In Honor of Joe Vrablik

Triathlete and his family before an Ironman race
October 26, 2018

Mike Ricci


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It has been over a week since the Ironman world championship in Kona, Hawaii. I am so happy that so many of our friends could be there for me and to cheer on AJ. 

Race day was an early morning to get into Kona before the road closures. Thank goodness for Starbucks being open!  Our support crew included Kevin (one of Joe’s best friends), Amanda (close friend), Darlene (close friend), Rosanna (one of my best friends), Courtney (AJ’s wife) and Emma (AJ’s daughter). While AJ was doing his final checks before the race, we were looking for places to watch the swim start and the transition to the bike. The crowd of people was so amazing! I don’t think that I have seen a bigger crowd at any Ironman that I have been to. As we started to say goodbye and good luck to AJ, the tears started to flow from all of us. My emotions were all over the place: wishing Joe was here, so proud of AJ doing this in a short period of time, the support crew that had made the journey knowing this was going to be hard for everyone, and the connection with AJ and Joe from the beginning to now.
We went to find a place to watch the start and I was impressed with the people there. When you are watching an Ironman, you start talking with your neighbors around you. “Who are you supporting? What is their story? Is this your first Ironman? Where is a good place to eat?”  This is one of my favorite things about this community- the support! Of course, we told people about AJ and Joe’s story, and all of a sudden people were making room for us in very crowded areas. The emotions were overwhelming... these people didn’t know me or need to do this for me but they did. And that happened everywhere we went throughout the day. Amazing! After seeing AJ transition from the swim to the bike, we all needed food and to relax until we could see AJ on the run course. During this time, we were in contact with people who wanted to know more about the race and how AJ was doing. The amount of support was overwhelming to us; everything from text messages to Facebook posts. I can’t express what that meant to me.

When we got to see AJ on the run course, I could tell he was tired and hot from the weather. But he stopped to talk to us about the first part of the day. He said the swim was easy and fast. On the bike, he said Joe told him to be safe and smart. He gave us a hug and told us we would see him at the finish line. 

Courtney had reached out to one of her contacts about being able to medal AJ at the finish line. We had talked about it and we weren’t sure if it was going to happen. Courtney & AJ said that if only one of us could do, it was going to be me. There are no words that can express how much that meant to me. Thanks to Courtney’s contact, we were able to medal AJ at the finish line. When AJ was close to 30 minutes away, Courtney, Emma and I checked in and went to the “holding area” until AJ was about 5 minutes away. All the emotions leading up to this moment took over and here came the tears. 
As AJ crossed the finish line, he pointed at his shirt that had a picture of Joe from one of his Ironman finishes. He was also holding the necklace that was carrying Joe’s ashes and a fingerprint from Emma. We were all in tears while we were hugging and AJ said he didn’t know how he did it but we did it. This was over 15 years in the making for AJ and Joe; I am so glad that I got to be a part of this part of Joe’s life.

The next day, AJ and I took some of Joe’s ashes and a couple of leis to the start of the swim. This moment along with yesterday will be something that I will never forget. And I can’t tell him this enough but AJ did such an amazing job doing this for Joe and for our family. I couldn’t think of anyone better to complete this journey for us. Thank you AJ and we love you.
~Stephanie Vrablik

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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