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After race, Long Islanders talk Ironman championship experience

Steven Gartenstein, 46, of Hewlett Harbor, celebrates after

Steven Gartenstein, 46, of Hewlett Harbor, celebrates after crossing the finish line during the final hour at the 2014 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014. Photo Credit: Brian T. Dessart

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - During a triathlon, there are many obstacles an athlete may expect: injuries, environmental conditions, and fatigue among them. But when 50-year-old Hewlett Harbor resident Steven Gartenstein took to the course at the 2014 Ironman World Championship on Saturday, he faced an obstacle that he didn’t expect: himself.

“Walking a substantial part of the marathon, alone, in the dark, was a true test of mental endurance,” he said.

Overall, Gartenstein completed the grueling event in 16 hours, 37 minutes and 15 seconds — just over 20 minutes shy of the 17-hour cutoff — calling it “the most challenging day, both physically and mentally.” However, he added that it was an honor to have been a part of it at all, calling the experience, “truly humbling.”

For all five of Long Island’s elite, making a trip to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, for the 2014 Ironman World Championship was a special moment they will never forget.

Along with Gartenstein, Liz Fernandez, 35, of Rockville Centre; Stefan Judex, 46, of Port Jefferson; Roberta Leventhal, 63, of East Hills; and Dominick Oliviero, 49, of Massapequa were part of the 2,187 worldwide athletes who competed in the Oct. 11 championship.

Oliviero came to the Big Island after an aggressive, life-threatening battle with cancer in 2011 when he was diagnosed with Stage 4 nasopharyngeal cancer, he said, but was unable to finish the course.

“It was a tough day out there,” Oliviero said. “I have some unfinished business on this island and will be back.”

The race’s top three finishers were Germany’s Sebastian Kienle after finishing the course in 8 hours, 14 minutes and 18 seconds; the U.S.’s Ben Hoffman and Germany’s Jan Frodeno.

Hoffman finished in 8 hours, 19 minutes and 23 seconds, the best finish by a U.S. competitor since 2009.

“I was ready to give my best,” Kienle said. “If your mind is not there, it’s just not happening.”

For the women, Australia’s Mirinda Carfrae came out on top, capturing her second straight world championship title and, again, set another run-course record, finishing the marathon in 2 hours, 50 minutes and 26 seconds. Switzerland’s Daniela Ryf and Great Britain’s Rachel Joyce claimed second- and third-place finishes.

Yearly, about 110,000 athletes attempt to qualify for the Ironman World Championship through full- or half-distance Ironman races held worldwide, or by lottery or legacy. If attempting to quality through an Ironman race, only the most elite athletes who finish at the top earn a spot at Kailua-Kona. The world championship is known for its unique difficulty — wicked currents, strong winds and intense heat.

“The headwinds and crosswinds on the bike course were unforgiving and made for a very tough day,” Fernandez said. But after tackling the course in 11 hours, 56 minutes and 10 seconds, she called it “an experience I will never forget.”

Echoing similar obstacles, Judex said, “There were as many ups and downs in 10½ hours of racing, as I would otherwise have in 10½ months.”

After finishing with the best time of the Long Island competitors, Judex — who completed all three legs in 10 hours, 39 minutes and 54 seconds — said that despite choppy waters in the swim and a tough run, “a rough day while racing a world championship in Kona is overall still a pretty awesome day.”

For Leventhal, who finished with a time of 16 hours, 37 minutes and 2 seconds, the journey won’t be ending at the finish line in Hawaii. Instead, the East Hills resident will be traveling to Israel and using her athletic skills to raise money for a pediatric rehabilitation facility in Jerusalem that provides services for children and young adults throughout the region.

“I will be biking five days and more than 300 miles,” Leventhal said. “With every step I take, I feel so lucky and privileged that I am healthy and able to do what I do.”

Making this trip even more special, Leventhal said, will be traveling as a newly-crowned world championship Ironman.

Calling it the “hardest day” she’s ever had on an Ironman course, she said, “I really had to dig deep and was thrilled just to finish.”

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