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Ironman lessons learned from the sidelines
A 2.4-mile swim. Followed by a 112-mile bike. Concluded with a 26.2-mile marathon. I call this 140.6 miles of hell. For others, it’s a slice of heaven.
The Ironman triathlon series brings together some of the toughest and most motivated athletes this universe has to offer. The intensity of the trio of events, all done in succession, makes this competition arguably the toughest single-day sporting event on the planet.
Each Ironman race -- hosted domestically and abroad -- is considered a qualifier for the world championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii each October. Competitors have the option of qualifying in the full Ironman distance of 140.6 miles or half Ironman, 70.3 miles.
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The Ironman molds itself deep within my persona. No, I’ve never competed, nor have I ever wanted to. I would die. But my brother, Kevin, is a different kind of animal. The kid’s a freak. A stud. More of one than I’ll ever be or ever desire to be.
On May 18, Kevin, 45, qualified for the world championship, again, after finishing first in his age-group, 32nd overall, at Ironman Texas. He crushed the course. “The run was brutal, but I was able to salvage it,” Kevin said, in reference to the intense heat. “I trained to run a sub 3:15 marathon, but I knew during the first 10 steps that my plan had to change. It changed very quickly.” He still finished with the fastest marathon in his age-group.
As if the competition’s bodily abuse isn’t enough, even getting to Texas to compete can be a stressful experience. Kevin paid a hefty $100 to check-in his need-a-second-mortgage racing bike, which ended up on a different flight.
But I’m allowed bragging rights, too. After all, Kevin’s my brother, and I’ve watched him grow into a helluva competitor. With his stellar finish at Ironman Texas, Oct. 12 will be his eighth time competing in the Ironman World Championship. Kevin’s completed 13 full-distance Ironman races, and 20-plus halfers. In 2006, he set the course record for his age-group at Ironman Arizona. That, alone, is nuts.
Interestingly enough, many years ago, Kevin got his initial triathlon itch from New York Islanders-great and friend, Bobby Nystrom. Kevin, who worked in the National Hockey League for more than a decade, with the Islanders, Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils, competed in his first triathlon in a duo with Nystrom. And Kevin hasn’t stopped since.
Long Island born and raised, my big bro is now the director of Coaching Education and Athlete Development for USA Cycling in Colorado Springs, Colo., and co-owner, with his wife Tina, of Colorado Springs Swim School/Swim Colorado Inc. In fact, through Kevin’s athletic successes, he’s been able to interact with some of the most respectable athletes sports has to offer. Sure, there’s Nystrom and Kevin’s buddy Mark Deleon from New Jersey, who helped teach him the skills needed to qualify for Ironman, but the one who’s strongly ingrained in my memory is Sheila Isaacs, of Shoreham.
In 2004, the then-67-year-old grandmother completed the Ironman World Championship with a little more than five minutes left before the race’s 17-hour midnight cutoff. With the completion of that race, she finished her 100th triathlon and became the first known person to finish a triathlon in all 50 states. I was there to witness that milestone.
As Oct. 12 approaches, I’ll be looking forward to traveling back to Hawaii to support my brother. There’s a certain indescribable energy that fills the Kailua-Kona community around that time of year. It’s an electricity that only the Ironman World Championship can generate.
I’ll bring the Mai Tais.
Po'okela. Hana Hou.
Brian T. Dessart is a nationally accredited Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a New York State Critical Care Emergency Medical Technician and an FDNY firefighter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter: @briandessart.