‘BECAUSE ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE’: Triathlete Kelly Miyahara hopes to participate in Ironman championship to honor late friend


Kelly MIyahara and Marisela Echeverria at the Half-Ironman, Vineman 70.3 in July 2011. courtesy of Kelly Miyahara

People have many reasons why they participate in the Ironman World Championship triathlon, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. Some people may do it for their health or to prove something despite other challenges.
Others do it to honor a friendship.

“Jeopardy!” Clue Crew member and former Greater Seattle Japanese Community First Princess Kelly Miyahara made a promise in 2011 with her late friend and triathlon teammate Marisela Echeverria that they would try to participate in the Ironman World Championship triathlon one day, which takes place in Kona, Hawai‘i. Such a promise would lead to a year’s worth of intense training.

“At the time, it seemed like a joke, but Mari and I agreed we’d go to Kona together to support each other if either of us ever had the chance to race,” Miyahara said.

However, while cycling to train for her first Ironman competition, Echeverria was struck and killed by a bus along the California’s Pacific Coast Highway. She died on the same day as the 2012 Ironman World Championship competition on Oct. 13.

“What an incredible way to honor the one-year anniversary of her passing — by crossing that Ironman finish line and finally realizing her Ironman destiny that she worked so hard for,” Miyahara said. “It would be my honor to pay tribute to Mari in Kona.”

Miyahara is now a finalist in the Kona Inspired contest — one of the few ways non-elite triathletes can compete for a spot in the Ironman race. Her video, simply titled “For Mari,” explains why Echeverria is her inspiration to participate in the race, going along with the contest theme of “anything is possible.” She said Echeverria’s death reminded her in a terrible way that anything is possible.

Miyahara, who was raised in San Ramon, Calif., graduated from the University of Washington with a business degree.

“I chose business because it crosses over into virtually every possible career some way or another,” she said. “So I figured I could use it no matter what I ended up doing professionally.” Her parents are also University of Washington alumni.

She served as the Greater Seattle Japanese Community first princess from 1999 to 2000, representing the Seattle Japanese American community at community events and celebratory events in San Francisco, Honolulu and Los Angeles. Her favorite event is the Seattle’s “Bon Odori Festival,” of which her great-grandmother participated in the creation of many of the Bon Odori’s original dances. Miyahara said she tries to visit the Obon festival every year.

“I’m so grateful for the many memories as Seattle Japanese Community first princess, but mostly for the people it brought into my life,” she said.

This fall, Miyahara will be starting her ninth season on “Jeopardy!”. As a Clue Crew member, she travels around the world to film video clues that appear on the game board. So far, she swam with penguins in the Galapagos Islands, sailed down the Mekong River in Southeast Asia and traveled in a military helicopter to visit a Naval ship at sea, to name a few. Miyahara calls it her “dream job.”

When the show announced that it was looking for a new Clue Crew member, Miyahara said her parents called to tell her about it. She said it’s her mother’s favorite TV show.

“They thought it seemed ‘so me,’ as it combined my passion for travel, my experience in education, and my innate curiosity for the world of entertainment,” she said in an e-mailed interview.

Soon after, her father sent a camcorder from the 1980s to her in Los Angeles where she shot her audition video with help from her sister and her brother-in-law. The video audition brought her to one of six in-person audition locations and after passing that audition to become a finalist, Miyahara was chosen as a new Clue Crew member. Within weeks, she flew to New York City to walk the red carpet with “Jeopardy!” game show host Alex Trebek at the Daytime Emmy Awards.

In 2010, Miyahara began her triathlon journey. She met Echeverria when they started training for their first Ironman 70.3 Vineman Triathlon in Sonoma County in California in 2011. The distance for each Vineman race is about half of the distance in the Ironman World Championship. They met through the Team in Training endurance training program. According to Miyahara, it is one of the largest endurance training programs for charity and has trained more than 570,000 athletes while raising money to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. So far, the program has raised about $1.3 billion.

“It’s particularly life changing when you have the chance to hear the stories about and meet the people that your fundraising is directly impacting in a positive way,” she said. “I have even had the honor of training with several survivors whose mere presence is an inspiration in itself.”
In her three years with the program, Miyahara has raised more than $30,000 for the charity through events she created, organized and hosted herself.

“It is always a challenge to be creative and think of fresh fun ways to fundraise, however I welcome that challenge,” she said. “After all, it’s for a great cause, and it feels good to give back and be part of something that helps others in need.”

Since their meeting in 2010, Miyahara said she and Echeverria spent time training together, traveling to races together and joking around with laughter. She said some of their “best chats” happened in the locker room after swim practice since they were always the last two people to leave.
“Mari was one of those people that you immediately felt comfortable with,” she said. “(She) had a smile that could light up a room, and a heart that was always giving.”

Despite having had three knee surgeries and a warning from her doctor, Miyahara continues to train hard for the triathlon for Echeverria. Her year-long training plan involves not only an emphasis in swimming, cycling and running, but also having a good nutrition plan and physical and mental strength. Right now, she focuses on each sport two times a week in four-hour training sessions. She said swimming is her strongest sport.

Miyahara is one of 45 non-elite triathletes competing to win the Kona Inspired contest. They are broken up into three rounds of 15 competitors. Video entries from members of each round can be voted upon for about 10 days, after which the contest panel will pick two winners from that round. A wild card winner will be chosen after winners from all three rounds have been picked. Miyahara’s entry video for the contest was featured in round two of the finalist voting period, which ends June 27. If she wins the round, she will be one of seven competitors who won a spot in the Ironmam World Championship race in Kona.

“I want to keep my promise to Marisela, and do it for her … with her,” Miyahara said in her entry outline on the Kona Inspired Website. “Despite my apprehension to embark on another year of training, I know her angel wings will be with me the entire way.”

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