Winning the women’s division at Saturday’s Ironman 70.3 Hawaii race was more than just amazing. For Bree Wee, it was all about coming full circle in her triathlon career.
The 41-year old Kailua-Kona resident clenched the overall women’s title with a stellar time of five hours, six minutes and two seconds, cementing her fourth win at the 70.3-mile distance and a total of thirteen Honu finishes.
“It was definitely humbling,” Wee said of her win. “But it was also an honor because it was my first race where I wasn’t doing it for myself — like a payday, or an achievement to get an award, or to qualify for another race. It was all for the girls.
“This was the most special, more special than when I won it as a professional. Maybe being older, more mature, and stronger in my faith, having something not about myself. Grabbing that tape at the finish line I kept thinking about my girls in the race — it was about proving to ourselves what we can do. The day was for them.”
The “girls” Wee referred to are training partners who happen to be nearly half her age. Six weeks ago, one of them, 25-year-old Skye Ombac, asked if Wee would do the Ironman 70.3 Hawaii race with her.
Wee explained that Ombac was born and raised in Hilo and used to drive over to Kona with her dad, Eddie-O Ombac, to watch the Ironman World Championship race when she was a little girl. One year she watched Wee compete and decided it was something she would like to do when she grew up. With Saturday’s race being the return of triathlon to the Big Island, Ombac would not only have her chance, but also an opportunity to compete with a woman she admired.
“It was her dream to do Ironman,” Wee said. “So, six weeks ago she asked if I would do Honu with her and maybe we can get a slot to Kona as she wanted to do Ironman. Skye just started riding a bike in December 2020, but she was always a runner. So, I told her we will do Honu in six weeks, we will make it happen. And then, she said she wanted to get an Ironman slot. So, I told her we will make that happen too. But I would do Ironman only if she qualified.”
While it may have been a tall order on such short notice, they did it. Both women qualified for the Ironman World Championships slated for Oct. 9 in Kailua-Kona.
“I knew it would happen as I believe in Skye with my whole heart,” Wee said. “She is one of those girls that when she sets her mind to doing something, she’s going to do it. But she’s young, she’s 25 years old, so her confidence isn’t super strong, it’s still growing. But I knew there was no doubt she would qualify. Yeah, so we are doing Kona in October.”
Wee, who is a fourth-grade teacher at Kahakai Elementary School, said motivation to get through challenging moments — like the brutal wind and heat throughout the race, and having tough ex-pro women competing in her wave — came from knowing that her training partners were out on the course battling with their own demons as well.
“The conditions were how I was hoping it would be,” she said. “I need it to be hard because I knew I didn’t have all the training I needed but I have a strong mindset. The day wasn’t for me, it was for the girls. The day was about coming full circle. I’ve already had my chance doing triathlons, it’s already been about me, but now it’s time to support the next generation. So, I really kept that in my mind especially when things became hard. I kept telling myself, it’s not about you, Bree. I think that kept me driving forward.”
Yet at 41-years of age, not only does Wee seem to be turning back the clock, but she also radiates with youthfulness. Anyone in the world of sports knows the difficulty to maintain peak form as one gets older. Research shows athletic performance usually peaks before the age of 30 and declines from there on. Add in family and work obligations along with on-going aches, pains, and other stressors that come with everyday life, competing at a high level can often take a back seat.
“The passion is still there, but I think there is less pressure now because I don’t need it for a payday,” she said. “But my body does not recover as well. I wake up after some of our training days and don’t feel good. And I can’t keep up with them. I’m like the old grandma that needs to go home early.”
As for the Kona Ironman World Championships, Wee said she will be competing in her 25th race on the Ironman circuit, six of which she competed in Kona as a professional triathlete, with this year being her second Kona “age-group race.”
“I cannot wait to just go out there and have fun!”