“Jackie Erb – you are an Ironman! Jackie out of Nebraska.”

It was a long time in the making in order to hear those words announced. But all the hours of swimming, biking and running made it worth it in the end.

Gothenburg’s Jackie Erb completed her first full distance Ironman triathlon on May 23 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a race that consisted of a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run. Around 2,000 people participated in the event and those that finished within the 17-hour time limit were named an Ironman.

With so many events being canceled over the past year due to Covid, the racing community finally feels like wheels are rolling again. Erb said that the energy and excitement was elevated with participants and spectators happy to be out on the course and being allowed to race again.

“Four different races were canceled on me last year, so getting to the starting line really gave me a sense of normalcy and comfort being around others again,” she said.

Erb didn’t originally set out on a journey to become an Ironman.

She became interested in the triathlon sport when she saw an old college friend that had done them.

“That was back in 2016 and I had to Google it to figure out what order the event was raced in. I knew very little about the sport or what it consisted of,” she said. “For some reason it piqued my interest so I started reading about it and thought it was something I wanted to try.”

There are many different distances and varieties of triathlons that can take place, but the most common are the Sprint Triathlon, the Olympic Triathlon, the Half Ironman 70.3, and the Full Ironman 140.6.

The events go in the order of a swim-bike-run.

When she discovered triathlons, Erb was enjoying the half marathon running distances and decided to register for the Boulder 70.3 Half Ironman, which included a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike and a 13.1 mile run.

However, knowing very little about the sport and how to mix the training schedules and be most effective, she hired a coach through the Ironman U Coaching website.

In January 2017, Erb began her first month of triathlon training. She had a full schedule lined up for herself including Sprint Tri, an Olympic Tri and then the Boulder 70.3 Half Ironman.

She said it was that January that she realized she didn’t know how to freestyle swim.

“I will never forget my first swim at the North Platte Rec Center. I thought the high school lifeguard was going to come and ask me to get out of the lane,” Erb said with a laugh.

That overwhelming and deflated feeling was quickly put to bed because of her determination to compete, and since she had already paid the registration fee, she wasn’t going to back out.

“Sometimes you just need a goal that you don’t want to give up on,” she said.

And she didn’t. Erb completed all of her races that year.

After a year away from the sport, she decided that 2020 was when she'd get back into the game. The frustration became more and more palpable as she watched event after event get canceled.

So she took matters into her own hands and raced a homemade Olympic Triathlon in and around Gothenburg. But she didn’t stop there. She also created her own Half Ironman course around town and completed it, as well.

In speaking with her coach one day, she asked about her thoughts on Erb competing in a full Triathlon.

“She said yes, let’s do it,” Erb said. “So Tulsa it was.”

Erb met her coach online in 2016, and after five years of communicating via messages, she met her in person at Ironman Tulsa.

As a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist at Gothenburg Health, she and her husband Sam have two young children.

Sam is often gone for military training so finding the time for her to get the training in is difficult but is so worth it.

“You have to be mindful with your schedule and plan your workouts into the day,” she said. “Endurance training takes a lot of time and effort, but I give props to anyone out their putting in their own time to take care of themselves and be healthy - no matter what that looks like.”

The message Erb has for anyone who is wanting to tackle any challenge: Never give up.

“Don’t get overwhelmed by comparing yourself to someone else,” she said. “Just take a good assessment of where you are and ask where you can challenge yourself and set your own goals. Then find someone who will hold you accountable and support you in that.”

In thinking about the past weekend, Erb said she feels good after completing the 140.6-mile course and more than anything, she feels a lot of accomplishment.

“There is so much pride in attaining something that you set out for.”

Contact Rebecca Steward at rebecca@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.537.9498