Taylor police officer completes her first Ironman Triathlon

Taylor police Officer Meggan Kantz knew it would take months of rigorous training to prepare for her first Ironman Triathlon competition in Madison, Wisc.

And she understood she faced a long, challenging day to complete a 2.4-mile swim followed by a 112-mile bicycle race followed by a marathon run of 26.2 miles.

What Kantz didn’t know were the obstacles she would have to overcome just to complete the event.

Kantz, 27, fell off her bike during a fluke accident halfway through that event and, in the process, broke her scapula, sprained her right ankle and suffered a mild concussion.

Yet, she crossed the finish line 14 hours, 50 minutes and 49 seconds after the triathlon started. Her effort has fellow police officers shaking their heads in disbelief. Chief of Police Dale Tamsen called her “Superwoman.”

“I couldn’t have done that if I had a car and a boat,” Tamsen said, chuckling. “Most people couldn’t do it, period, much less do it with a major injury. It’s unbelievable.”

Kantz, a Grosse Ile native who lives in Dearborn, decided to sign up for the Ironman competition after conferring with Taylor Fire Medic Zoe Metro, who had competed in similar events. Metro was introduced to the sport by fellow Fire Medic John Loudermilk.

Kantz and Metro became training partners, going hard for up to 20 hours a week leading into the triathlon and working out at Lifetime Fitness in Canton Township. A single day’s training could include a six-hour bike ride followed by a one-hour run, stopping only to change flat tires. The next day could be a 1½-hour ride and three-hour run. The day after that could include a one-hour swim with an hour run or bike.

Along the way, they participated in running events. Kantz said she was in a “half ironman” in the Benton Harbor/St. Joseph area in August.

“It’s really a journey,” Kantz said.

The training was nothing new for Kantz, who played three sports at Grosse Ile High School and then played softball and swam at Wayne State University.

After making the journey to Wisconsin, Kantz felt she was ready. She was one of 2,400 who jumped in Lake Monona when the starter’s pistol fired just past 7 a.m. on September 9. Dressed in a wet suit, Kantz did her best not to get injured during the wild race to the next checkpoint.

“When the gun goes off, they basically beat the crap out of each other,” Kantz said. “There’s 2,400 people headed in the same direction. You get punched, kicked and swam over. It’s fun. Triathletes are the best people in the world, but when it comes to swimming, we’re kind of brutal.”

Kantz completed the 2.4 miles in an hour and 14 minutes, then ran to the transition area, where she changed out of her wet suit and into her bike-riding outfit, which included special shoes made for biking, a helmet, jersey and thick-padded shorts.

As a crowd gathered around Kantz, she jumped on her Quintana Roo Tequilo triathlon bike and began the 112-mile course, which starts and finishes in the city. Along the way, cyclists ride a 40-mile loop twice, pass through rural farms and travel up and down large hills and other terrain.

“For the first loop of the bike course, my plan was to take it nice and easy,” Kantz said. “For the next one, I was going to push a little harder. I was just about to the halfway point and was doing great.”

In fact, since she had been preserving her energy, she didn’t feel tired – even after 52 miles of the bike race.

At one of the main bike points, four hours and 20 minutes into the race, she saw a young volunteer offering a bottle of Gatoraid. Volunteers are instructed to run alongside the bicycles to make it easier for the racers to grab the nutrients they’re holding. In this case, the volunteer was standing still.

As Kantz attempted to grab the bottle and not lose any speed, she lost balance, glided to a halt, flew backward off of her bike and crashed to the ground.

“It was pretty surreal,” she said, trying to remember. “I just kind of sat there in a daze. I knew instantly that something was wrong with my arm. I didn’t want to put any weight on it.”

Volunteers offered to assist Kantz off of the roadway, but the triathletes could be disqualified for such assistance. She walked to the side of the road, where she collapsed and sat, collecting her thoughts.

“I looked at the bike to make sure it was OK,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I was on the side of the road. It was kind of like an out of body experience.”

When Kantz tried to stand up, she said “everything went blurry.” She became nauseous, felt she was going to be sick and fell down again.
A medic offered help, but she declined for fear of being disqualified. She tried to stand several more times, but the blurriness would not go away.

Unable to raise her right arm, Kantz noticed she had “bad road rash” on her right thing. Her shorts were ripped. Her jersey was ripped on the shoulder.

As she sat there – for 20 or 25 minutes – she thought about the year-long training she underwent prior to making the trip.

“I was trying to calm myself down,” she said. “Am I going to finish or not finish? I just didn’t want to give up. I trained too hard for this. I didn’t want to quit.”

Kantz ate a banana and drank some water. She asked a volunteer to walk with her to the end of the block. She got back on her bike and went 300 feet. The bike was barely moving. She noticed the brake was rubbing on the rear tire.

“I knew I had to get it fixed before going down the big hill,” she said. “I wouldn’t have been able to brake and would have crashed again.”

She asked a general question if anyone had a tool to fix the brake lever. Just then, a maintenance volunteer happened to pull up and offered to repair the bike – which is allowed. As Kantz ate a Pop Tart and an aspirin, her bike was fixed.

Despite the agonizing pain, she continued. With only one good arm, she was unable to stand up and put much weight on the shoulder, so she struggled with uphill rides. Unable to hold a beverage and ride at the same time, she had to stop at every aid station and drink as much as she could.

A couple other factors kept Kantz going. She said the crowds of people were “incredible,” cheering her name they could see on her race tag. She also thought of two family members who had passed away just prior to the race: her aunt, Peggy Plucinski, and her grandmother, Betty Fritz. She had promised both of them that she would finish the Ironman.

“I watched them suffer a lot,” Kantz said. “My aunt was only 46 when she died. She told me she’d be watching over me. That definitely helped me get through it.”

Kantz worked through period of euphoria and self-doubt. She thought, “as long as I finish the bike and get to the run, I can walk it.”

“You talk to yourself a lot in a race like this, just getting through it,” she said.

The bike race took her seven hours and 46 minutes – probably an hour and a half longer than she thought it was going to take. But she finished it.

When she reached the transition area, she dismounted her bike and heard something pop.

“I thought I had dislocated my shoulder at first. When I heard the pop, I thought maybe it popped back in, but it hurt really bad,” Kantz said.

Crying to relieve some the stress, she asked for help from a woman in the changing area as she took off her torn and tattered cycling outfit and put on her running clothes.

After calming down, Kantz explained what happened to a medic and said she wanted to finish the race.

“I just figured I would take it mile by mile and do the best I can,” she said. “I was going on a lot of adrenaline. The road rash was there, but it didn’t hurt. It was the shoulder that hurt.”

The shoulder injury, which had not been diagnosed at that point, prevented Kantz from using her right arm during the marathon. She tucked her thumb under her sports bra and ran the best she could, waving only her left arm as she traveled.

Just by chance, five minutes into the 26-mile-plus run, she spotted her mother, Elizabeth Kantz, and her aunt, Ceil Ginger, in the huge crowd. She told them she would probably go to the hospital after the event – but that would be later.

She continued the run, knowing she had the time to make it. It was only a question of whether her body – and her mental state – would hold up.

“Every time I reached a low point, I saw some friends and their families and they would cheer to get me through it,” Kantz said. “There were some incredible moments. My family made signs, but there seemed to be hundreds of thousands of signs. I just happened to look up at the right moment.

“I needed that. I knew I was going to finish.”

Every mile, Kantz stopped. She drank a “flat Coke, water and chicken broth soup.” She also made restroom stops.

With three miles to go, she saw some people she trained with at the gym. They agreed to run with her and boost her spirits along the way.”

“I knew I would be under 15 hours as long as I could keep up the pace,” she said. “They said, ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this.’ But I wanted to get it done.”

With a mile to go, Kantz said she knew she was getting close. The city was darkened and she had not seen many people recently. Suddenly, she saw lights ahead and heard the road of the crowd.

“It was the most incredible feeling,” she said. “I knew I was going to finish. Everybody’s yelling your name. It was like the World Series for a normal person that doesn’t do stuff like that.”

When she crossed the finish line, she heard “Meggan Kantz, you are an ironman.”

“I lost it,” she said. “My mom and aunt were there and a couple other friends. Nothing can beat that experience. I was working all year to hear that phrase said. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Fire Medic Metro – who finished a couple hours earlier – and Taylor Fire Medic Will Caruso – who volunteered as a medic for the race – were among those to greet Kantz.

“I think determination and adrenaline will get you through a lot,” Metro said. “It wasn’t an option for her not to finish. I felt kind of responsible, you know what I mean? I got her into this. I thought: she better get to the finish line, and she did.
 
“She did what she came there to do. I was so proud of her.”

Taylor Director of Police Services Jac Desrosiers was impressed.

“For Meggan to have overcome her pain to complete this grueling test is one of the most impressive achievements that I have ever heard,” Desrosiers said. “She should be very proud of herself. I know we are proud of her.”

Police Chief Tamsen said Kantz was a perfect candidate for Ironman. He noted that athletic accomplishments seem to be contagious in the department. Two officers, Lt. Mark Tonge and Sgt. Timothy Culp, recently completed the Detroit Free Press Marathon. The same day, Detective Cpls. Don Farago and John MacDonald and Officer Nick Hill ran the half marathon – all impressive feats.

“Meggan is a good, hard worker,” Tamsen said. “That dedication and hard work carry over to her police career. We see that every day in how she handles herself.”

After the race, Kantz took a ferry to Muskegon and returned home the next day. A friend, Sarah Demerly, cleaned her road rash.
X-rays revealed Kantz had a broken scapula (right shoulder blade) and a sprained right ankle. She wound up going to an orthopedic surgeon.

A doctor said the goose bump on her head and light headedness were likely the result of a mild concussion that occurred when she fell from the bike.

“The most painful thing was the road rash – it was like a burn,” Kantz said. “I was a big baby for a couple days.”

She moved in with her parents for a couple weeks. They helped her dress and even put her hair in a ponytail, “which is humbling,” she said. Physical therapy followed.

Kantz went on light duty until her injuries healed, returning to road patrol just this past week.

“The bone is healed; I still have to build some strength,” she said. “My right arm used to be my dominant arm. Now my left arm is.”

Despite all of the tough preparation and the injuries, Kantz said she will stick with the Ironman scene. She started training for a half-marathon in January in Miami. And she has her sights set on the 2009 Ironman contest in Lake Placid, N.Y.

“I would never have known that I could go through that adversity and push through it,” she said. “You realize what you’re made of. I was hooked from the first short one… That’s a feeling I want to repeat. It makes you feel physically stronger and mentally stronger in every part of your life.”