TERRE HAUTE —
Known as Laurie Stovall in her pre-marriage life, Laurie Lukanich had no idea she possessed any athletic ability in the early 1980s when she was an Indiana State University student and cheerleader “princess” for football and men’s basketball games.
And she definitely would not have predicted that she’d someday compete in a sport that requires swimming.
“I was afraid of the water,” the 1978 Brazil High School graduate recalled with a chuckle.
Fast forward to Oct. 13: Married to college sweetheart and longtime triathlete Jim Lukanich, Laurie Lukanich competed in and finished her first Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Her time was 13 hours, 57 minutes and 41 seconds.
Amazingly, she completed a course that consisted of a 2.4-mile swim in the Pacific Ocean (starting at 7 a.m.), a 112-mile bicycle ride through sun-baked lava fields along the Kona coastline and a 26.2-mile run through scenic streets and highways.
That’s a total of 140.6 miles.
Laurie Lukanich is 53, far removed from her princess days, so the fact that she did not place in the top 10 or top 50 means nothing.
She finished under the stars of Hawaii and she’s understandably proud of that.
“The ultimate goal of every long-distance triathlete is to compete in Kona,” Laurie told the Tribune-Star. “My husband Jim competed there for the first time in 1997 by winning a lottery slot. He has qualified twice since, so I have watched him race Kona three times and I knew what I was in for. But you can never fully prepare for the intense tradewinds.”
Looking back, she described her performance as “average.”
“My swim was good,” Laurie assessed. “My bike [ride] was poor, but they had up to 60-mph wind gusts that day.”
Residing in Grapevine, Texas, the active Mrs. Lukanich said she enjoyed her time in Brazil and Terre Haute — where she received a bachelor of science degree in social work from ISU in 1982 — before she and her husband moved out of the Wabash Valley. Her parents, Robert and Judy Stovall, still live in Brazil, where Laurie visits on occasion.
“I found out I had the ability to run after I got out of school,” Laurie reflected. “I probably didn’t start serious running until 1990.”
That’s when she competed in her first sprint/distance triathlon while she lived in Memphis, Tenn.
At that time, the swimming part still didn’t come easily for Mrs. Lukanich. “I didn’t become a comfortable swimmer until about four years ago,” she admitted.
Nowadays, she’s comfortable with all aspects of triathlons, although the preparation remains difficult.
The 5-foot-8, 125-pound Laurie Lukanich estimated that at the peak of her training for the recent Ironman, she’d spend “massive amounts of time” trying to improve each week — approximately 12,000 meters of swimming, 150 miles of bike riding and 35 miles of running.
She acknowledged that other triathletes go longer distances in weekly training, but the above-mentioned numbers work for her.
Proper nutrition also is important to her performance.
“It’s about eating what your body needs over eating what your body wants,” explained Laurie, who allows herself to have pizza maybe four times a year when she’s not in serious training mode.
She also said she drinks an occasional Diet Coke and coffee, “but not in excess.”
Laurie Lukanich advised any aspiring 50-plus athletes to start slow before trying out a new sport. Remember, she started serious running in 1990, roughly 22 years before she qualified for her first Ironman Triathlon.
“Get a physical from your doctor first,” she stressed. “Then hook up with a masters group [with other 50-plus athletes] in your area. It’s easier for most people to work out with other people. Also, don’t be intimidated by others.”
For those who want to start running, for example, Laurie suggested finding a good shoe store to get fitted for the proper footwear.
And, above all, once you start training, be consistent. Barring an injury or a genuine emergency, she discourages working out hard for a month and stopping completely for the following six months.
“It’s all about the lifestyle,” Laurie emphasized. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”