Team Liza Training for full Ironman

NBC coming to Crested Butte to film

by Than Acuff

With tremendous support from their family, sponsors and the local community, Beth Hodges James and her daughter Eliza James, aka Team Liza, are preparing to compete in their first full Ironman on September 9 in Wisconsin.

To say it has been a long road to this point is an understatement.

Beth Hodges James has always had an interest in endurance endeavors. Following college, Beth started competing in 10-kilometer races, marathons, and triathlons and raced in her first Ironman in 1999 in Florida.

“It’s just been in my blood,” says Beth.

Then, in 2004 she and her daughters were in a horrible car crash and her daughter Liza suffered a severe brain injury that would change her, and her family’s lives forever. Confined to a wheelchair with limited mobility and in need of continuous care, Liza started making a little progress and Beth got an idea.

“When Liza was pulling out of the severe trauma, I thought, I need to get her out of the house and see if that helps her beautiful brain heal,” explains Beth.

Beth reached out to a father/son Ironman team that was in a similar situation, Team Hoyt. Team Hoyt had gained international notice for their Ironman efforts and Beth thought they might have some insight and advice for her. His response was almost immediate about what to use to help get Beth and Liza back into the fresh air and exercise. After their first couple of forays, it became obvious this was just what Liza needed.

“His kindness just touched my heart and I set the goal to test her,” says Beth. “Her peacefulness and happiness was immense and that just inspired me.”

In 2006 they entered their first half marathon in Dallas and since then, things have just taken off for Team Liza.

“It’s just been a snowball from there,” says Beth.

The family also pulled up their roots from Oklahoma and decided to make a move to get back into the mountains. Beth had been to Crested Butte skiing when she was 10 and she and her husband thought, let’s give it a try.

Upon arriving four years ago, things just clicked as the Crested Butte Community School welcomed Liza with open arms and Beth soon learned of the Adaptive Sports Center.

“The people in school and in the special education department just blew me away,” says Beth. “Adaptive has been the icing on the cake. She’s been skiing, rafting, biking, canoeing and she loves it. What they do for Liza is priceless and motivated all of us to get out and do things, and believe.”

Meanwhile, Beth and Liza continued to progress, pushing beyond the boundaries of their expectations and moving from strictly running events to testing the waters, both literally and figuratively, of triathlons.

“After I learned more and more of her happiness, I started to regain my strength and thought, let’s do a triathlon,” says Beth.

They competed in their first triathlon in 2015 at the Challenged Athletes Foundation triathlon in La Jolla, Calif. with Liza pulled in a raft in the water by Beth, pushed in a three-wheeled chair similar to a chariot during the run by Beth, and then pulled in a similar piece of equipment by Beth on a bike.

With that goal reached, the next step was a half Ironman. While even getting into Ironman events can be difficult, space is limited for physically challenged athletes but Team Liza managed to register for a half Ironman in Boulder in June 2016. And then there are the cutoff times, as challenged athletes must meet the cutoff times along each section of the race like everyone else.

“The cutoff times apply to everybody,” says Beth. “If you don’t make them, they’ll stop you.”

In the end Team Liza met every cutoff time, finishing the 70.9-mile-long half Ironman in a time of seven hours, 47 minutes and 22 seconds. And of all three disciplines, Beth says one stands out above the rest for difficulty.

“The bike is absolutely the most difficult,” says Beth. “The bike attachment is 21 pounds and she weighs 105 pounds.”

Nevertheless, the energy from Liza during and after the race helps keep Beth moving.

“That little angel enjoyed every minute of it,” says Beth.

Along the way, team Liza has gained the attention of companies to help them in their efforts, with triathlon gear company De Soto helping in one area and Vespa Power nutrition and a ketogenic diet helping to keep them healthy and fueled for training and competing.

Then, in August 2017 Team Liza set a new bar for themselves and has thus gained national attention. Team Liza competed and finished the Redman half Ironman in Oklahoma City and Beth decided it was time to start looking at a full Ironman with a total of more than 140 miles of swimming, biking and running.

“She can’t speak but she can absolutely express herself and she was perky and alert and that just told us she was saying, ‘I’m ready,’” says Beth.

An article in a local newspaper about Team Liza was picked up by NBC and next thing Beth knew, she was contacted by the office of Lester Holt, news anchor for NBC Nightly News and Dateline NBC.

“Somehow her name has spread and I was very surprised,” says Beth.

Team Liza is now on deck to compete in the Ironman Wisconsin on September 9. NBC will cover the event, and is sending a film crew to Crested Butte this summer to catch Team Liza as they prepare for their next milestone.

In the end, Beth has two big motivating factors for Team Liza in their first full Ironman. First and foremost is Liza, but also, inspiration for others.

“Her happiness is why I am so motivated to keep going,” says Beth. “Our key goal is to not only finish, but motivate other families with a challenged athlete to go out.”

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