How the Ironman can bring someone like Tracy Tucker-Georges to her knees — but not stop her

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Tracy Tucker-Georges poses during a hike in February earlier this year.

She’s already is an ironman.

Or, to be more gender specific, an ironwoman.

It’s just that a lot of the starch has been taken out of Tracy Tucker-Georges lately.

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Sunday was supposed to be her second consecutive Arizona Ironman competition – a 2.4 mile swim in Tempe Town Lake, a 112-mile bike ride in the Sonora Desert, and then a 26.2 mile marathon around Tempe. The hope was to improve on her time of the 15 hours, seven minutes and 37 seconds that she logged a year ago.

Recent knee surgery – again – has prevented the nurse who works at an orthopedic sports medicine practice in Van Nuys from taking part. She instead made the trek as volunteer, to root on her friends. Just as she did in 2008 – and then, on a dare, signed up to run in in ’09.

By going back this time, she fears the worse – that she’ll get sucked into registering for the 2012 race when applications are available starting Monday.

“It’s a slippery slope, you know,” said the 47-year-old mother living in Northridge with two teenaged daughters and a husband, Chris, who works in commercial real estate.

Her story has already been told, to some degree. Tucker-Georges is featured in the new book called “You Are An Ironman: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World’s Toughest Triathlon.” (The Viking Press, $27.95, 290 pages, linked here)

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Author Jacques Steinberg, a New York Times journalist, set out to examine why seemingly average people without a lot of athletic background submit themselves to the insanity of this particular event, especially when the financial costs would seem to be as high as the toll it often takes on the participant as well as the family.

For the most part, Steinberg wrote, taking part is “essential to keeping them physically and mentally healthy, if not alive.”

Tucker-Georges fits the template. But in this book, she takes readers on something of an unexpected detour.

Spoiler alert: She’s the only one of the six who doesn’t actually make it to the ’09 race that Steinberg builds up to, having injured her knee in a training race at Camp Pendleton.

Tucker-Georges is almost tuckered out, constantly full of determination butting heads with anxiety, using self-effacing humor and colorful language to keep her head up. But she’s definitely wired to keep trying.

To date, Tucker-Georges has had five knee surgeries, including tearing both ACLs twice. It’s caused her once to lament on her blog (http://penelopespitstops.blogspot.com): “I feel like I really picked a bad sport to fall in love with.”

She explained: “I’m a mess. My body, I feel, keeps failing me. I’m one step away from knee replacement. This has been a constant fight with my body, and I’m really trying to find ways around it, because I want to continue this. Even if I have to come to grips with the fact I may never run again – if I have to walk the marathon, then I will. I won’t quit.”

Tucker-Georges’ internal tug-o-war resonates with those who’ve even briefly contemplated an attempt at such a body-battering gauntlet, one that’s far more simple survival than trying to finish first in the field.

Why would she keep beating herself up over this?

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In another blog entry, included in the book, she writes:

“I get worried that I am just a 44 year old, plain suburban mother, married with two teenaged girls, who averages 15 miles per hour on her bike. Seriously, are there not hundreds of thousands of people like me trying to get by in life and train for an Ironman, too? This is where the insecurity lies: that I am a nobody! Average Jane! Who would be inspired by me and my training for an Ironman?

Then, she answers her own question:

“Perhaps other Average Janes or Joes. Perhaps some of the people I work with who think it’s ‘insane,’ but who have a certain respect for me knowing what I am doing. Or maybe my dauther’s friends who think I am ‘awesome.’ Maybe I just need to accept it: I am signed up, gonna do the training and do my best to kick some Ironman ass! And by ‘kick ass,’ I mean, get to the finish line with some semblance of a huge smile on my face and try to do the ‘running man’ down the finish-line chute! My daughters get really embrassed by my dancing when I do it … so I thought it would be appropriate.”

The grind of the journey is as important as the euphoric destination.

She believes very much that she’s a product of her zodiac sign: A strong-willed Scorpio who is extremely passionate, not afraid to try something if it helps her learn more about herself.

“It’s crazy, it’s insane, I know,” she said. “I know my doctor would say it’s not what I’m supposed to be doing. But that’s what I want to do.”

The more she’s traveled in the last few months, some of it on tour for the book, another trip last month to Kona, Hawaii to witness firsthand the Ironman World Championship, the more she realizes that her story makes an impression.

“I don’t take complements well,” admitted Tucker-Georges, who did the 2006 L.A. Marathon and frequently trains with triathlons. “But it is neat to hear people say they’re inspired. One of my co-workers did her first 10K after it, and she told me that I was her inspiration.

“It doesn’t have to be an Ironman. Just get out there and do it. It’s awesome.”

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