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2nd lieutenant breaks Air Force record at Ironman championship

Oct. 22, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison accepts her gold medal from Capt. Larry Vasquez, commanding officer of Naval Base Ventura County, June 1, 2013. Morrison, who graduated three days earlier from the Air Force Academy, won the Armed Forces National Championships in her first race as an active-duty Air Force officer.
2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison accepts her gold medal from Capt. Larry Vasquez, commanding officer of Naval Base Ventura County, June 1, 2013. Morrison, who graduated three days earlier from the Air Force Academy, won the Armed Forces National Championships in her first race as an active-duty Air Force officer. (Courtesy of 2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison)
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Morrison (Courtesy of 2nd Lt. Samantha Morrison)

Airmen results

Here are the results for the six* other Air Force competitors by category and overall rankings out of 2,134 competitors.
Cecil Cheves
45 out of 54, men ages 60-64
1,815 overall
Brian Eldridge
211 out of 305, men ages 40-44
1,176 overall
Scott Poteet
45 out of 305, men ages 40-44
343 overall
Bradly Williams
6 out of 97, men ages 25-29
68 overall
Hila Levy
40 out of 46, women ages 25-29
1,624 overall
* No results posted for Randall McCafferty.

Second Lt. Samantha Morrison felt like she’d fallen behind. She’d paddled 2.4 miles in the Pacific and biked 112 miles over Hawaii’s barren lava fields. Now she faced the final leg of the Ironman World Championships — a 26.2-mile run in the skin-scorching sun.

As she hopped off her bike, Morrison said, “I was shot. I was really worried I wasn’t going to make it through the marathon.”

But she did, finishing first among women ages 18 to 24 and beating the Air Force’s 35-year Ironman record by nearly an hour.

Her time of just more than nine hours and 38 minutes made Morrison the third fastest woman in the world among nonprofessional athletes.

She spent a year preparing for this. Three-hour workouts bookended her days as deputy chief of public affairs at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C. She’d eaten salads at her desk when her co-workers snacked on donuts. Morrison honed her discipline as a teenager in Virginia, rising at 5:30 a.m. on Saturdays for swim practice, and later at the Air Force Academy, where she went to the gym while her classmates went out.

The service rewarded Morrison, selecting her as its only female Ironman representative. Other female airmen who competed signed up on their own.

It was her second time at the championship. A year before, while still a student at the academy, Morrison finished third.

“I always hoped to win. I’ve never won something huge before. I was always second or third,” Morrison said.

To get ready for her second shot, “I just pretty much doubled my work ethic. I didn’t drink; I didn’t go out. I got to train in Guam for a month.”

After graduating from the academy earlier this year, “I didn’t have any distractions besides work. I could cook my own food and go to bed early. I didn’t have homework to do.”

Still, Morrison said, “I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”

There was no time for sightseeing when she arrived in Hawaii a week before the triathlon, her dad and best friend there for support. It was her dad who roused her on Saturday mornings. She took comfort in seeing him at the start of every race. He’d wave to her. Then she’d feel ready to go.

Morrison met the other military competitors a couple of times. She got a good look at her competition.

“Everyone looks in perfect shape. Everyone looks super-fast. It was really nerve-racking. I was really intimidated.”

The stress made her cranky — so much that Morrison said she owes her dad and best friend an apology letter.

On Oct. 12, race day, she arrived at 4:30 a.m. with the rest of the 2,134 competitors at Kailua-Kona.

“The morning is just a blur,” Morrison said. She weighed in, waded into the ocean and waited for the cannon to fire, signaling the start.

“All 2,000 people start at once. You get pounded. You get kicked in the face,” Morrison said. “Luckily, I got out ahead.”

It was a good beginning. Still, as she approached the end of the bike ride, Morrison felt slow. She pushed through the first mile of the run and wondered if the year’s sacrifices had been enough. That’s when coach and fellow competitor Lt. Col. Scott Poteet — the Air Force’s male representative — caught up to her.

“He’s supposed to be ahead of me,” Morrison said. It meant she was going faster than she thought.

“We ran together for about eight miles. Then I took off. I tried to survive the rest of the run. The last 10 miles, I was struggling.”

Morrison said she thought about her supervisor and her airmen at Seymour Johnson who showed their support — they respected her unconventional workout routine and never ribbed her for choosing salads over sweets. They sent her off with a coin, a courage doll and lots of well-wishes.

With a half a mile to go, Poteet caught up with her again. He said he was proud of Morrison. It was just what she needed to make it the final two laps around the track.

Morrison was so exhausted the high-fives from the crowds nearly knocked her over. “It was the best feeling ever.”

She celebrated with a Denny’s breakfast the next morning — a big stack of pancakes and a bacon and egg sandwich — before quickly accepting her award and catching a flight back home.

She reported back to tech school at Fort Meade, Md., on Oct. 14.

Morrison planned to give her body a rest for a couple of weeks. Then she would be back to her regular workout regime.

She wants to defend her title in 2014.

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