Jennifer Real never considered herself to be an athlete.
“I did some spin classes so I could fit into my wedding dress,” she admitted, “But I was always the bookworm.”
Her love of learning paid off and today, Real is a doctor specializing in internal medicine. Because of her medical expertise, a few years ago, she volunteered to help at the medical tent for a 70.3 triathlon.
“I thought it was the coolest thing,” she said. “Especially the people in their seventies and beyond. I decided that I wanted to be like that when I was their age.”
Real decided to start right then, and she began going to spin class again. Eventually, she purchased a road bike, and her husband – a skilled mountain biker – encouraged her to buy a mountain bike.
“Biking is my first love,” said Real, who began competing in the bike legs on triathlon relay teams. “Then, I was like, man, I want to do the whole thing, just like everyone else.”
Real began with a sprint triathlon and then worked her way up to completing a 70.3 race.
“Then I heard about XTERRA and got pretty intrigued,” said Real. “I live up in the mountains above Hilo with incredible trails right outside my door. I thought that I should be an XTERRA athlete just based on where I live. We can climb about 1600 feet in less than three miles.”
Real and her husband live on the Hamakua coast of Hawaii Island (aka Big Island). They live about two and a half miles up a mountain on a road only accessible with a four-wheel drive vehicle. While the XTERRA World Championship takes place on Maui, until 2018, there weren’t any XTERRA races on the Big Island.
This year, Janet Higa-Miller changed all of that by putting on XTERRA Hawaii Island on August 25th. The race took place across the island from Real, in Kona. Of note, Higa-Miller competed in the very first XTERRA in 1996 on Maui.
Real was excited that XTERRA – once elusive – was now on her island. Additionally, XTERRA Hawaii Island was offering up 25 qualifying spots for the XTERRA World Championship on October 29th. Like the scholar she is, Real did the math. Then she started to train.
She began riding up Mana Road, which is the same 40 mile Jeep road that both Wendy Minor and Staci Lovell train on, which starts at 6000 feet in elevation and heads up to Mauna Kea.
“Oh yeah,” said Real. “I saw both of them out there last Sunday.”
Taking the bull by the horns, she asked her husband to give her some mountain bike tips and started approaching what scared her.
“I still find the downhills really nerve wracking,” said Real. “I’m getting better but I’m a long way from being comfortable.”
She also took a lesson with the renowned swimmer, Karlyn Tipes, who videotaped Real and analyzed her stroke.
“Karlyn worked on my breathing,” said Real. “I wasn’t exhaling underwater and that messed up my whole stroke.”
Real trains before work by waking up with the sun (and her dogs) and riding or running. Her swims are coordinated with both her work and pool schedule. So far, she has remained injury free by prioritizing rest and recovery.
While Real felt ready for XTERRA Hawaii Island, Mother Nature threatened all of her hard work. From August 22nd to 25th, Hurricane Lane lashed Hilo, dumping about 50 inches of rain on the windward side of the island, causing tremendous flooding and epic mudslides. Real wasn’t sure how she was going to even make her way to Kona for the race on August 26th. A river was running through her yard, and while her ducks were in heaven, she was stuck.
“I was supposed to head to Kona on Friday the 24th, but flooding covered the roads and landslides made travel impossible,” said Real. “I was panicking. How was I going to get to the race? I even imagined a scenario where I rode my mountain bike around the landslides and hitchhiked the rest of the way to Kona.”
Thankfully, Real didn’t have to take such drastic measures. On Saturday night, the roads opened up, and she made her way to Kona and XTERRA Hawaii Island. Despite the stress of the hurricane and competing in her first XTERRA, Real finished fourth overall for the women and first in her age group. Not only was she successful in her first XTERRA, but she also earned a qualifying spot in the XTERRA World Championship on October 29th.
“A lot of things had to happen for XTERRA Hawaii Island to happen, and I’m so thankful to God for making it all work out,” wrote Real on Instagram after the race. “On Friday, I was trapped on my property due to Hurricane Lane and wasn’t even sure I was going to be able to get to the race. But the hurricane blew out, the skies dried up, the roads got cleared, and I had a blast at my first XTERRA. Before this race, I was lamenting that it was the last of the year, but now I’ve got one more. XTERRA World Championship, here I come!”
In addition to competing in XTERRA Hawaii Island, Real was also the medical director of the race. Legacy Hilo Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Hilo helped staff the medical tent, bringing Real back around, full circle.
Learn more about the XTERRA World Championship.
Photo courtesy of Mikey Brown Photography