Flight commander to test mettle in Ironman
August 25, 2003
AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy — Maj. Tamara Parsons is searching for the limit to her endurance.
“If you have to ask why, you’ll never understand,” she said. “Why do we go to the moon? Climb Mount Everest? Why do people do really hard things?”
Parsons is training for something hard — to finish the Ironman Triathlon. She was picked in a lottery to compete in this year’s race, which will be Oct. 18 in Hawaii.
To finish, she will have to swim 2.4 miles in the ocean, pedal 112 miles on a bicycle, then run a 26.2-mile marathon — back to back to back.
“I’m hoping to finish in 12 hours, give or take,” said Parsons, flight commander for 31st Operations Support Squadron — Weather. “But you don’t know. I’ve never tested my body like this.
“The training will be done — it all depends on what happens on race day.”
Parsons has competed in shorter triathlons, but the Ironman is a “benchmark,” she said.
TV viewers might recall the 1982 Ironman, when the event became world famous.
Julie Moss, a 24-year-old college student, cramped and fell just yards from the finish. Moss dragged herself the rest of the way, her hand reaching for the finish line on the pavement. ABC sportscaster Jim McKay groped for words to describe the moment.
So why is Parsons pushing herself?
“It’s the journey,” Parsons said. “What kind of person does it make you?”
Things started badly for Parsons when she arrived in Aviano five weeks ago. The box containing her bicycle and all her training gear was lost — or stolen — in transit.
“If anyone sees a red Trek 5500 anywhere, I wish they’d contact me,” she said.
“Seven-thousand dollars worth,” she figured. “My very first half-triathlon T-shirt. You can’t replace that.”
But her luck turned.
She met a woman who loaned her a bike for a week.
Three weeks ago a bike shop in nearby Barcis, Italy, outfitted her with a loaner so she could compete in the Barcis Triathlon, a shorter version of the Ironman.
“I’ve met some incredible people who have helped me,” she said. “I’d say this is testing my resolve, but good things keep happening.”
In her day job, Parsons forecasts the weather, an important duty at any Air Force base.
A lightning forecast, she said, can bring refueling to a halt. Strong winds can force F-16s into their hangars and sensitive equipment to be battened down. Heat can make a fighter pilot dizzy. Hail batters anything it strikes.
Supporting the 31st Fighter Wing through weather forecasting is her squadron’s mission, but forecasting is not precise, Parsons said, even with today’s technology.
“Our job is to predict weather, not produce it,” she said.
Despite her love for weather and exercising outdoors, Parsons manages to keep sane sitting behind her desk.
“As long as I have a window I’m OK,” she said. “And as long as I know I can go outside and work out.”
She trains six days a week. One day might include a short swim and long run, the next a bike ride to stretch out her legs. Her workday starts early, so she trains in late afternoon.
Coppertone might be interested in signing her — Parsons said she goes through “tubes and tubes” of the 30 SPF, oil-free lotion.
Eating and sleeping well are also keys.
“It’s not all about how many miles you put in this week,” Parsons said. She says training does not consume her, even though it takes 12-18 hours per week.
“I think it adds balance to my life,” she said. “When I’m running I get to think things through. And I’m awake in the afternoon when some people are getting tired.
“When I’m done [with the Ironman] will I do as much? No,” she said. “Will I ride my bike just for fun? Yes.
“I think I’ll probably get into some crazy stuff — maybe snow-shoeing in the winter.”
Parsons was happy to share her story with Stars and Stripes readers.
“Maybe along the way this will inspire somebody to get off the couch and walk,” she said.
The Ironman distances that inspire Parsons are not completely foreign to her.
In 1999 she ran the Air Force Marathon in Patterson, Ohio, in 3 hours, 43 minutes. She’s never raced on a bike for 112 miles but has logged 90 minutes swimming in the ocean.
Parsons, who is 5-foot-5 and weighs 115 pounds, said she is concerned how Hawaii’s October heat will affect her.
“I’ll go [to Hawaii] hopefully two weeks early so I can acclimate,” she said. “But there’s no way to prepare for 12 time-zone changes.”
Parsons used to live there — halfway around the world in Hawaii — before being transferred to Aviano.
“It’s beautiful here,” she said. “The cycling is great. I still miss Hawaii, though. I miss the ocean.”
So she’s going back — to become an Ironwoman.