Air Force Capt. Hila Levy poses with her triathlon racing bike in the Pacific Ocean at Miss Veedol Beach, Japan. Levy qualified to compete in the 2013 Ironman World Championships to be held Oct. 12 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. (Senior Airman Derek VanHorn / Air Force)
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Air Force intelligence officer Capt. Hila Levy has accomplished much on an unintentional bucket list: She speaks fluent English, Spanish, Hebrew, French, Portuguese, Italian and Arabic.
She flew charter planes in the Caribbean at age 16 and obtained her pilot license a year later.
She attended the Air Force Academy, where she was chosen to attend Oxford University as the first Puerto Rican-born Rhodes Scholar. At Oxford, she completed master’s degrees in biology and historical research. She regularly powerlifts, races and runs marathons and triathlons; volunteers for three charities; and has visited more than 30 countries.
All this before age 30.
Now based at the 35th Operations Support Squadron, Misawa Air Base, Japan, Levy is readying for her next challenge: the 2013 Ironman World Championships on Oct. 12 in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. There, she and nearly 1,800 other athletes will swim, bike and run a total of 140.6 miles — a 2.4-mile ocean swim, a 112-mile bike race and a 26.2-mile marathon.
Levy is one of 23 service members who will compete at the Ironman World Championships. Some are sponsored by the services, and others, like Levy, enter on their own.
Q. Were you drawn to sports when you were growing up?
A. I was on a good number of sports teams when I was younger, in high school, and it was a natural transition for me at the academy. They have that “Everyone is an athlete” mentality there. Everyone has to pass fitness tests, ... but I [ended up struggling] a lot physically because of the altitude difference, and I really, really had to work hard at it. After [giving up a pilot slot at the Air Force Academy] after 1 ½ years, I went to the powerlifting team, where I thought I had more potential.
Q. Were you always such a motivated athlete?
A. Not really. I would never have just picked up and gone for a 3-mile run before [a few years ago]. After a few months at Oxford, I learned that my friend was killed [by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan] in 2009. ... I just had to do something. I started looking up distances [I could bike] around the U.K., and I went biking. ... I also raised money during that time for [British and American] wounded vets, ... and I just started my journey.
Q. How do you keep in shape while maintaining your duties in the Air Force?
A. That’s a challenge, and that all depends on where I am. If I have a race coming up, that takes about 16 to 20 hours of my week to train and that doesn’t include regular PT training, ... so I’m working out two to three times a day, three to four sometimes. Plus four to seven hours of training on the weekends.
[I like] doing 15- to 20-mile bike rides before the work day. And group rides on the weekends. If I’m not training, I’m racing.
Q. Did you think this was the way your Air Force career would take you?
A. I originally had a pilot slot and had been admitted to medical school, but you can’t do everything, and not all of the timing worked out. Being selected for a Rhodes Scholarship meant that I would have to, at the very least, defer my entry to medical school or my start of pilot training.
I decided ... to pursue something where I could hopefully use my language skills, travel experiences and education earlier in my career than if I had chosen to fly. So I gave up my pilot slot and luckily was reclassified into intelligence, where I feel both challenged and rewarded.
Q. How did you get involved with Ironman?
A. I qualified in June at the Ironman 70.3 Japan in Tokoname, Japan, for both the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.
[Levy completed her first Ironman challenge Aug. 31 at the very rainy course in Ironman Hokkaido, Japan, taking third in her age group.]
[The Hawaii race] is the “Super Bowl” of triathlons. The crosswinds, ... the hills. It’s all very dangerous, and the heat makes it a challenge, especially the run. But I’m planning to get out there early to test out the course.
Other military members competing:
Air Force: Cecil Cheves, Brian Eldridge, Randall McCafferty, Samantha Morrison, Scott Poteet, Bradley Williams; Army: Roland Cochinard, Jessica Forman, Blair Heath, Joshua Horsager, Kelly Kingma, Eric Reid, Shawn Toenyes; Navy: Patrick Clark, Austin Jackson, Cam Loos, Meghann Nelles, Mark Tsigounis; Marine Corps: Robert Hilton, Hunter Hobson; Coast Guard: RachelBeckmann, John Pryor