With a morning fog hovering over the lake and snowcapped mountains in the distance, the swimmers waded into the 50-degree water.
The distance began to separate them as those faster and stronger pulled away from the pack. There were just 2 hours and 20 minutes to complete the required 2.4-mile course. Anything longer would end in a “did not finish,” and this is only the first of the three legs to the 2013 Lake Tahoe Ironman.
Traci Loar Seto, 44, a 1986 Waynesburg Central High School graduate, is in the frigid water for the 6:40 a.m. start of the amateur competitors. Having only learned to swim in recent years, Seto knows this won’t be her strongest portion of the race. She finishes the swim in a respectable 1 hour, 36 minutes and 2 seconds. She is pleased with the result.
“We didn’t have a swim team in high school. It was never something I wanted to learn: to swim. I could go in and get from point A to point B if it wasn’t too far,” Seto said. “It took a whole summer of practicing before I could get up to a half mile.”
Seto was a distance runner in her high school days, and learning to swim gave her the option of competing in triathlons. She’d already been competing in 5K races, half-marathons and full marathons for some time.
“I entered a local triathlon around here (in California) and set the goal for myself to finish it,” she said.
Seto lives in northern California with her husband, Dan, and their four children: Kaili, 9, twins Noah and Matt, 13, and Jacob, 15. “That was my journey this past year,” Seto said.
Stepping out of the icy water, the thing on her mind was the 112-mile bike ride that came next. Wet, and already cold, the outside temperature was a frigid 30 degrees. After drying off, changing clothes and hopping on the bike, Seto was ready for the first portion of the ride, which covered about 30 miles. It is a lot more doable than what follows. Starting at an elevation of 6,248 feet, the bike course would reach 7,228 feet at its highest for back-to-back climbs. She had until 5:30 p.m. to complete the ride. Seto did it in 7 hours, 31 minutes and 35 seconds.
With about a 2-hour buffer, she began her favorite part: the long distance run, 26.2 miles. She had until midnight to cross the finish line.
“When I went out for track in high school, I realized, ‘I can run distance pretty well,’ though I’m not as good as my own kids today,” Seto said proudly.
“When Traci set out to do the Ironman, she set a goal to do it in twice the time of the half-Ironman she did,” said her mother, Carol Kraft of Waynesburg, noting that time was a little over 7 hours. As her family in Pennsylvania watched the live results from Lake Tahoe coming in over the Internet, Seto’s husband and children were there cheering her on in real time.
“I didn’t realize when I signed up what a challenging Ironman I’d chosen. It is considered one of the most challenging, and one of the highest for its did not finish rate, because of the cold climate, the cold water, and the altitude,” Seto said.
She completed this first Ironman in 14 hours, 34 minutes and three seconds, meeting her goal and exceeding her expectations. She gave much of the credit for the opportunity to compete to her husband and children, who manage the family’s very active lifestyle while she trains. Both she and Dan are employed full time as middle school math teachers.
“Determination” is the word that comes to mind when Seto’s former teammate from the Waynesburg Central High School basketball team talks about her old friend.
“We would do drills, and the faster you got done, you would be out and the rest would keep going. My goal was to get done first. Traci would be the last one, and she’d never quit,” said Debbie Walker Hampson. “She kept going and going. It never mattered to her if she was last.”
Hampson said she often wondered why her friend continued to try so hard, only to play for the junior varsity team or if there was a marginal lead in a varsity game. Despite that, “Traci would be there cheering for the rest of us louder than anyone in that gymnasium,” she said.
“How she was back then, that is the kind of determination that it takes to do an Ironman,” Hampson said. “I’ve used her as an inspiration for my own kids and for me. I’m sure that she doesn’t even know that she’s always inspired me. She never complained and was genuinely happy for everyone else. That is a testament to what she is doing now. We should have known she’d end up doing something like this.”
When Hampson’s daughter, a cross country runner, was selecting a college, Seto was part of the discussion. “She was deciding between a small school where she might win more races or a bigger school and be challenged. We talked about it not being about winning every race, but having drive and where that gets you in life.”
Out of 2,700 registrants for the Lake Tahoe Ironman, 565 didn’t even start the race. Twenty percent of those who started did not finish. Seto was one of 1,719 who claimed the title of Ironman.
She recalled looking around at a race and thinking, “I can’t make excuses. If he can do it and she can do it, and look what they are faced with in their lives, then there is no reason I can’t do this.
“For me to go out for a basketball team as a junior, on a team that was really good, and just be a part of that team opened a door for me. It kind of changed who I was. From that point on I was always dedicated to things I tried,” Seto said. “Even though I didn’t get to play much, my basketball coach never stopped bragging about me. He’d say, ‘Why can’t you give me 110 percent like Traci does?’”
“You just have to say to yourself, ‘I can do that,’” Seto said.