Editor’s note: In October, Rachel Joyce finished second at the Ironman World Championships, crossing the line in 8:57:28.
Start listing the super-elite female Ironman athletes in the world. Names like Leanda Cave, Mirinda Carfrae and Caroline Steffen may come to mind. We even surveyed Inside Triathlon readers and asked them to name their favorite pro. Twenty-two women appeared on the list; Rachel Joyce wasn’t one of them. But ask the elite female Ironman pros to create a list of the top Ironwomen, and the name Rachel Joyce will keep coming up. She has earned the respect of those who truly know the difference between good and great, but widespread recognition has eluded Joyce largely because of a long series of misfortunes that have prevented the Brit from displaying her true mettle — most notably prior to the 2012 Ironman World Championship when tonsillitis decimated her pre-race fitness and nearly derailed her ability to reach the start line altogether (rather, she rallied back against her failing body, not only starting the sport’s toughest race but finishing 11th). Still, 35-year-old Joyce boasts a fierce race résumé, with a steady progression toward the Kona podium (as high as fourth in 2011), emphatic victories at Challenge Roth (2012), ITU Long Course World Championship (2011), and Ironman Lanzarote (2011), and more recently a course record-setting Ironman Texas win (2013), where she clocked her third sub-nine-hour iron-distance finish. Indeed, Joyce has proven that, though diminutive and somewhat soft-spoken, her fortitude — both mental and physical — is undeniable.
To delve into the difficulties that have plagued Joyce — and the tactics she’s used to prevail — as well as learn what’s beneath her proper British exterior, we looked through the eyes of her family, friends, boyfriend, coach and fellow athletes — and Rachel herself. What they revealed was a person who is far more than a one-dimensional race machine, yet ready to burst through to the highest ranks of the sport — if the opportunity presents itself.