DALLAS, Texas – Competitors in an Ironman race swim 2.4 miles and bike 112 miles, and then run a marathon to complete more than 10 hours of racing that tests athletes’ highest levels of endurance. For some Catholics, preparing for an Ironman contest includes spiritual, as well as physical conditioning.
Karime Nevarez is a Catholic mother of two, who has not only competed in multiple Ironman races, but she is training to race the fastest endurance athletes in the world.
As she prepares to compete in the Ironman World Championship in South Africa on Sept. 1, Nevarez shared with CNA how faith has been the foundation of her training.
Nevarez wakes up at 4 a.m. six days a week to begin her triathlon workouts at 5 a.m., so that she can be home in time to take her children to school. However, lately she has been training at 11 p.m. to acclimate to the time change in Africa.
“If I did not have God in my life, I couldn’t be doing this,” she said, “Everything I do I offer to him. Everything for his glory. I’m sure that I couldn’t do this on my own. My own strength is not enough. I need spiritual help.”
Two years ago, Nevarez did not know how to swim. This proved to be her biggest challenge as she prepared to compete in her first half-Ironman race in Monterrey, Mexico in 2016.
“Before we started to swim, I prayed and asked God, ‘I know you are too busy, but you helped Peter walk on water. Allow me to finish swimming this 1.2 miles,’” she said.
Nevarez still prays the rosary as she swims. She also likes to meditate on Isaiah 40:31, “They who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on eagles’ wings. They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.”
When Nevarez was young, she struggled with her mental health, even contemplating suicide. She said that God lifted her out of this struggle by giving her an opportunity to participate in sports, like basketball and running, as a teenager in Mexico.
“God saved my life through sports,” she said.
Sports and faith have also been a positive outlet for her children.
One of her children, Sergio, has autism. “My son is really in love with Jesus,” said Nevarez, who shared that her eight-year old often asks her to go to the church to see Jesus and touch the crucifix.
It was her son who inspired Nevarez to create a triathlon race for children in her neighboring community across the border in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico last year. Eighty children signed up, and it has since become an annual community event. Sergio, loved it. He says that he wants to be an Ironman when he grows up.
Her Catholic faith will be apparent to anyone who sees her triathlon suit in the international event. She designed it to have a cross and the word, “fiat,” for the annunciation, on the front, and “A.C.T.S.” on the back, which stands for adoration, community, theology, and service.
Navarez is dedicating her world championship race to her son and to other children with autism.
Another athlete training for the Ironman race is using the competition to raise money for pregnant mothers.
Henry Olivi has never competed in a triathlon before, let alone an Ironman. As he attempts his first full Ironman in Florida this fall, he is asking friends and family to support a local non-profit, “In My Shoes.”
“In My Shoes” offers women who are pregnant and homeless housing, counseling, and spiritual support.
“I’m very pro-life,” said Olivi, who is a parishioner at St. Thomas Aquinas in Dallas, Texas.
“In the world we live in, with abortion being easily and readily available, ‘In My Shoes’ gives these women hope and encourages them to bring new life into the world, like God intended. That is near and dear to my heart,” he told CNA.
“I have always been a person who likes to do extreme things, a competitor, and God has given me the ability to have the endurance to keep going,” he explained.
“Anything that I want to do, I try to do it for the glory of God,” Olivi continued, “I thought that this would be a good way to use my gifts and give back.”