Sykesville woman achieves longtime dream for Ironman competitions

Former Towson athlete qualifies for world championship after recovering from injury

September 01, 2012|By Don Markus, The Baltimore Sun

Sue Komaromy has been out of New York since leaving her home on Long Island more than a quarter-century ago to play volleyball at Towson. Yet there is still a lot of New Yorker that remains in the 44-year-old mother of two who lives in Sykesville.

The speech pattern, the spunk and now the most significant accomplishment of her sports career: qualifying for the Ironman World Championship next month in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. It seems only fitting that Komaromy gained entrance into the event by finishing first in her age group in the Ironman U.S. Championship in New York.

Dedicating the race to Arthur Joseph Haggerty, a New York cousin who had died from brain cancer, Komaromy said she didn't even know where she stood after finishing the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon in a little less than 101/2 hours on a steamy day last month.

"The run was the hardest marathon I had ever done, plus it being an Ironman," she said recently. "I kept thinking, 'I've just got to keep moving forward here.' I didn't even know until after the race when I looked at my watch. My husband came up to me and said, 'I think you did it.'"

Even then, they weren't sure until her cellphone "started blowing up" with congratulatory calls and text messages from friends who were following the race results online.

"One of my friends actually took a picture [of the results off his computer screen] and sent it to me. That's when we started crying," said Komaromy, who used the event to help raise $5,000 for a foundation that does melanoma research. "The fact that I qualified, I still can't believe that I finally did it."

The victory came more than a decade after Komaromy began dedicating herself to Ironman training, seven years after Komaromy underwent back surgery and little over a year after Komaromy was on crutches recovering from a cracked sacrum, the bone that connects the spine and the pelvis.

Training for a marathon in Virginia Beach, Va., early last year, Komaromy complained of severe back pain. Several MRIs failed to identify the problem. The surgeon who had performed her first back operation had moved to California; a surgeon recommended by a friend was able to locate the injury.

"I was running the fastest splits of my life. I had gotten through all my training, [and] all of sudden my back was killing me; I could barely walk," Komaromy said. "I thought it was an old disk problem. I went from running my fastest splits ever to being on crutches for eight weeks."

Steve Komaromy, who describes himself as a casual runner, said of his wife of 16 years, "She was in a funk all summer."

After resuming training, Komaromy focused on qualifying for Kona, an event that has gained international attention because of its setting and the level of competition. It proved to be the final step in her transition from college athlete to suburban mom to a born-again athlete in her early 30s.

"I just always liked to be active, loved being outside," said Komaromy, whose volleyball career at Towson was affected by a serious wrist injury her sophomore year. "My kids got older and I realized I was falling out of the shape I wanted to be in. I started working out more and more at the gym. Eventually my husband was saying to me, 'How can somebody spend that many hours at the gym?' I met up with some folks who were doing triathlons and I looked into doing some races."

Komaromy had grown up on Long Island and was comfortable in the water. She also had spent time running and riding bikes with her husband and their two children, now in their early-to-mid 20s. It proved to be a natural transition to an event that combines all three exercises, though Komaromy was not exactly a natural when it came to posting great times.

"From the get-go, I always did OK, not great, but OK," Komaromy said. "Eventually I got better and better."

Komaromy said she was hooked from the time she first competed in the Columbia Triathlon. Three months later, she entered her first half-ironman in New Hampshire. Three months after that, she ran in her first New York City Marathon.

"For me, it was awesome. It was a homecoming-type thing," she said.

She can't remember the year — "it was 10 or 12 years ago, I think I have a T-shirt with the year on one of them," Komaromy said — but admits that "it was pretty aggressive for the first year. … I loved every second of it."

In New York, Komaromy nearly qualified for the next year's Boston Marathon, finishing a couple of minutes off the qualifying time. She recalled stopping at one point to shake hands with children diagnosed with cancer who were part of Fred's Team, the children's cancer center started by New York City Marathon founder Fred Lebow at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

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