As we approach this year’s IRONMAN® on Saturday, October 13th, I can’t help but reflect on the incredible experience capturing Heather Jackson’s journey to Kona last year.

To the traditional athletic world, Heather may not seem like she fits the mold for a major brand sponsorship: the tattoos, dyed hair, the flashy performance gear. However, Heather defies the conventional stigmatism that sports performance athletes have in the modern world – especially while championing a relatively unknown sport. And with numerous accolades under her belt (she has placed third, fourth and fifth place in recent IRONMAN® competitions), she is a force to be reckoned with.

The #HJRoadToKona project followed Heather throughout her 2017 triathlete season. The mini-documentary series was a rare, behind the scenes look at the sweet, motivated, funny and serious sides of an athlete leading up to the big event. We also got to see first hand how Heather integrates Herbalife Nutrition into herlifestyle and training.

After documenting Heather’s 2017 race circuit around the Americas, the “Road to Kona” project culminated in that final week leading up to the race. Our sponsorship, social, digital video and photo teams arrived on the Big Island of Hawaii, not quite knowing what to expect. Who could know what the endurance sports’ world stage could compare to? The Superbowl? The Final Four?

“Right before the gun goes off is possibly the most petrifying time of the entire day,”Heather shared with us in a pre-race interview. We captured Heather during the most intense training of her season: countless laps in the community pool and ocean, multiple mile runs through searing hot lava fields and non-stop biking circuits around the race-day course. She was dialed in, fitness at it’s peak and ready to perform on the world’s stage.

After a week of additional Instagram photo shoots, “the best poké bowl” debates and token ‘b-roll’ trips around the island, the Kona IRONMAN® hype surpassed our expectations. In the end, Heather Jackson took fourth in the world, improving her overall time by 9 1/2 minutes. In a race that takes anywhere from 8 hours for professionals to DNF (Did Not Finish) for normal age-groupers, that’s an impressive amount of time to shave-off. I personally may never compete in a triathlon but documenting #HJRoadToKona was something that will stick with me throughout my career.

Our team said “Aloha” to the Big Island at the end of that extraordinary week, but the amazing journey that led Heather Jackson to Kona lives on via the hashtag #HJRoadToKona. To watch the series, click here.

Nick McCormack specializes in digital and social media sponsorship activation for Herbalife Nutrition.