Three years after a DNF, a virtual race provides redemption

Rhianna Bazylewski had just seven kilometres left to run in her first Half IronMan when a golf cart drove up behind her and a volunteer told her to get in. Bazylewski hadn’t reached the last checkpoint in time and so wasn’t permitted to finish the race.

At first, Bazylewski was relieved. She was hot and tired and ready to be done. But after being dropped off at the start line and hearing stories from her Transition Sport & Fitness teammates, she felt crushed that she hadn’t been able to finish.

“I just felt like a failure,” Bazylewski recalls about that 2017 race. “I just wanted to finish with everyone else.”

Bazylewski, now 30, had never been very active growing up and didn’t start exercising regularly until she was in her mid-20s. That’s when her mom joined the Just Tri It group hosted by the Saskatoon Triathlon Club and encouraged her daughter to sign up too.

“I was like ‘Mom, I can’t do any of these sports,’ ” Bazylewski says. “But it was great.”

After being involved with Just Tri It for a year, Bazylewski fell in love with triathlon and joined Transition Sport & Fitness in 2016. Some of her new teammates were preparing for the Great White North Half IronMan in Stony Plain, Alta. and Bazylewski decided it would be a fun goal to gear up for as well. At the time, the longest triathlon she had done was a sprint distance and the farthest she had run was 10 kilometres.

Rhianna Bazylewski, right, is comforted by a teammate in 2017 after being pulled off the course in her first Half IronMan.

Bazylewski spent months training for the race and ran, biked and swam farther than she ever had before. Yet as soon as she lined up to start her race, she felt “naive.” The 1.9-kilometre swim was chaotic and she struggled to breathe with so many people splashing beside her. The 90-kilometre bike ride was miserable. By the time she started the run, all she wanted was to finish — but under her own steam.

Not being able to do so haunted Bazylewski long after the race.

“I kept having visions of not finishing and it was quite emotional for about a year,” Bazylewski says.

The following year, Bazylewski finished her first Olympic distance triathlon and began thinking about tackling the Half IronMan distance again. She registered to do a Half IronMan in Calgary last summer, but ultimately dropped out because of course changes there and her reluctance to travel amidst the pandemic.

Though the race was no longer on her calendar, Bazylewski kept training and remained determined to tackle the Half IronMan distance. So, on a beautiful day at the end of June 2020, Bazylewski dove into Pike Lake to begin her virtual Half IronMan.

Rhianna Bazylewski bikes in a virtual Half IronMan near Pike Lake in June 2020.

Family members and teammates from Transition Sport & Fitness joined her for parts of the race and provided physically distanced support.

“I just finished it on my own and it was so relaxing. I didn’t have anyone yelling time limits at me. I just got to do my own race and it was great,” Bazylewski says.

After thinking about her unfinished 2017 Half IronMan for three years, Bazylewski says the feeling of running through a finish line her parents had fashioned out of streamers was “amazing.” Her only regret was that, because of COVID-19 restrictions, she wasn’t able to hug everyone who had come out to support her.

These days, Bazylewski is part of Brainsport’s virtual running clinic and is looking forward to running a half marathon in the virtual Saskatchewan Marathon this spring. She hopes her story of chasing lofty goals — even after a setback — can inspire others.

“What I’ve realized through all of this is you don’t have to be this super elite athlete,” she says. “You can start from any point and you can just work up to your goal and you can do anything.”

Do you know someone in Saskatchewan with an inspiring running story? Email Brainsport Times editor Andrea Hill at