LaToscia James’ Faith In Herself Took Her From Beginner to IRONMAN
By Stephanie Hardi
LaToscia James has a magnetic personality – she’ll charm you with a contagious laugh and sparkling eyes that light up when she tells you about her athletic journey. A former IRONMAN competitor, LaToscia recently signed up for the (Link ⇒) Rib Mountain Adventure Challenge-Winter Edition (RMAC) because she has her eye on the world of adventure racing.
If you see it, you can be it:
“My friend, Clifton Lyle, assembled Team Onyx, the first (Link ⇒) All-Black team that competed in the (Link ⇒) 2020 Eco-Challenge Fiji,” explained LaToscia. “Clifton is trying to increase interest among African Americans in the sport of adventure racing. After seeing Team Onyx compete in the 2020 Eco-Challenge, I thought: I want to be a part of that.”
Humble athletic beginnings:
Adventure racing is new to LaToscia, but she’s not afraid of a challenge. In 2016, LaToscia completed IRONMAN Wisconsin. What’s remarkable is that, before beginning training for IRONMAN, LaToscia hadn’t done much distance running or biking, and needed to learn how to swim. LaToscia’s IRONMAN story embodies the IRONBULL Find Your Tough mentality. Her belief in herself gave her the perseverance needed to reach her big goals.
“I started competing in half marathons and then did a duathlon and a triathlon, LaToscia said. “The swimming was the toughest. My neighbor taught me how to swim in a baby pool during my training. I was one of the very last people to get out of the pool. But I was stoked to have finished the swim in that Tri!” That race gave LaToscia the confidence to sign up for a half IRONMAN in Racine, WI. “I learned what a fascinating machine the body could be with proper training. Every week, I wondered how I would make it, but each week I was able to complete the training distances.”
The swim was still a challenge for LaToscia; and she would need to swim in open water for the half IRONMAN. She did a few practices runs with her neighbor in Lake Michigan, and it didn’t go very smoothly. “But on race day, God smiled on me,” LaToscia said. “The water was smooth as glass, and the big red buoys made me feel safe, and made it easy to sight the course.” When she finished the half IRONMAN LaToscia vowed not to compete in a full IRONMAN. “My daughters walked with me at the end and I said, ‘This is it; I’m done. A full IRONMAN is too extreme.’”
But LaToscia’s natural ambition pulled at her heart.
“I didn’t want any caveats,” she said. “If I didn’t complete the full, I would only be able to say I did a half IRONMAN. I wanted to hear the announcer say: ‘LATOSCIA JAMES, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.’”
Three days later, LaToscia signed up for the full 2016 IRONMAN in Madison, WI, and started thinking through her obstacles and training plan. “I had no desire to run a marathon,” she said, “but that was the distance for the full. I still think 26.2 miles is too far. I run out of thoughts at that distance!”
LaToscia was also concerned about finishing the 2.4-mile open water swim, and Madison’s bike route was supposed to be one of the toughest. LaToscia trained for nine months for the race. “The best part of those nine months was the amazing support I received from my family, friends and coworkers,” LaToscia said. When race day was finally here, LaToscia still couldn’t comprehend putting all three events together.
Celebrating each part of the puzzle:
“I’ll never forget race day,” she said. “One of the best pieces of advice I received was to celebrate the completion of each event. That helped me compartmentalize so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed. When I got to the run I thought, Great job on finishing the bike. It took longer than I wanted but that’s okay. Now for the run…not sure how this is going to happen, but we’ll just keep moving.’
And she did it. LaToscia completed each event, celebrating along the way, and then heard the sweet words of the announcer proclaiming her an IRONMAN. “I felt like a conqueror crossing that finish line,” she said. “I did something I didn’t even know was possible a few months before.”
As she had experienced during training, LaToscia’s support system was a crucial part of her victory. Her husband, teenaged daughters, and coworkers cheered her through the finish. “My oldest daughter couldn’t wait to tell her friends what I had done,” said LaToscia. “And my younger daughter was relieved that I managed to stay alive. My husband was proud of me – simply put.”
LaToscia also received incredible support from her coworkers at the time. Both her current and former managers were there to support her during the race, one capturing her epic finish via video, and her manager at the time, Anne Marie, did everything from training with LaToscia to letting LaToscia stay at her house to checking in LaToscia’s bags.
“Anne Marie was my rock and basically my Sherpa,” LaToscia said. “She kept me company during the last three miles of the run and, at the beginning of the race, she yelled out ‘You got this, I love you!’ I immediately broke into tears and ran back to hug her. Then I had to empty my goggles because I couldn’t start with tears in them!”
In the crosshairs: Diversity in adventure racing:
Now, four years later, LaToscia’s drive has kicked back in: Team Onyx’s mission to increase diversity in adventure racing has continued to inspire LaToscia. She hopes to someday compete with them. The RMAC-Winter edition is a good first step for LaToscia to gain adventure racing experience.
“At each race, I’m one of only a handful of black women participating in outdoor endurance sports,” she said. “I was so proud to see Team Onyx compete in the Eco-Challenge. It showed me that I can do this. And I hope that, once more African Americans see adventure racing and endurance sports as an athletic outlet, they will get out there as well.”