Story by MARY ELLEN THOMPSON
Photography by JOHN WOLLWERTH
Beaufort born and raised, Martha “Jodi” Joye, has competed in hundreds of marathons and triathlons since 1998. What is amazing is that she didn’t start until she was 40. Of those, 20 have been Ironman events, including the most coveted in Kona, Hawaii.
Jodi started swimming on the team at Parris Island when she was 6. Colonel Smunk was the team coach for military and civilian children alike, and practice was at 6 a.m. and every evening. Jodi remembers that “There was lots of discipline! Mom was a devoted momma, driving me everywhere. There were lots of competitions and I had walls of medals and trophies. There were lots of local families on the swim team. I stayed on the team til momma got tired of driving me, although her story is that I wanted to quit, when I was thirteen. Then I played basketball, tennis and softball. Momma thought ball was boyish so I concentrated on the tennis where I was always in the top ten.”
Having received her B.A. in home economics and interior design from Georgia Southern University, Jodi started working with decorators on Hilton Head. “Interior design proved not to be my passion, so working with my mother in various businesses seemed to be the easier, softer way.” Learning from the bottom up, she remembers “I was instructed to bring my own lunch and I got in the van and worked right alongside the group that cleaned houses, even though my mother owned the company. It was not an executive desk and office position.” Over the years, her multitude of experiences eventually led her to open her own real estate firm, Charles Street Realty.
Consistently in good physical shape, Jodi started riding bikes in 1989, but she had no idea then that it would become her avocation. Rather, her training for Ironman in 1998 started out as therapy after a heartbreak. “I needed a focus and a good friend was in Ironman, he was persuasive. Terry Butts was a pro Ironman and one day he advised me to get on his program. Well, I did. A friend, Kate B., had completed an Ironman and her photo was in the newspaper, which I found inspirational.”
“My first competition was in Panama City, FL in 2001 where I did the half Ironman. The half Ironman means that you swim 1.5 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.2 miles. Jodi recalls, “It was a tahoe full of 3 friends heading into the unknown. This race started it all for me! I competed in Panama City for ten years in a row, doing two to three other Ironman a year, plus other races. I placed second in 2003 and finally first in 2006 in Brazil. The first place athlete didn’t take her Kona slot so it rolled down to me… Yeah! Tears of Joy! These victories allowed me to qualify and compete in the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in 2003 and 2006. Talk about some athlete! Other great Ironman experiences were in New Zealand, Austria, and Arizona.”
The Ironman competition began in 1978 in Hawaii when three endurance events were combined: the Honolulu Marathon, the Waikiki Rough Water Swim, and the Around-Oahu Bike Ride; the winner was to be named “Ironman.” The Kona Ironman is the Ironman World Champion and the most coveted competition as the entrants have to qualify in another sanctioned Ironman event or by a lottery system. It’s very difficult to qualify for Kona as approximately 70,000 people try and only 1700 of those do qualify, plus the lottery winners. This is considered the most challenging one day sporting event in the world!
Ironman competitions are triathlons comprised of three components: swimming, biking and running. They start out with a 2.4 mile swim, then a 112 mile bike race, followed by a 26.2 mile run. The competitors have 17 hours to finish; statistically men can finish in 8 1/2 hours and women closer to 9 hours. “When the swim begins, 2500 to 3000 people hit the water at the same time!” Jodi says, “I get in front; my coach said ‘People are your friends.’ He wanted me to remember not to stress out, to remember that I would find my own spot. It’s difficult not to feel anxious when people are kicking you as they swim but you can’t panic, you have to let your body go, because the stress will make your legs cramp.” For Jodi, the running is the most difficult part because it’s such a long distance.
Although there is lots of support all along the way, the athlete is physically on their own. Preparations are made days in advance with bags packed and strategically left in transition areas, bikes are checked, racked and locked. After the swim, the competitors go to the transition area where they get out of their wet suits, shower, get into dry clothing, helmets on, get their bikes, a drink and they’re off on their bikes. After the bike ride, it’s transition again and another bag for the running clothes, shoes, food, suntan lotion or whatever is required for that leg. It’s necessary to get into and out of the transition area as quickly as possible; the race is not won in transition. Of the three legs, Jodi says “Swimming is my favorite, biking next, but the race is won in the run.” It is not inexpensive to compete; it costs $600 just to sign up for an Ironman. Then there are the travel expenses for transportation, hotel, meals, bike transportation, clothing and equipment. A bike can cost anywhere from $2,000 to $16,000.
Although Jodi has not participated in a full Ironman since 2011, she did a half last year in Augusta, GA. She says “ It’s a spiritual thing for me, it’s not like any other race. I miss it, I don’t know if I’ll do a full again, but I’ll definitely do a half. I don’t race to finish; I race to win.” Another aspect she enjoyed was the travel; she went to most of the competitions by herself. “Brazil was special for me because that was one of the places where I qualified for Kona. I was so excited to win that I remember chanting as I was coming in, ‘Pain is temporary, Glory is forever.’ When I went to New Zealand, it was a ten day trip, of course it takes about a day to just get there. It was wonderful to get to experience all the different cultures.”
One of Jodi’s current endeavors is her new business, Charles Street Realty which she started in March of this year, “I had to reinvent myself. I was running the office where I worked before with my mother and brother, so I had to learn to sell again. I needed to get out and see what I’m made of – I had always worked with my family. I’m so proud of myself, I’m doing really well. I specialize in working with buyers; I’ve been in this business since 1989, I’m a broker/owner.”
When not working or training, Jodi just likes being at home. “I love being at my house, it overlooks the marsh and feels like I’m in a tree house listening to the birds and thinking of all the yard work that I need to do. I enjoy fishing and catching crab off my dock while getting to know my new family when they visit. I am a step-mother of three, Cameron, Zacharey and Paige. I also have a grandchild, Riley, who brings her own fishing rod to sport her independence. When they are not here, and my husband is still trying to finish up loose ends in Summerville, I work, workout, eat, watch tv and movies. I’m an animal lover. I’ve always had chocolate labs but my husband and I will eventually add a Boykin Spaniel to our family, and we’ll name her Penny Lynn. All my pets have had double names, it’s a Southern tradition since I grew up as Martha Jo.”
Jodi is a poster woman for happy endings. She got married for the first time in June to Lynn Mcpherson; they met on match.com three years ago. “I feel like I’m just starting my life, I have a husband, a company and a new relationship with my dad, Carl Wilbur Joye. I’m building many relationships and it’s an encouraging future for me. Changes are difficult and scary but with a leap of faith, one will succeed. I am going to see for myself what I am made of. Love, business, and personal changes have led me astray. Ironman has been my savior and I want to get back into it. People compete between the ages of 18 and 80 so it’s never too late! I don’t know what old means.”