It was about 15 years ago, at the age of 41, when Diane Sardes started running.
Prior to that, her main fitness activity had been walking.
But she joined the local running group Checkers and started to really enjoy the sport.
Then her husband, Tony Garrow, picked up triathlons. So she gave that a shot.
Two completed Ironman competitions later, Sardes finds herself in Hawaii in the mother of all triathlon events -- the Ford Ironman World Championships in Kona.
"I know I can handle it but the racing part has not sunk in yet," Sardes said last week before leaving for Hawaii. "Maybe once we land it will. I'm just hoping to have everything in reserve and that everything starts working when it needs to."
Sardes will get to work at 4:45 a.m. Hawaii time today when race check-in officially begins. The professional triathletes begin first, followed by age group competitors in wave starts beginning at 7 a.m.
The 56-year-old North Tonawanda resident came by this coveted Kona spot at the Ironman Louisville race. Her time of 15 hours, six minutes and 31 seconds placed her third in the 55-59 age group. The top two finishers declined the spot to Kona, giving Sardes the opportunity of a lifetime.
"I wish I could have run better," Sardes said of her six-hour marathon at Louisville. "I got off the bike half an hour better than my last [Ironman] bike and I was thrilled. . . . But on the run I could not believe how hot it was. It was dangerously hot. I almost came to a dead stop and started walking. I looked around and said I've got to get through this. I have to eat and drink. So I walked and I ran."
Her determination to complete the Louisville Ironman isn't a surprise. Sardes is a tough competitor, both mentally and physically. She credits her athletic development to her time at Checkers and relies heavily on the friendships she's made with the Bond Lake Athletic Club and the Buffalo Triathlon Club.
Through it all, she's been very aware of the strength that fitness and competition gave her and how it can help transform the lives of women.
"I have always thought it was important for each female to be responsible for how they turn out in life," Sardes said. "We cannot depend on our families to give us the ability we need to reach our potential. It's important, no matter what age, to search out your passion.
"Try to have supportive people around you as you live your life -- but when it comes down to it, it's up to you to do what it takes to get through this very tough life. Being fit helps an awful lot.
"I try and help other women by having them see what I can do. I am just like all of them. I know if they see me reach out then they will too. I hope what I do fulfills them because they might try harder. I want females to be strong and healthy."
Among the supportive people in her life, none is more important than her husband, Garrow. About two years ago, Garrow was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells. A month after completing his last chemotherapy treatment in June 2007, he ran his first 5K.
This summer, the 52-year-old returned to triathlon, completing the Wisconsin Ironman last month in 12:52:15.
"Had he not being doing this, I doubt if I would ever think about doing a triathlon," Sardes said. "Just watching him over the last few years -- it's been inspiring. He inspires me in every way in my life. It's just his attitude, his humor. He's just a very easy-going guy and there's not a lot that bothers him.
"He chills me out because I'm more intense than he is. Just after seeing him go through all his treatments and taking in each one. It's so hard to describe. He just loves life and I can't say enough about him."
While the Ironman championships aren't scheduled to be shown on TV by NBC until Dec. 13, family, fans can watch live video and check on an individual's progress at Ironman.com.