Reserve pilot conquers Ironman competition

Captain punches ticket to prestigious race

By Tech. Sgt. Elizabeth Moody/446th pao on September 21, 2012

(446th AW PA) - Balancing the demands of family, a civilian career and a commitment to the Air Force Reserve can challenge many Citizen Airmen on a daily basis. But a pilot with the 728th Airlift Squadron strives for even more - to earn the title of Ironman through a grueling competition consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2-mile run.

Capt. Judy Coyle, 728th AS, competed in the Ironman Canada competition in Penticton, British Columbia, Canada, in late August, taking second place in the women's 35 to 39 age group.

"I had a great race," said Coyle, a novice who began competing in triathlons in 2011. "It started out with a solid swim. I was worried coming off the bike that I might have pushed it a little too much. I wasn't sure I had a marathon left in my legs, but as I started the running portion of the race, I felt pretty good and that never went away."

With an overall time of 10 hours, 31 minutes and 53 seconds, she not only has bragging rights to the title of Ironman, but she earned one of only three slots in her category to compete in the upcoming Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, Oct. 13.

Coyle attributes the idea of training and competing in Ironman races to several current and former Reservists from her squadron.

"I wanted to do triathlons for as long as I can remember, but I never signed up until several of the guys said they were going to do the Boise Half Ironman in 2011. Six or seven of us from the squadron competed in that event in June 2011 and I was hooked."

"Capt. Coyle's dedication and desire to excel are indicative of all Reservists," said Lt. Col. Chris Von Thaden, 728th AS operations officer. "She is a world-class runner and adds to the camaraderie amongst the high achievers here at the 446th Airlift Wing."

Coyle, a wife, mother, Boeing flight deck engineer and Reservist, credits her family and fellow Citizen Airmen with encouraging her to carve out the crucial time she needed to train for Ironman aspirations.

"My husband and son have put up with my training for 10 months now, bless them, I owe them a lot," she said. "Often I've trained for 20-plus hours a week and they have supported me 100 percent. Also, as a Reservist, it can be hard to find the time to get everything done in the short time I'm on base, training for these competitions has definitely added to that difficulty. But we have the best group of (air reserve technicians) in the 728th, as well as many Reservists who put in a lot of time. They have helped me so much and are always willing to bend over backwards to help me get my training done."

"Judy has always been the gold standard that the rest of our squadron looks to for physical fitness," said Lt Col Fran Whiting, 728th AS chief pilot.  "She makes me feel like I could run a marathon again.  She's a great leader in the 728th AS, with tremendous aviation expertise in her civilian job, and maintains strong affiliations in the community and an active family life. It's almost like everyday is a triathlon for Judy!"

Coyle compares her experience in Ironman competitions to challenges in everyday life and in the Air Force Reserve mission as a C-17 pilot.

"I think there are correlations with most successes and failures in life; it's really not a matter of winning or losing, it's about getting the job done as best you can," said Coyle, a Boise, Idaho native. "Sometimes despite all of your hard work, things just don't go as planned, but you learn from your mistakes and push forward and try again. You can't let a bad race or mission stop you. You have to apply what you've learned and do it better the next time."

Photo: Capt. Judy Coyle, 728th Airlift Squadron pilot, trains in a C-17 simulator at McChord Field Sept. 8. Coyle competed in the Ironman Canada competition in Penticton, Canada, Aug. 26, taking second place in the women’s  35-39 category with a time of 10 hours, 31 minutes and 53 seconds.