By Chris Little
Former Northwestern State athlete Linzie Hebert stood at the edge of the water with 70 other triathlon competitors about to embark on a swim, bike and running journey that she compares to a scene out of the ‘Hunger Games.”
The diminutive Hebert stood among intimidating competitors, saying the athletes moved up with intensity and without flaw in their form, looking very fit, and standing over her like towers.
She said a moment of peace came over her as she thought about her kids, especially her son Owen, who was celebrating his seventh birthday back in Louisiana and who she told before leaving, “This is for you.”
The momentary solitude gave way to a surge of energy, one that Hebert rode to an eighth-place finish in the sprint distance for the 35-39 female age group at the of the 2018 International Triathlon Union World Grand Final Gold Coast in Brisbane, Australia in mid-September.
“All I could hear was my own breath as I focused my eyes straight on the buoy in the final moments before the gun,” said Hebert. “As it went off, I bolted into the water, forcing a path for myself. As I made the turn, I realized I was in the lead.”
The former Linzie Ledford was a member of the NSU track and cross country teams from 2002-05 and is now a mother of four and still going strong at age 35.
The USA age group national team is chosen each year based on the results of the national championships to compete the following year in the sprint and Olympic distance events alongside the professional team at the World Grand Final.
The event included 5,000 athletes from 46 countries. Hebert completed the swim, bike, and running portions against 70 other qualifiers as the second American to finish.
After exiting the water, Hebert encountered a bit of trouble in the bicycle portion of the race but overcame it by forming a temporary alliance with a pair of other competitors. She began the ride solo before noticing a couple of strong bikers, and the trio decided to team up to keep each other at a good pace. The strategy worked for a while until one of her new alliances took a wrong turn.
“On our final stretch home my friend, Denton, missed her turn and headed straight for the roundabout and some cones,” said Hebert. “I fell right in behind her, unclipping in time to get my foot to the ground without hitting the pavement. I was the last to straighten out back onto the course and get clipped in. In that time, an entire 20-pack of women flew by me. When I finally reached Denton, I saw she had been unable to catch the swarm that had gone by us in the mishap and was working alone. I yelled from behind, ‘I’m back! Let’s go!’ ”
“It was humbling and inspiring,” she said. “The World Championship was the greatest experience of my athletic career. Nothing compares to the quality of competition and camaraderie across all nations that happens at this event. The atmosphere would give any endurance athlete goose bumps.”
Eventually powering through the ride, she knew she could make up significant ground in the running portion. Maintaining a 6:30 mile pace, she passed a slew of competitors on her way to eighth place, only two minutes outside a bronze medal finish.
Though a lot of training has been put in since her days in purple and white, the most recent preparation for the prestigious event in Australia began 395 days prior. After winning the national championship at the 2017 United States Nationals in her age group, a chance encounter with an Australian former ironman champion, Rebekah Keat, led Hebert to a new coach and a new challenge.
Bek, as the Aussie prefers to be called, mentioned that she was from Gold Coast, Queensland, where the 2018 world triathlon championships were to be held. Quickly, a partnership was formed.
Hebert’s training hours are usually a little less than her competitors. She prefers quality over quantity because she said family is her greatest priority, and she likes to spend as much time with them as she can.
“I usually put in 10-12 hours a week of training, mostly early morning hours before work and school for the kids,” said Hebert, who is married to former Demon football player Jeremy Hebert.
Though Linzie is the one bringing home all the honors, she has a fantastic supporting cast in her family. Jeremy, a financial advisor in Ruston who is originally from New Orleans, was a defensive lineman for the Demons from 1999-2002. The pair met at an NSU Fellowship of Christian Athletes event.
“Jeremy is the best supporter, training partner, part-time coach, bike mechanic, and travel planner in the world. The truth is, I have an incredible equal partner in my husband who goes above and beyond in every area in his life,” said Hebert.
Also supporting her in any way they can are Linzie’s parents and her four children: Hallie (10), Owen (7), Abram (5), and Amélie (3). It’s a hectic lifestyle but they make it work.
“We do have to live by a disciplined schedule to get it all in. I prefer the kids to come and experience the races and venues with me as often as possible,” said Hebert. “They even went to triathlon camp with me this year. The older two also did their first triathlon this summer.
“We are an active family, and it’s what we enjoy doing together. A family that trains together stays sane together. I absolutely could not do any of this without the support of these people. I thank the Lord for them!” she said.
The Gold Coast Finals will figuratively be just the beginning for Hebert. A month before competing in Australia, she finished fourth at the 2018 U.S. Nationals, again qualifying for the 2019 World Final in Lasaunne, Switzerland. Next time around, she will be running the standard distance instead of the sprint distance as it offers an opportunity to earn a professional triathlon license.
“Racing is not about the ‘feel goods,’ (because) 99 percent of my races take me to the brink of giving in because of the ‘feel bads,’ ” said Hebert. “Racing is putting your feet as close to the fire for as long as you can before having to pull them away.
“Maturity and adequate training in the sport teaches you how to take the heat longer and longer eventually leading to your very best self in every arena you stand. How you feel is irrelevant. How you endure is everything.”
The discipline of training and the challenges of competition have beneficial byproducts.
“I pray what I learn along the way can be shared as valuable tools to teach others, especially my children, about hard work, and that it’s okay to be a wife, mom, professional, and an athlete,” she said. “No one gets to tell you what can be done. In Christ all things are possible.”