Triathlete Jaime Simmons has been a strong distance runner since high school. She’s come a long way in the water and on the bike as well.
That hard work has paid off.
Simmons, originally from Pilot Mountain, recently qualified for the 2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship, where she’ll compete against close to 2,000 competitors from around the world.
The half Ironman (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike, 13.1-mile run) is Sept. 8 in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec, Canada.
“This is like the Olympics for me in this type of sport,” Simmons said.
Simmons graduated from East Surry in 1996, but it wasn’t until her senior year in high school that she decided to devote serious time into track and cross country. She made it to the state meet and was an all-conference selection in both sports.
For more than a decade she held the 10K record at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where Simmons earned a degree in biology in 2000. She completed her master’s degree in nursing at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2007.
Simmons, 36, lives in Abingdon, Virginia, with her husband David and two sons Hunter, 7, and Lucas, 4. David is an emergency room physician at Johnston Memorial Hospital in Abingdon. Jaime is a stay-at-home mom.
Carving out time for training in a busy schedule requires a little creativity. David, a former member of the Wake Forest cycling team, also competes in triathlons.
“We have to compromise date nights for date rides,” Simmons said with a chuckle. “He’s been instrumental in helping me with the bike.”
Simmons said sometimes it means crawling on the exercise bike after she puts the kids to bed.
In 2002, she and her husband were biking not far from Hanging Rock State Park when they were hit by a drunk driver.
“I thought David was dead. We totaled the car,” Simmons recalled.
Amazingly, the couple walked away from the accident without any serious injuries. It was eight years before Jaime Simmons got back on a bike.
“Biking still for me is a little bit scary,” she admitted.
But as difficult as cycling has been for her, it’s the swim portion of the triathlon that has proven to be the toughest.
“I’m not a swimmer. I’ve never been a swimmer,” she said. “I just want to be safe and not panic. The first time I did one of these races I kind of panicked. I wanted out (of the water). I was done. But I was able to collect it and get it done. I’ve done three now. It’s my weakest of the three events, but I’m a lot better, a lot smarter and more experienced.
“For me I feel like when I get out of the water, the race is over.”
Simmons shaved 10 minutes off her swim time and said she is a much improved cyclist now.
The running portion is her strongest portion.
“I’ve always been better at long distances,” she said.
At the qualifier in Raleigh in June, Jaime Simmons reached her goal of finishing in under five hours — posting an overall time of 4:57:40 (34:21-swim, 2:41:02-bike, 1:37:02-run). It was the 23rd-best women’s time and good for 143rd overall out of 2,007 athletes. Simmons had the third fastest time in her age group (35-39), and took one of 50 qualifying spots available to non-professional competitors.
The next challenge is the world championship. The 1.2-mile swim takes place in Tremblant Lake, followed by a single-loop, 56-mile bike through Mont-Tremblant’s mountains. Athletes then go on a 13.1-mile run course, finishing in the city’s pedestrian village.
Simmons is excited her family is going to be able to make the trip with her. The Simmons live on the Virginia Creeper Trail and Jaime Simmons calls her two sons her “training partners.”
“I feel like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s important for them to see what we do and the success from working hard,” Simmons said. “I get emotional thinking about it. I’m so blessed to get to be able to do this.”