Julie Marschner and Bruce Beckett of Las Vegas; age-slot winner James Harrington of Las Vegas; and lottery winners Sara Levin and Derek Rude of Henderson.
Of the 200 worldwide lottery spots awarded, 150 of them are from the United States. Last year, more than 6,500 athletes applied for the lottery.
Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0354.