Local Athlete Goes The Distance
Heroes come in many different packages with many different messages. One local West Chester woman is heroism personified. She is powerful, smart, determined and full of compassion. Meet Renee Zegar, West Chester’s very own “Iron Woman.”
At the age of 41, Zegar has accomplished many things the average person may find impossible. She is a mother of two, an educator, a cancer survivor and a dedicated fitness champion who regularly competes in marathons, triathlons, and most recently an Iron Man. The feat of balancing many roles and responsibilities comes to her from a place of dedication and passion.
Zegar entered the competitive circuit in 2005 when she ran her first marathon, a 26.2-mile run. That year’s San Diego Rock and Roll Marathon had her hooked. In the years since, she’s competed in numerous races and racked up countless achievements, including qualifying for a highly-coveted place in the Boston Marathon 14 times. Yes, 14 times.
Always looking to push herself further and try new things, Zegar traded in her marathon shoes and decided to give triathlons a try. Triathlons consist of three events: swimming, biking and running. The year was 2012. The venue was Lake Placid, New York. The challenge was accepted.
“During training I didn’t know how to swim. I didn’t have a watch to tell me how fast I was going. I told myself that I would be excited if I finished in 15 hours,” Zegar recalls. She went on to complete the race in 12 hours and 17 minutes.
Her dedication and hard work do not stop when the race is over. Zegar is a Speech Pathologist at Mason High School where she provides services to special needs students. She also cares for her own children, often navigating between gymnastics and lacrosse practices, making it challenging to maintain consistent training schedules. However, it’s not the idea of winning that keeps Zegar going; rather, it’s the opportunity to continually exceed her own expectations.
“As her husband, I am amazed at her ability to do so much, and to make it look easy,” says Gene Zegar, Renee’s husband.
One thing that keeps her pushing further is the perseverance Renee shows in even the most difficult times. In 2013 she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, resulting in multiple surgeries and treatments.
“I remember using running as an escape when I got cancer. I had to be in isolation from my family for a week and I remember using that time to just run and clear my head,” Renee reflects.
Early detection led Renee to make a full recovery and return to competition one year later. Just two years after her battle with cancer, Renee arrived in Chattanooga, Tennessee, to compete in her first full Iron Man Triathlon.
Triathlons are divided into several different categories or lengths with the full Iron Man being the longest—a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and 26.2-mile run. It was Renee’s third place finish in the Chattanooga race that earned her the most remarkable achievement: a spot to compete in 2016’s Iron Man World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, this past October.
“Kona was a magical bucket list thing and I was honored to be there. I’ve seen it on TV and I couldn’t believe I was actually there,” Renee says.
Renee completed the race in 11 minutes, 33 seconds, an above-average feat, especially for a first-timer. The Iron Man World Championship is the pinnacle of triathlon endurance racing in the world. The best professional athletes from across the globe gather to compete. But this West Chester woman is not a professional. She’s simply someone who finds joy in what she’s doing and strives to build upon her own strengths and weaknesses.
“I always tell people that they have no idea what they’re capable of, especially women. We don’t realize how strong we are and what we can do if we let ourselves try new things,” Renee says.
Next up for Renee is to participate in the 2017 World Championship for the half Iron Man distance, and she looks forward to taking steps to become an Iron Man certified coach.
“I want to help and train people. I feel like I have a lot of knowledge and passion for it and I want people to know what I know. I want to help them get there and be by their side when they do,” says Renee, our very own Iron Woman.