Ironman 70.3 in Cairns part of grieving mum's road to recovery after loss of son
Posted June 09, 2019 07:30:00
A Cairns mum whose son took his own life two years ago will carry his seashell necklace for inspiration as she attempts to conquer one of the world’s toughest endurance challenges.
- Bereaved Cairns mum Heidi Bonasia, 50, will compete in the gruelling Ironman 70.3 event
- She will carry a precious necklace that belonged to her late son over the finish line
- The multiple chronic illness sufferer says training has helped her deal with her grief
Heidi Bonasia had never run more than five kilometres at a stretch before last August, but will compete in her first Ironman 70.3 race on Sunday, despite battling four autoimmune diseases throughout her life.
The 50-year-old hire car manager said 10 punishing months of training leading up to the event had brought her closer to her son who took his own life in 2017.
“It was hard at first but I take him with me now everywhere I go,” Ms Bonasia said.
“I let him live his life through me now — that seems to me the only way I know how to cope and manage.
“He had a drug problem. We got him clean but unfortunately the cleaner Jai got, the more depressed he became.”
Swimming, riding, running and talking
Fellow Ironman competitors will likely hear Ms Bonasia seeking her son’s encouragement during the gruelling two-kilometre swim, 90-kilometre bike ride and half-marathon run.
“On my long runs, he’s there with me,” Ms Bonasia said.
“If I’m in the water, it’s: ‘Jai, please don’t let a croc get me’.
“I tend to talk to him more when I’m out there and I’m struggling.
“I talk out loud — it’s not quiet.”
The battle within
Ms Bonasia has several chronic illnesses including arthritis, lupus, Hashimoto’s disease and immune thrombocytopenia, and had to learn how to carefully manage her training loads to avoid fatigue.
She coupled her five-day-a-week training regimen, consisting of running, cycling and pool sessions, with a diligent food and supplement intake along with several medications.
“My body doesn’t really like itself,” she said.
“I have constant arthritis so you learn to run with a certain level of pain.
“I’m on a multitude of drugs but you wake up every day and the sun is shining and start again.
“I have to listen to my coach and husband because if there’s a barrier I don’t want it to hold me back.”
Mentor Renee Ker said Ms Bonasia’s Ironman journey was inspiring.
“I’ve coached two people before her with autoimmune diseases and had success with them but she is unbelievable,” Ms Ker said.
“The strength that woman has is incredible.
“She never whinges or has a negative vibe when she trains — she’s always upbeat and really driven.
“You can push her really hard but you probably need to hold her back more often than not.
“I remember she did a 130-kilometre ride with someone without letting me know and I had to tell her off.
“Athletes come in all different shapes and sizes … but Heidi really stands out.
“She’s not an Olympian but gives you absolutely everything she has.”
Shedding the shackles of illness
Mrs Bonasia said the diseases that once crippled her no longer dictate her life.
“I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been,” she said.
“I will be coming off medications I’ve been on for nearly 10 years soon.
“My doctor said, ‘Whatever you’re doing, please keep doing it.’
“I don’t think I’ll be training to that intensity, but I’ll still be doing something afterwards.
“[When I finish the race] I think I’ll be jumping in the air screaming — it’s a big thing for me to get through all this training.
“I haven’t eaten chocolate or pizza, so I think I’ll be eating a pizza.”
Entering the home stretch Mrs Bonasia said she will wear a special memento to honour the person who kept her on track when she thought she could not go any further.
“Jai had a shell pendant necklace … and he loved that,” she said.
“It’ll be at the finish line and I’ll be asking my husband to hand it over so I can take it across the line with me.”