Coeur has always asked that our Ambassadors be great representatives of the sport of triathlon. They are all fantastic and some just blow us away with their desire and effort to draw new people in to this great sport. Today we're chatting with Michelle Bandur.
Her story is incredibly inspiring. She used a rude comment from a television viewer to fuel a movement. We hope you enjoy her story.
1. Michelle...thank you so much for taking some time to chat. For those people just meeting you, please share a few words about your athletic background and how you got into triathlon.
I wouldn't say I have an athletic background. I grew up with a neighborhood swimming pool. ( I don't remember learning how to swim. Now, I realize what a privilege it was to have that opportunity and thank my parents for making that available to me and my brothers. I think it was their summer babysitter because I was in the pool from open to close!! hahah) I joined the summer swim and dive teams. I also participated in summer softball leagues, because my father was a Little League coach for boys baseball) I wanted to be closer to him.
I was also lucky to have a bike growing up. I will never forget my dad teaching me how to ride when I was about ten.
In junior high, I participated in volleyball and track. In high school, I was a cheerleader!
I first saw a triathlon on TV when the Ironman World Championship in Kona was broadcast on the networks when I was about 12 or 13. I thought, "That is so cool and I knew I wanted to swim, bike and run one day!"
Fast forward to my mid-30's and I competed in my first triathlon in Omaha, Nebraska, my hometown. I was living in California when I met some Ironman triathletes. They were colleagues who had competed in Ironman races and they started giving me advice and getting me excited about the sport. One co-worker even gave me one of his bikes, shoes and a helmet! I moved shortly after that from L.A. to Omaha... and started searching for triathlons. Like most triathletes, I was hooked! It took me almost another ten years though, until I did my first full Ironman in 2011 at age 46. It's never too late!
2. Our understanding is that Ironhawks can thank a pretty rude interaction from a viewer for your involvement. Can you tell everyone about the note that you received and how that led to your being part of this great organization?
One day, I received a card in the mail at KETV, where I work as a television journalist. I was so excited because I think cards sent in the mail are so thoughtful.
It's nice to receive a note because someone took time to actually go to the post office and mail it. My elation soon turned to dismay. I opened it and the card had a dollar bill inside. This dollar, at first, caused my excitement to grow, because receiving even one dollar in the mail is a nice surprise. Nope, this person had no intention of making me feel good about this gesture. The note said, "Dear Michelle. Please accept this gift and use it wisely. 50 cents for those bags under your eyes, and 50 cents for your BIG, FAT NOSE. You need the help. A viewer." I went from the highest high to a punch in the gut. It took me back to grade school time, when other kids made fun of me and my nose. I always dreamed of getting a nose job. After I wiped away the tears, I got angry. How dare they! This bully!! I knew I had an opportunity in front of me. How was I going to handle this nasty, degrading note? Their intention was to hurt me and they did.. but I didn't want to focus on the pain. How can I help turn this negative into a positive? Fast forward and I started asking people for more dollars to help fund a FREE triathlon club for girls ages, 8-14. I had friends who also wanted to do some good for the community and expose more girls to the sport. Another co-founder is an Ironman World Champion and she became disheartened with triathlon because of the expense of the sport. It's expensive! We created the Ironhawk Juniors Triathlon Club in 2018. It has been an incredible grassroots effort of dedicated triathletes, swimmers, cyclists, runners to provide opportunities to girls who may not be exposed to triathlon, single parent families who can't afford clubs and others. Coeur Sports sent a big box of triathlon kits and swim caps. We asked families for hand-me-down bikes. Every single person or business that we asked for help, stepped up to give these girls the opportunity to achieve something great!
3. We've seen the great Ted Talk video that you did. What was the process of creating and delivering a Ted Talk like?
That TEDX was an incredible experience. Talk about doing something that scares you! It really took me out of my comfort zone. I am used to speaking in front of a camera, speaking with small classes of schoolchildren, even teaching classes. But speaking in front of 500 people definitely made me nervous. It was one of my goals to be a TEDX speaker. I applied to the Omaha TEDX organization and was chosen for an audition.
I shared my story and they chose me to be among an incredible group of speakers. They gave us a coach. I met with Rita weekly for a few months to craft my story into a longer version that I could share with a large audience. It was incredible to stand in the famous red circle and talk about empowering girls through the sport of triathlon! My tribe was there to cheer me on and give me the support I needed. I received a standing ovation! And after the show, I had several people with "larger" noses approach me and tell me how they too struggled with the size of their noses and their appearance and how my story resonated with them. I hope when people watch "My Big Fat Nose", they become inspired to handle a negative situation in a positive manner, get off the couch and start moving, do a triathlon! or help young and old people stand up to bullies!
4. Ok, let's talk about Ironhawks. What is the goal of the organization and how did you get involved?
I got involved with Ironhawk Juniors Triathlon Club because I am a co-founder! I helped create it! We are a non-profit organization and have a board. I am on the Executive Board and responsible for communications, social media and recruitment. Our goal is to empower young people and get them moving!
We want to change lives. Our values are to honor self and others, teamwork, accomplish the impossible, be kind and provide empowerment through triathlon.
Mission: Ironhawk Juniors Triathlon Club strives to engage the youth of our community in physical fitness, to create a positive from a negative, and to always be kind. Triathlon inspires our youth to get moving and accomplish what seems impossible. Ironhawk Junior Triathlon Club makes it a priority to be an ethnically, economically and physically diverse youth organization
5. How do you quantify success and how has the program been doing since inception?
We view success as showing up, making an effort and being a good teammate and supporter. We do ask the Juniors to attend half the sessions to be able to participate in the end of season triathlon. We teach these girls how to swim for FREE! and we teach them how to ride a bike and how to ride a bike properly! We provide swim and bike lessons in the weeks before the club actually begins in June. That way, the Juniors are ready to have fun with their teammates during the eight week summer session when it officially begins in June. They are so brave! They are facing fears and learning new skills. It's so rewarding to watch the Juniors try hard and then pedal that bike on their own, or learn how to make it from one end of the pool to the other all by themselves! Such joy!
Please visit our website, as we made some cool graphics that show our impact for the first few years.
6. In addition to taking quite a bit of time, organizations like Ironhawks take money. How is Ironhawks funded and how can people donate?
We have wonderful sponsors, like Coeur Sports, who have been with us from the very beginning! We love our sponsors and couldn't provide the incredible opportunity without them. The Juniors receive a free bike, if they don't have one, helmet, running shoes, swimsuit, goggles, swim cap, food, cool (Coeur gear). It's amazing! Our partner, College of St. Mary is so generous. We went to the all-women school in early 2018 and asked to use their campus. They give us FREE access to the swimming pool, fields, campus, whatever we need. We have a donation link at www.ironhawkjuniors.org
If you shop on Amazon, you can sign up for Ironhawk Juniors at Smile Amazon. Many wonderful triathletes all over the country keep sending me boxes of gently used and new gear for the Juniors too.
7. So what are the future plans for Ironhawks?
We just want to keep empowering young people through the sport of triathlon. Our dream is that our Juniors who learned about the sport through us, will go on to gain a college scholarship and compete in the NCAA, now that it is being recognized as a sanctioned college sport in more universities and colleges.
8. And how about you? What's on your athletic schedule for 2022?
One of my goals has been to complete two Ironmans in one year.. so 2022 is the year. Maybe I am making up for lost time! I am racing Oceanside 70.3, IMDes Moines, IM California, USAGNC Milwaukee and some local races!
Thank you so much for the opportunity to share my love of my Ironhawk Juniors and triathlon!!