I’m still in the process of finishing my Ironman Wisconsin Race Report because I keep returning to the raw emotion of the event and feel a need to air some feelings before I breakdown my race. In short, the entire experience taught me you race Ironman for reasons much greater than yourself. (Photos courtesy of Carolyn Petredis Wasky)
You just can’t explain why you’d want to do an Ironman until you’ve done one. And while I still don’t have a clear answer, it lies somewhere in building character, relationships, and a connection to your spirit.
It is impossible to understand the beauty and vitality of 3,000 people in swim caps filing into the water to begin such a daunting journey. Sure, it’s competition, but for the most part it is with themselves. They have all made a commitment to be better and stronger people. To push potential to the limit. To live and experience life with people they love. And that path is contagious.
Family and friends line the “chute” and suspend the ego. They are in the race, too. I am one hundred percent convinced. Giving every ounce of energy they can spare to friends, family, and total strangers. They too will be exhausted (maybe more) when the final Ironman has crossed the finish line.It is a family affair in the purest sense because there are few expectations other than doing your best. There is no time for judgement, self-doubt, or sweating the small stuff.
Collective energy is the guardian angel that hovers above the entire 140.6 mile course, lifting racers when they least expect it, or need it most. It is a war between 3,000 people — and everyone is fighting for the same side.The experience at Wisconsin will stay with me forever. I’d trained beyond my perceived limits for one single day that sat in the future as a mystery. It has come and gone, but my 12-month-dream was everything and more than I imagined.
I live in the Volunteer state of Tennessee and it is abundantly clear the Badger state understands this concept well. Thousands of people I’ve never met greeted me with a willing smile and each would have given me a powder blue shirt off their backs. I am very proud to be from Wisconsin.
And to have my friends from Nashville along for the experience was incredibly rewarding. I have shared blood, sweat, and tears with these people and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to showcase my roots than Ironman. That day built lifetime bonds, and the story below articulates that better than I ever could.
The following is an excerpt from my coach Robbie’s IMWI spectator review, which is a great read, that is posted here. He tells a story about “Gary” who was struggling to finish the last mile. After we got back to Nashville, Robbie and Allie tried to find him and eventually tracked him down through the Senior Olympics. The second part is Gary’s email to Robbie and Allie. Reading both brought a tear to my eye.
From Ironman Wisconsin: Sights and Sounds from a Spectator’s View — By Robbie Bruce
. . . After a few minutes a man came around the corner. I literally thought he was going to drop. He was walking at a 90 degree angle. face staring flat at the ground. He looked as if he would face plant into the street at any minute. I began to walk next to him. He would lean on me. Faltering. “Keep it up buddy. Don’t stop.” He said he had to make 15hrs….” I have to. “I’m not for false hope so with the remaining distance I had to break it to him that was not a possibility. But he would still be and Ironman. He looked older. I was not sure how old. “I have to finish” he would say. I had no idea of his name but just kept walking with/against him.
Everyone was in, but our day was not done. We all continued to push for this stranger. Every few steps he would falter and literally use me as a wall to stand up. Wasky, Allie, Carolyn were determined to get him there. Before he hit the home stretch he muffled, “If I faint will you catch me. ” No. Gary. Im just gunna let you fall. Just kidding. We got you. No falling. No fainting. Prepare to run it in. Run it in.” Here we rare pushing him to run it in…. Go!!
He began to jog and we all ran with him. Surrounding him in a kind of support bubble. We had him on all sides. A stranger. We would most likely never see again. Yet we felt we were a part of his journey. Volunteers were yelling at us to move but we kept on. As we let him go into the light towards the finish we could here over the speaker, “Gary Pinter… 62 year old first time Ironman finisher from right here in Wisconsin….” We ran towards the finish…. The crowd…
“GARY, GARY, GARY, GARY, GARY.”
I think we were actually running and jumping and cheering trying to make it back…… A man we had met merely minutes ago managed to make some of us shed some tears of joy. Man. What a day. What an experience. What a sport.
—————–Below is the return email from the man in the story above.
My name is Gary Pinter. I think I’m the Guy your looking for. I was honored to hear that you are searching for me. My good friend and biggest swim competitor John White, President of the Senior Olympic told me last night at dinner that you guy’s are looking for me. The funny thing about all of this was, I told everyone in a mass email that some people in the form of “ANGELS” appeared in my life near the finish line. I had less than a mile to go and my back was starting to cramp so bad that I could barely move from the pain. They encouraged to keep going and they would be by my side to the finish. Well, what can I say, it WORKED. I finished it in about the 15 hours and 3 minutes I predicted. Now, for myself I didn’t ever think that I would ever find the ANGELS that God sent from HEAVEN until I died and at that time I could meet you all face to face. Now I know these ANGELS live in Nashville Tennessee. Allie and friends I thank you all for being there at my time of need. All along the way of my 140.6 journey to becoming an Ironman people encouraged us from the very start. Even before entering the water. It was my family and friends 5 years ago, to get up and work hard and train to my limits. My wife Beth is my biggest support. “ALWAYS TELLING ME THAT I WILL FINISH THE IRONMAN WITH TIME TO SPARE” My kids were also a HUGE support. All the 60,000 people along the 140.6 miles we traveled that day right to the end when I found my wonderful Wife Beth, giving her a hug and kiss before I crossed the finish line. Now that I did this, it’s not that big of a deal. The story of the people who encouraged me to train and the Angels God sent me to complete it, is the BIG DEAL!!!!!!!!!!! Thank you for being there!!!!!!!! Gary Pinter