The trip of a lifetime came to fruition as we were preparing the race schedule for 2015; travel to Dubai for a 70.3, Taupo, New Zealand for an Ironman the next week and back to San Francisco. Fly around the world and compete in two events within three weeks. Doable and rewarding, knowing that there could be hiccups along the way – yet we only live once so my husband and I began preparations for this epic journey. What made it more special was that Aaron’s parents were planning on celebrating some momentous life milestones with a trip to New Zealand to coincide with the race. We had spoken so highly of the area and event through the past three years that it was a bucket list item that they needed to experience!

I have said it before and I will say it again; ¾ of the battle for long distance triathletes is making it to the start line as close to 100% as possible. We have all done the work, we have all put in the time, and we are all focused to compete to the best of our abilities and see where the cards fall. However, life does not always cooperate as WE ALL KNOW. And most of us are very aware that there really isn’t a need to be defeated by adversity – or use it as an excuse for potential failure – before the race even starts as the body really CAN be resilient if we let it.

I had avoided sickness during the winter yet it seemed to come to fruition on the flight to Dubai. I was popping the Vector450 ( ) as much as possible and panic resting every chance I got yet even these powerful deterrents couldn’t stop the inevitable. I didn’t feel horrible during the race yet if you aren’t running on all cylinders to even have an incling of hope against that field, you will get left in the dust, which I did. As ever, I am always HUMBLED by fields like in Dubai, even on my BEST days. Speaking of: Congratulations to Daniela, Heather, Helle, Jodie, Bella, Alicia and all of the ladies in that race – really impressive and inspiring racing all around.

The worst of this adversity seem to come the next morning on the plane flight from Dubai to Melbourne to Auckland – shivering, fever, full blown cold sitch..again, the usual stuff that humans deal with all the time and sometimes, the timing of course isn’t ideal.

However, home REALLY is where the heart is; even though I was thousands of miles from the San Francisco Bay Area, I knew we would be landing in what we can safely call our second home, New Zealand. The clean air, farm to table food, and friendly accommodations were just what the doctor ordered to recover and concentrate on the next task at hand, Ironman New Zealand and an opportunity for a 4peat! We landed and met Aaron’s parents and then drove to Taupo, checking into our favorite Prince Motor Lodge. I knew it was going to get worse before it got better and this old adage didn’t disappoint; my voice was reduced to the ear piercing sounds of a chipmunk. The objective was simple; rest, Recovery Boots, Vector450, rest, and quality nutrition. Training was reduced to swimming at Taupo Baths which was probably a good thing; a heavy beginning of the year racing season and travel can accumulate (for everyone). As the MD cliché goes, it is ‘easy’ to train but it takes courage to recover. Not being able to train properly leading into IMNZ obviously weighed heavily on my mind yet in retrospect, it was what was needed to be ready to have a chance to compete. On a side note, a wonderful athlete, Steven Pressman, who was also under the weather from travel, lent me his vaporizer which helped clear the nose and esophagus of impurities; triathlon truly is a wonderful, giving sport!

The week was fueled by Taupo Thai, Bodyfuel, The French Café, and numerous Taupo food institutions. Race day came around and the body behaved. Fortunately, everything came together and the stars aligned which is never taken for granted. There is something about the town, course, weather, people, and environment that agree with my body. My body needed a heavy dose of Taupo to get back into shape and try to perform. It was a relief to dive into clear, blue Lake Taupo and begin the swim feeling a little more like my normal self. The bike and the run were also somewhat calming experiences, having done this course many times before. There is nothing like running through town with gracious Kiwis cheering your name. They stuck with all the racers when they needed it the most through the pouring rain and when the last finisher crossed the line at midnight. As always, the awards banquet was top notch and the volunteer’s dinner highlighted those who made the race possible! Congratulations to Gina, whose accolades really speak for themselves, and all the ladies who competed in this truly remarkable race.

Our brand is balance and my family and I needed some downtime after the race; training and thinking about triathlon needs to take a seat in order for the mind and body to recover. Great Lake Taupo, @GreatLakeTaupo, surprised us with some spectacular activities showcasing the region. They took us on Taupo’s Floatplane to view the area from above, Rapidsjet brought us on a jet boating adventure, and Taupo Bungy let us plunge from their breathtaking platform above the Waikato River ( Thank you all who made this such an enjoyable experience! Aaron and his father were able to take time out from nursing me back to health and catch some great fish on the fly with guide John Baker! Claire, my mother in law, took many strolls up and down the shoreline and saw the history of the area firsthand through the Chris Jolly Outdoors Scenic Cruises.

The Kessler New Zealand tour didn’t end in Taupo; we drove to Napier to experience a few days in the beautiful seaside town of Ahuriri in the heart of wine country. We had fabulous meals at wineries and in the town of Ahuriri, the wine was spectacular and a hidden gem for people in the United States. I really enjoyed being able to swim at the Ocean Spa, right on the ocean and eventually jog on the paths also paralleling the water! Thank you Trinity Hill, Mission Estate, Moana Park, Salvare Estate, Ash Ridge, Elephant Hill, and Clearview wineries for the amazing hospitality! We can’t wait to go to the many other wineries when we return. Te Mata peak is also a stunning vista and has a quaint beautiful restaurant halfway up. Home is where the heart is!

Aaron and I wanted to give special thank you’s to the following individuals who made our journey to New Zealand and Dubai so special and memorable: Wendell and Claire Kessler, Ron and Julie Mitchell and son John and staff at Prince Motor Lodge, Helen Kay, Janette Douglas, Maria, Wayne, Tammy, Jane, Giles and Sandy Turner, Mike Reilly, Ian, Cameron Harper, Darrell Carey, Lisa Pringle, Challenge Family crew, Bob Babbitt, Darrell Koenig, The Wairoa Mauori group, Rapidsjet, Taupo’s Floatplane, Taupo Bungy NZ, fly fishing guide John Baker, the people of Taupo, Napier, and Ahuriri and everywhere in between!

SPONSORS – you know we relish in your trust and genuine care! Your relentless support is showcased especially in the attached photos included in this blog.

To my great pal and training inspiration – Ritch Viola and his family, Team EMJ, Erik Zech, KoKo, Naomi, Flick, Gardie Jackson, Matt Dixon and the purplepatch community and the 5 points/Tam High morning crews – thank you for continuing to motivate and work hard every day and in all you do in life.

Heather Scott for supporting this journey through her authentic art and showcasing dreams through pictures – this is so valued and appreciated – THANK YOU!

Kit Order, JK and Kato for your relentless pursuit to keep this 36 year old body as strong as possible through strength, stability, core and activation work – you are such an integral part of getting us to the start line – as strong as possible and in one piece!

To my parents, Kels+Davo, Claire+Wendell, my inner circle of friends that I CHERISH every day – THANK YOU for all you do for us – your support and love is always paramount in my world and every day.

Lastly, to sweet AK – this journey with you never gets OLD – I am so delighted that we can experience these chapters together.

I wanted to post my speech from the Ironman New Zealand awards banquet. This is such a spectacular event thrown by the town of Taupo! I cannot stop talking about Taupo and the country of New Zealand so if the opportunity presents itself through a blog, I will continue to do so! Please disregard my fragmented way of writing – I type like I speak which sometimes doesn’t translate…

Good evening and thank you Mike Reilly and Cameron Harper.

What a real delight it is to be up here tonight speaking with all of you.

I have said this before and I will say it again, “New Zealand, you make my heart SING!” Specifically, the town of Taupo, which, BTW – after all these years of coming to this haven – just like the Major mentioned the other night regarding its proper pronunciation – I strive to not say Taupo like a typical American – Tow pol (Taupo)! I will work on this!

The second we landed on NZ soil last week – it’s an instant feeling of CALM – of PEACE and POSITIVITY.

While I certainly sobbed like a little school girl at the finish line yesterday…of course, surely some of those tears arose from the victory for the my team – my husband, family+friends, training partners, coach, for my sponsors and all of the people who believe and support – this is never taken for granted.

Yet the majority of those tears of honest joy and genuine gratitude stemmed from the foundation that you all in this room, that ironman NZ, that Taupo and its community…have created for us here. It all meant so much more to me personally.

From being so kindly greeted for the fourth year in a row at our favorite, Prince Motor Lodge here in town – they make us feel like royalty and we appreciate them so much.

To visiting the local intermediate school and being able to share our experience with the aspiring youth of Taupo

Then there was the 5 times EACH this week alone that we’ve gobbled down tasty Taupo Thai and Body Fuel Café for proper pre-race goodness

The Ironman team –
It was so awesome to see Asia Pacific COO Jane out there racing looking calm as a cucumber and as strong as ever!
Wayne, Maria, Helen, Ian, Brian and Janette Douglas – This was Janette’s 10th time directing IMNZ and taking care of us pros amongst everyone else. Janette is one of the main reasons we keep coming back every year – yesterday was her last IMNZ – and while we will all miss her presence here w/in ironman – we know that she will shine in her new endeavors.

Having Mike Reilly and Cameron Harper speak all day long – all week long – motivating each and every one of us throughout the day. Delly Carr, Darrell Carey and all the photographers and media outlets who help to showcase our sport

To the Taupo community that genuinely welcomes us to this town every year.

Darrell Koenig for setting up my bike every year is so valued to lessen the mechanical worry – thank you for making the time Darrell

Sandy and Giles Turner – who make sure our stay here is filled with rewarding and cultural fun – we so appreciate and value your genuine care about our experience here in your beautiful home town.

The Wairoa Mauori group – WOW. you really INSPIRE. Such massive culture, power, focus, stamina and strength – I love the opportunity to get to see you perform.

On the race course…

Hearing all the cheers, support and encouragement not only from the crowd but also from the racers also competing – personalizing it with my name and hearing the ‘you’re an adopted Kiwi Kessler!’ and all the ‘GOOD ON YA’s’ which always make me so proud to get the opportunity to be here.

Seeing Steve in the crocodile get up asking racers for kisses out on the course – the camaraderie of everyone along the way and the countless volunteers….we will properly celebrate your amazingness tomorrow at the volunteers banquet!

Being there at the finish line last evening to bring home the likes of Verna Jackson, Mike Ramsey and the final Ironman NZ finishers.

These are all just some of countless examples of this kindness and these precious moments that enrich your life – I am very very thankful for that luxury.

I’d like to take a moment to congratulate the men’s podium…
Dylan – amazing performance 2 weeks after winning Challenge Wanaka and w/ the new swim course record to boot – simply awesome.

Terrenzo – WOW. There is a reason you are the golden boy of triathlon. Your humble nature and athletic talent is sensational – and you backed up a 2nd place finish after your world class win and performance at Challenge Dubai last weekend.

Cameron Brown – 11 X IMNZ champ – your legendary legacy continues. I am SO happy for you.

Congratulations to you all!

And to the ladies up on stage here ….

Congratulations Conny, Erin, Jocelyn (best place for your first pro race!), Stephanie coming off massive injury…former rower and uber cyclist Melanie for 3rd place and then super-mum Gina – a TRUE beacon in this sport w/ 13 iron distance victories + many more accolades to her name. Congratulations ladies.

So this is a marquee birthday year for the Kessler family. My mother and father in law turned 70 + 75 respectively and my husband Aaron turns the big 40 in May so we wanted to do a big ‘big birthday trip’ and what better place than Taupo to experience and celebrate! So my in-laws made it here all the way from Columbus, Ohio to share in last week with us and we’ll head to Napier this week for some proper wine tasting birthday celebrations for sure!

To husband, Aaron – over 20 years together – and you are still right by my side like you were when we were 14 – this is a true – real LIFE – luxury. Thank you for ALL you do for us so that we can live this dream together and I’m so glad you accomplished some of your dreams this week catching some big ol TROUT in fresh waters of Taupo.

For those of you who had their day – congratulations! Relish in it all and celebrate it! If you didn’t have your day –THIS IS OK TOO. Sure, PR-ing , winning or having an awesome race validates so many things and makes one HAPPY – which is AWESOME – yet ADVERSITY it makes you wise. Truly – highs make us high, yet lows make us WISE.

To all of you – all of the age groupers in here – you are the meat and potatoes of our sport and it is truly impressive what you manage between work, family and LIFE in effort to partake in ironman! I hope you know how much you inspire in your own way and to so many around you.

All these amazing things I had the pleasure of speaking about tonight – THIS IS what THIS race is all about. I’m so thankful that we got to share in this remarkable experience together.

Thank you so much and ALL THE BEST!