Setauket resident qualifies for Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii

Setauket resident qualifies for Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii

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Leah Jantzen in a previous race. Photo from Leah Jantzen

While many Three Village residents will be reading The Village Times Herald soon after it hits newsstands on Oct. 6, one familiar face in the area will be in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, competing in the Ironman World Championship.

Elite endurance athlete Leah Jantzen, left, with her husband, Michael, right, and children Phoebe, 19, Luke, 14, Audrey, 10, and Charlie, 12. Photo from Leah Jantzen

Elite endurance athlete Leah Jantzen has qualified for this year’s competition. The Ironman Triathlon includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon. To qualify for the event, triathletes must be in the top 2% in the world. Jantzen has competed in two triathlons before, but the competition in Hawaii is the longest.

In a phone interview, Jantzen said she is excited about qualifying and competing in Hawaii, where husband Michael has joined her to cheer her on.

Jantzen is a guidance counselor at Ward Melville High School and a 1991 graduate. The mother of four children, ranging in age from 10 to 19, was the Ward Melville girls volleyball team coach, but she put coaching on hold so she could train more rigorously.

A typical weekend for the Three Village elite athlete has included 6-hour bike rides on Saturdays and 20-mile runs the next day. During the week, she is engaged in one or two of the three triathlon activities every day.

“I’m that lady who is running and biking all over town,” she said, adding she swims at West Meadow Beach.

Jantzen balances her training schedule with caring for her family and working by setting goals and establishing boundaries.

“I’m really good with boundaries for myself,” she said. “I take care of myself as best as I can. I don’t do a lot of shopping. I don’t do a lot of decorating. I don’t drink a lot of wine. I don’t go out with the girls.”

The guidance counselor and coach said she follows the same self-care advice she gives her student-athletes regarding staying in top form. She said getting a good night’s sleep, eating healthy, especially before a competition, and surrounding yourself with good people is key.

Jantzen has her own private performance coaching business and is a motivational speaker; however, like coaching, has had to put these pursuits aside to train. Recently though, she became involved with The Hidden Opponent, a nonprofit organization. She is raising funds for the nonprofit and is a mentor for its campus captain program. Jantzen said she believes in its cause of raising awareness of mental health for student-athletes and addressing the stigma within the sports culture where many teens are hesitant to ask for help.

“There are times when you’re OK and there are times when you’re not OK,” she said, “I want to try to empower our athletes on the high school level to be equipped to handle this. The kids that are struggling, I want to be one of those resources for these kids.”

In her role as coach and counselor, she tries to ensure student-athletes know the importance of mental wellness when they come to her to discuss issues. She said young athletes go through issues such as suffering an injury in their senior year when colleges may be scouting games, while others may want to quit a team but feel they will let down their families or friends.

“Adults don’t get it sometimes that they are really wrapped up in it, and it’s normal for a 17-year-old to see themselves as this athlete,” she said. “That’s their identity and that just gets sort of taken away from them without any notice, and they don’t know how to cope with it.”

Among the Three Village residents who know Jantzen and are excited about her entering the triathlon are Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) and Billy Williams, father of four children who through the years have had Jantzen as a coach or guidance counselor. His youngest child Bailee has been on varsity volleyball for the past three years and has been coached by Jantzen in the past. He described the coach and guidance counselor as a positive role model for the students.

“Everything she does is at the highest quality,” he said, adding that she is a hard worker and organized. “It’s like knowing a professional athlete or rock star, someone who is at the pinnacle of their sport.” 

Hahn, who is also a Ward Melville graduate, grew up with Jantzen. She described her as strong, determined and an inspiration. 

“She’s doing it, and she’s just inspiring to everybody because you see her, you see her on the streets when you’re driving,” Hahn said. “She’s so dedicated and an incredible athlete and incredibly dedicated individual. It’s a huge commitment.”

As Jantzen prepared for the big race, she followed mental health advice she shares with students when it comes to dealing with pressure, which includes setting goals and practicing visualization. While athletes can get lost in anxiety, Jantzen suggests embracing the excitement.

“Excitement and nervousness are the same thing,” she said. “Like butterflies in your stomach, that means you’re nervous. That means you care about what you’re doing, and it also means you’re excited. It’s OK to try and change it a little bit to be more excited — and less about it being nerve-racking and anxiety producing.”