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Triathlon athlete represents Diné at Ironman World Championships


On October 8, Denten Robinson competed in the 2022 Ironman World Championship.

Courtesy photo
Diné triathlon athlete Denten Robinson competed in the 2022 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in early October. Robinson finished the grueling competition in about 15 hours.

The Diné athlete from Phoenix swam for 2.4 miles, biked for 112 miles and ran for 26.22 miles in one day.

He is possibly the first Diné ever to compete and finish the Championship race.

Robinson is originally from Tohatchi and is Táb??há, born for his Bilagáana relatives.

Robinson traveled to Kona, Hawaii, and completed the course in about 15 hours. Robinson was a little disappointed by his completed time as he averaged about 12 hours in his previous races.

Still, he felt great having completed the course and having competed against some of the world’s best athletes.

“The overall experience was amazing, to be with all of those top athletes from around the world in that environment,” Robinson said. “They hadn’t had the race in Hawaii, because of Covid in three years, I believe, so it was pretty special. The environment’s great, the water was awesome, just the beauty of Hawaii. But the course is difficult … It’s a difficult location for a race because of the heat and the humidity.”

Robinson has been competing in Ironman competitions since 2009. He was inspired to give the triathlon event a try after watching videos of past championships and thinking it looked like a cool competition to be in. He wasn’t confident in his athletics abilities at the time, but he met a few local Ironman competitors near his home who’d encourage him to give it a try.

Even though Robinson didn’t think he was a fast swimmer or an endurance runner or bicyclist, he competed in the 2009 Arizona Ironman Competition and was able to finish the race.

“When I’m out there racing, I never feel more alive than when I’m out there doing these events. And it’s something that once you do it, you can get addicted to it. People ask me that all the time, ‘Why do you keep doing this to your body?’

“It’s a challenge; a physical challenge, mental challenge, spiritual challenge, like everything into one,” he added. “I’ve often told people that it’s the only event or activity that I can think of where during that race, every emotion that you could feel, you feel.”

Robinson said he’s felt pain, sorrow, sadness and jubilation while competing.

“Every emotion that you could feel, you just feel during those events because there’s just highs and lows, but then it’s all worth it,” he said. “Once you get to the finish line and you realize what you’ve just done.”

The Ironman competitions has benefited his health, but he said the races also gave him a goal, something to reach for and accomplish. It also helps him to manage stress and negativity, making him a better person for his family, friends and colleagues.

Pros and cons

He’s competed in Ironman events in Arizona, Utah, Texas, Florida and Maryland.

Robinson said you have to enjoy all three events of the competition if you want to compete, but for him personally his favorite of the events is the biking portion, then running, and then swimming. All three events have their pros and cons and he enjoys doing all three equally, but if he’d had to choose, bicycling is usually his favorite of the race.

Six years ago, Robinson made it his goal to compete in the Ironman World Championship and so he started entering the lottery to be apart of the 5% of athletes who would compete in the competition. In that time, he had completed 13 Ironman events before heading to the Championships.

By far, the world championship course was probably the toughest race he’s competed in. He was mainly concerned about the humidity of the island, knowing in the past that such climate was hard on his body.

But another obstacle was how hilly and how quickly the elevation would change. Prior to the championships, the most difficult place he ran was in a St. George competition in Utah. It had the same obstacles as the World Championship’s course, but the humidity was an added complication.

One of the toughest sections was biking up hill, going against a strong wind while in humid conditions.

After battling uphill, he struggled a bit during the run portion, not feeling well. He admitted he wanted to lay down, but he ran alongside other athletes who were struggling too. They kept pushing and encouraging one another to finish.

Robinson’s main goal was to just finish the race and try to do it at a fast time. He finished the championship with the second worst time of his Ironman career, firing him up to try it again should he get the chance.

Part of his love for the Ironman competition and why he keeps doing them is to challenge himself and to run the perfect race.

The greatest moment of the race for Robinson was when he was running the final sprint.

“I don’t have words to express the feelings and the emotions that I have there,” Robinson said. “Once you hit that red carpet, you’re running down the chute and there’s lights and people screaming (with) lots of music, you can see the finish line and that’s just where you got to get to.”

Robinson said having his whole family there at the finish line was a “really special moment” for him, which included his wife, four kids and parents.

“All of them were there at the finish line waiting for me to come in, [cheering me on],” he said. “ And I’ve got a picture of that in my head and I get emotional thinking about it even now.”

Robinson is a humble man, but hopes he has the honor to claim the title as the first Navajo to compete and finish the Ironman World Championship. If not, he’d like to speak with the first one, feeling they’d have a lot in common.

He hopes his story can inspire others to get moving so that they can live a physically and mentally healthy life.

“I feel like I’m a pretty average person when it comes to athletics,” Robinson said. “I was never a swimmer, biker or runner, but I think anybody who has a desire to go out and do some type of physical activity or event, they can do it. Whether that’s a 5k, 10k, half marathon or marathon, all the way up to an Ironman. The first thing that people have to do is just make the decision to get up and get out and start moving their body. And that’s it.”

About The Author

David Smith

David Smith is Tódích’íi’nii and born for Dziłt’aadí. He is from Chinle and studied at Northern Arizona University. He studied journalism and English for five years while working part-time for NAU’s NAZ Today and the Lumberjack newspaper. After graduating in 2020, he joined the Navajo Times as a sportswriter for two years before leaving in September 2022. Smith returned in February 2023.


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