By Justin Ho
“I’ve done 3 full Ironmans, 1 half Ironman, 2 olympic distance triathlons, and 1 sprint distance triathlon,” she ever-so-casually stated. What?! Ironman competitions have long been regarded as one of the most grueling tests of physical ability in the competitive circuit. An Ironman is a triathlon in which participants cover superhuman distances in three categories that consists of three stages in the following order: swimming, cycling, and running. Here’s a breakdown of the different levels:
Event: Swim – Bike – Run
Full Ironman: 2.4 miles – 112 miles – 26.2 miles
Half Ironman: 1.2 miles – 56 miles – 13.1 miles
Olympic Triathlon: 0.9 miles – 25 miles – 6.2 miles (10K)
Sprint Triathlon: 0.5 miles – 10-12 miles – 3.1 miles (5K)
At the age of 23, Ciena Calavitta has already completed numerous of Ironmans, participated in beauty pageants, and is an accomplished gymnast.
Growing up, she tallied in 13 years of gymnastics training and competed at the state champion and regional champion levels. Practicing 5 days a week for 4 hours a day, Ciena understood the importance of discipline. Unfortunately, due to the extreme strain gymnastics put on her body, she sustained a serious back injury that ended her career early. Though she was disappointed, her situation opened a window to another field: physical therapy.
“I went to a physical therapist and the therapist had no idea what she was doing. I wanted to become a PT because I want to help people get back into doing what they love and not have it taken away–like in my case.”
Ciena participated in Miss Yorba Linda and Placentia 2 years in a row. Both were scholarship opportunities that her mom and brother encouraged her to try.
“I didn’t think that I would be good at it. It was only when I realized that my brother and mom had more faith in me than I did in myself. I agreed to do the pageant. Pageants were outside my comfort zone, and I didn’t want to venture there. But I did because my brother believed in me.”
She won the Miss Congeniality award, “which we all know is the most important,” she joked, during the first year she was involved with pageants. For the first time, she was truly comfortable with herself. The transition from elite gymnast to being comfortable as herself was difficult. The second year, she was the 4th runner up, and only a fraction of a point off from third place. Through the rough audition process, she developed a business professional demeanor and learned resume construction, interview tactics, and most importantly how to feel confident as a woman.
What clearly distinguishes Ciena from her other accomplishments is her passion for competing in triathlons.
“Usually on Father’s Day, dad told us if the gift didn’t have two wheels and he couldn’t ride it, he didn’t want it. I was blindsided when he said, ‘Will you do an Ironman with me so I can spend time with my little girl before she grows up?’ Literally the first thing that went through my head was CRAP. How do I get out of this. My dad had done four Ironmans up to that point and it was one thing that I had no intention of ever doing. Ever. But I am a daddy’s girl, and I didn’t know how to say no to my dad, so we signed up for Ironman St. George that night.”
With the guidance of her father, Ciena learned how to swim, bike, and run long distance at the age of 18. Not only did she have to train extraneous distances, she had to learn the proper form for each event to prevent possible injuries, all the while mentally pushing herself to get through grueling practices.
While training for her full Ironman in May 2010, Ciena’s father surprised her with a spontaneous entry into the Bonelli Olympic Distance Triathlon. With one week before the event, she had to face her fear earlier than expected. She won first place in her age group in her first triathlon.
Her first full Ironman took place in St. George, Utah 5 months later. This was the maiden run–the first run–for this course and was later dubbed as the toughest course in America that year. “Thanks dad.” she smirked. She completed the Ironman with a time of 16:33:01. That is 16 hours, 33 minutes, and 1 second of non stop exercise. Feeling accomplished, exhausted, and happy to fulfill her father’s wishes, she was forever done with Ironmans and triathlons–until she was approached by her brother, Tony.
“He said, ‘if you can do one then I can do one.’ The catch was that if he was going to do one then he wanted me to do it with him. And I will do anything for my family.”
The following year she competed in the Penticton, British Columbia Ironman with her brother and dad. And the year after she did another in Texas, where she achieved her best time yet at 15:11:30 and almost received a third degree burn on her backside from the unshaded 112 mile bike ride.
Ciena was the youngest female competitor in each of the full Ironmans.
“During the second Ironman in Canada I actually began to enjoy what I was doing. I remember riding through the course thinking this is so much easier than St. George. It was because I knew that I could finish the Ironman. It was because I had actually started to believe in myself. I was hooked.”
Here are all of her official finish times.
Believe it or not, her next full Ironman is on August 18th, 2013.
“I like to do the things that people wish they were doing.”
Each Ironman takes about a year of preparation. Ciena establishes her goals, and commits to making them come true. She methodically follows a schedule that includes both training and eating right.
It’s easy to think “yeah, I can do an Ironman too if I had the time to spend my whole life training for it.” Ciena is currently a full-time student at California State University, Fullerton finishing her degree in Kinesiology with the goal of becoming a physical therapist. She has two jobs and is solely paying for her college education. The most remarkable thing about Ciena is her ability to also play a huge role model as the oldest of 9 siblings.
“I want to set an example for my siblings. I want them to know that giving up is never an option.”
Ciena’s father has a large influence on her life and her mentality. It inspires her to see her father’s genuine support for others and how positivity can have such an impact on someone’s life. Her father teaches Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus and is nationally recognized for his outstanding teaching. He has a 98% passing rate and his students receive an average score of 4.8/5 on the AP exam. While most teachers now teach to the exam, Ciena’s father emphasizes the importance of teaching the students to actually understand the material. Besides teaching and training for triathlons, he also runs the largest wrestling camp in America, Eternal Warrior Wrestling. This Christian wrestling camp helps transform young wrestlers into confident individuals through 15 days of intense instruction.
Her family motivates her through strenuous and stressful times. Family is everything. Her father and brother, Tony, keep her grounded, and she knows that her siblings are looking up to her. Ciena is also driven by her grandma, mother, and close family friends. She stays driven knowing that her role models have faith in her. This faith help keep her negative thoughts at bay and drives her to continue on and press forward through her Ironmans and, more importantly, through life.
“I guess you could say that I have good role models in my life. Most of my family members have overcome what seemed to be insurmountable hardships. I’m blessed to have the upbringing that I do. It’s a gift from God and I have every intention to use it.”
She cannot fail them and squander their hopes and cheers for her. When Ciena makes a commitment, she will see it to the end.
“I don’t want anyone that knows me to ever think that quitting is okay. Because it’s not. I want to inspire them to reach to do the things that they never thought they could do. Its really not about what the Ironman is to me–it’s about making a difference in the lives of the people around me. I want to make a difference.”
Ciena is a family girl, and it’s great to see how she is motivated to set a strong example for her siblings. Too often we get sucked into our personal image that we forget the purpose of why we are doing things. “Dad once told me that success is measured by the number of people whose lives you can positive make a difference in,” she said. Setting example helps give others an opportunity to be inspired by you. Ciena’s story exemplifies what it means to never give up and have a positive attitude, backed by close ones, to overcome seemingly impossible feats.
Do you know someone who has an UnParalleled perspective and inspires you to become better? Contact us with your suggestions for upcoming interviews!
Photo Source: Ciena Calavitta, Ironman.com