Edita Lefkovic, Jeff Fejfar and Kennet Lefkovic after Lefkovic and Fejfar finished Ironman Florida in Panama City Beach on Nov. 4. Courtesy photo
Palm Coast Observer
Two Palm Coast residents became Ironmen last weekend.
Jeremiah Marschka, 41, a Matanzas High School teacher and wrestling coach, finished the 140.6-mile Ironman Florida triathlon on Saturday, Nov. 4, in Panama City Beach in 14 hours, 29 minutes and 13 seconds.
Kennet Lefkovic, 29, a former Matanzas swimmer who has Autism Spectrum Disorder and lacks expressive language, participated in the same race and set a world record Ironman time for athletes with an intellectual disability without a physical impairment.
They both completed half Ironmman races in the past few months. This was the first full Ironman for each of them.
With his guide swimming, riding and running alongside him, Lefkovic finished the race in 11 hours, 46 minutes and 56 seconds.
“It was absolutely amazing,” said Jeff Fejfar, a pilot for FedEx, who was Kennet's guide in a triathlon for the fourth time. “For any athlete that has ever done an Ironman, to have their first Ironman race to go as smooth as his was, was amazing.”
Fejfar, of Ponte Vedra Beach, has competed in 157 triathlons and 14 Ironmans with a best time of about 9 and a half hours. But he said none of his solo efforts matched the joy he felt racing with Kennet.
This is as much or more rewarding than any finish line I’ve crossed by myself.” — JEFF FEJFAR, Kennet Lefkovic's guide
“He’s a wonderful young man,” Fejfar said. “I’ve loved the sport for a long time, and it’s pretty incredible to be able to give back to the sport. This is as much or more rewarding than any finish line I’ve crossed by myself.”
Fejfar reached out to the Special Olympics Florida last year to become a guide after watching the athletes compete in a sprint triathlon in Clermont.
“I had followed Chris Nikic’s journey (in becoming the first athlete with Down Syndrome to complete an Ironman). But, oh my gosh, between the athletes and their unified partners, there were so many of these athletes. I said, 'How can I get involved with this next year?'”
The Chris Nikic 1% Better Foundation sponsored Kennet and Jonathan Sady, who is also autistic, in Ironman Florida. Nik Nikic, Chris’ father, runs the foundation.
“My son got a lot publicity for his success,” Nik said. “People were donating a lot of money, so we started the foundation. We were blessed. We want to help as many kids like my son and their parents get more involved in the community — more inclusion, independence and help them with full employment on top of that.”
Fejfar said Kennet’s splits on the two loops around the pier in the swim were within six seconds of each other. On their bikes, Fejfar gave Kennet cues on when to shift. On the marathon run, Fejfar said Kennet went a little quick on the first mile before settling into his pace.
“We walked through the aid stations. The pacing on average was almost spot on until the last mile and a half. With his intuition, he started picking up the pace,” Fejfar said. “Giving him some direction, it’s not always readily apparent that he’s understanding. He usually is, he just can’t give it back to you.”
Nik Nikic said he will sponsor Kennet at the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, next year. Fejfar plans to be there to guide him.
MARSCHKA THIRD AMONG FRIENDS
Marschka said the day seemed like a lifetime with a never-ending swim, followed by a never-ending bike ride and a never-ending run. He competed with five friends, including fellow Flagler Palm Coast High School graduate Blake Wall, who now lives in North Carolina.
Marschka had the third best time among the six friends.
“I beat one guy in my group (Patrick Delaney) by a minute and 10 seconds,” Marschka said. “He was a little upset about that. I said, ‘You should have pushed harder.’ But he caught some knee issues on the bike.”
Wall also had issues on the bike, Marschka said.
“He was killing it, but at about mile 90 (of the 112-mile bike ride) cramps took over, and he had to stop. He lost about 40 minutes. He was far ahead of me (at that point).”
Wall finished in 16:09:15.
Marschka said the 2.4-mile swim went great. That was by far his weakest event when he began training eight months ago, but he was able to get into a rhythm quickly. The first 40 miles of his bike ride went well, he said, then he got hit by a headwind, which slowed him down on his heavier bike more than some others.
“That turnaround was heaven-sent, getting that tailwind,” he said.
Marschka was driving home Monday afternoon and said he felt great other than some swelling in his ankle and knee.
“The bottoms of my feet blistered up. They felt like they were shredded, but they weren’t,” he said. “It was a successful trip. I have no regrets. I projected a little faster times, but that’s the nature of the beast. We had so many people out there with us. The support was insane. It was a monster of a day. I had a blast.”
Marschka used his Ironman Challenge to raise money for the Flagler County Drug Court Foundation. Although he may not ever run an Ironman again, he said he would like to do an annual challenge, running an Olympic triathlon or maybe another half Ironman to raise money for the foundation.
“Maybe get five, 10 people to do it and make the foundation the cause,” he said, “so one weekend a year they won’t have to lift a finger.”