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Doubly dedicated: Nurse wins IRONMAN World Championship

Warfel is shown running alongside the ocean in Hawai’i during the IRONMAN race.
Warfel, pictured here, during her IRONMAN race in Kona, Hawai’i in October 2023.

On a typical day, Ava Warfel, RN, wakes up around 3 a.m. The nurse supervisor at the new Penn Medicine HealthWorks Alvernia University practice in Reading, PA, doesn’t have to be at work until much later in the morning. But she gets up early to train for three to six hours—and all of that effort just paid off. 

Warfel, a Lancaster County native, recently won her age group (age 18-24) at the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. The IRONMAN is the world’s toughest triathlon: a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run. 

If that wasn’t impressive enough, Warfel does all this while managing a chronic health condition, Type 1 diabetes. She works with young adults, and previously worked as an Endocrinology nurse, based on her experience receiving the diagnosis as a freshman in college, when she was also training to become a paramedic.

Finding passion and purpose 

“I had a really rocky dive into the world of diabetes,” Warfel said. “I found out I had diabetes when I was going through paramedic school and training EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians) on how to check blood sugar. I was used as a test patient for educational purposes, but every time they checked my numbers, they were unusually high.”

“Not only was I learning to live with the disease—I was also trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my education and career. My experience, and the experiences of my peers, made me realize there are a lot of young adults struggling with their diabetes.”

Although balancing life and her new diagnosis seemed challenging, Warfel says it inspired her to pursue a career in health care. After receiving a degree in biology, she decided she wanted to go to medical school. 

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

“I had these plans and then COVID happened—so I decided I would just graduate and then determine my next step,” said Warfel. 

After starting her career path as a paramedic, Warfel realized that her true passion was treating adolescents and patients with diabetes. She began working at Lancaster General Health in a customer service specialist role while going to nursing school at Wilkes University. Upon graduation, she transitioned into the RN role and ultimately the nurse supervisor at LG Health’s Diabetes & Endocrinology. 

“I felt like it was my dream and I couldn’t imagine myself doing anything else,” continued Warfel.

Her experience with diabetes gives her a personal connection to her patients. She explains that striving for their best, and not perfection, is important when learning how to manage their diabetes. 

“Care providers often tell patients what to do better to manage the disease, but oftentimes patients aren’t doing anything wrong, things just happen. So many things affect your blood sugar—for example, adrenaline, caffeine and hormones,” she said. “I believe that you don’t have to be perfect at managing your diabetes for it to be good work.” 

Working in health care allows employees to learn life lessons in overcoming challenges from patients and colleagues. For Warfel, she is specifically thankful to her LG Health team members for supporting both her health care journey and her athletic journey.

Team members support each other

Warfel, smiling, accepts her winning trophy on stage at the IRONMAN ceremony.
Warfel, pictured here, during her IRONMAN race in Kona, Hawai’i in October 2023.

The Penn Medicine HealthWorks Alvernia University practice supported Warfel before, during and after her recent IRONMAN race, both mentally and emotionally, and also logistically with some flexibility in her schedule a few days a week to provide the time needed to train before work. 

“I am happy with my race performance, although I am always looking for ways to push myself,” she said. “I never want to be complacent, so while I am proud of the result, I am constantly in pursuit of self-betterment.”

Warfel also shared that sometimes it is the little things that your coworkers do for you that make you feel truly supported. 

“I love diet root beerand my team knows it. I came back from the race and there were 100 bottles of diet root beer on my desk,” Warfel said. “I also had coworkers sending words of encouragement via text before and after the race which kept me going when I needed it most.”

Warfel is grateful for full support from colleagues, specifically Lynn Middleton, clinical manager at Penn Medicine HealthWorks Alvernia University practice, and Vanessa Felty, director of Performance Improvement at LG Health, who both worked with her in the Diabetes and Endocrinology Department, helping her develop professionally and personally by encouraging her to pursue her multiple passions. 

“I am so proud of Ava,” said Middleton. “She truly cares about her patients, and I know the sky is the limit for Ava.”

The LG Health team members follow an unspoken motto that they will always support each other’s big and small accomplishments: 

“Each of our 'IRONMANs’ are something different. We all celebrate each other’s accomplishments and that’s what makes my LG Health team truly special.”

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