Lucky Seven

When most people think of Las Vegas, the image of working out is probably not what comes to mind. Vegas is all about Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Cirque du Soleil and strong drinks served by scantily clad women whose costumes seem to help ease the pain of having money removed from your wallet.

For the past four years, the Ironman World Championship 70.3 has been held in Clearwater in November, but complaints about the lack of difficulty in the course led the promoters to look for a more challenging venue. They selected Las Vegas, and on Sept. 11, 2011, Sin City hosted the Marine Corps Ironman World Championship 70.3.

The World Championship level in any sport means that athletes have achieved a level of significance. There is a certain exclusivity that comes at the top level that’s earned through years of dedication and perseverance. With more than 20,000 athletes competing in Ironman events worldwide, selection to the World Championship is very exclusive. It takes an incredible degree of planning and preparation, desire and ability, and even execution to just get selected to compete.

To be the best in any one sport is extremely difficult, but to put it all together in three separate disciplines in a single event that tests the limits of speed and endurance over very difficult terrain is no small feat.

Seven local Jacksonville triathletes were on the course to compete with the best in the world. Triathlon is one of the few sports that allows its World Championship to be contested on the same day, on the same course and under the same conditions — with amateurs and professionals side by side.

Can you imagine being allowed to tee off with Tiger on the final day of Augusta Nationals? How about being on base in Yankee Stadium in game 7 or leading in the final turn at Daytona? This type of access is simply not afforded in most sports and that’s what makes the Ironman different.

The Ironman 70.3 World Championship event is a combination swim, bike and run. The swim leg is 1.2 miles and held in Lake Las Vegas. The bike portion, immediately following, is a challenging 56-mile hilly course throughout Henderson, Nevada. Once athletes have completed that course, they put on running shoes and head out for a 13.1-mile run in the desert hills that surround Las Vegas. It doesn’t sound too easy, does it?

Training for this type of endurance event requires the athletes to train 16 to 22 hours a week; typically that includes 7 to 8 miles of swimming, 200 or more miles cycling and 40 miles of running. Yes, that’s in one week, and it takes 12 to 16 weeks of this type of training to prepare. If you get the idea that these people have to be focused and dedicated to fit this all in, you’re right.

You might also suspect these athletes are early retirees with a lot of extra time, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. And only one of the seven Jacksonville athletes has a college sports pedigree. They all have busy professional lives, too. The seven local Northeast Florida World Championship athletes are:

Dr. Saswata Roy, a pediatric otolaryngologist at Nemours Children’s Hospital. He specializes in airway reconstruction and the treatment of craniofacial anomalies. With a demanding patient load and long days in the operating room, Dr. Roy often starts his day riding or running at 5 a.m. in order to fit it all in. Dr. Roy has completed five Ironman events — the 2011 event was his first Ironman World Championship 70.3.

Dr. Lyndon Box is a cardiologist at Shands Jacksonville Medical Center. In between seeing patients and performing interventional cardiology, he finds time to train and raise his not-yet-1-year-old son. Not only did Dr. Box complete the Las Vegas course, he also competed at Ironman Louisville on Aug. 28, only 2 weeks earlier, where the distances are twice as long (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run). Dr. Box has completed 14 Ironman events, the Ironman World Championship Hawaii. It was also his first Ironman World Championship 70.3.

Dr. Kevin Neal is a general dentist who has a busy practice in Ponte Vedra. He finds time to train for not only this 70.3 World Championship event but also the full Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, in October. Dr. Neal has completed 19 Ironman events, the Ironman World Championship 70.3 a total of six times and the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii six times.

U.S. Navy Commander Lee Boyer is a P-3 pilot with more than 3,000 hours of flight in 18 years of Navy service. Skipper Boyer fits in training before and after work while serving as the commander of the Special Projects Patrol Squadron ONE with a demanding work and flight schedule. Cdr. Boyer has completed two Ironman events, including the World Championship in Hawaii and the 2008 Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Clearwater.

Courtney Phillips is new to the sport, and this was her first year competing in triathlons. Previously, she’s been a standout runner on the local scene and shares a passion for cycling in her role as social media director for Trek Bicycles of Jacksonville. She is the mother of twin 4-year-old boys and currently training for her first Ironman in November.

Charlie Lynch is the proverbial standout in local triathlons, and has finished multiple Ironman events, including IM Louisville, just two weeks before the Sept. 11 event. He’s a registered professional engineer and vice president and Southern operations manager for Gannett Fleming Transit and Rail Systems. He rides and trains with Velobrew, a local cycling club.

Jeff Kopp is a former University of Southern California and NFL linebacker, who played from 1995 to 2000, and spent 1996-’98 with the Jacksonville Jaguars. After years in the hard-hitting sport of football, Jeff started cycling for fitness and worked his way up through the ranks to achieve a Pro 1 cycling license. Once he was at the top of the cycling field, Jeff made the jump to triathlons, where his drive has taken him to the top of this sport as well. Being a former NFL player is not an advantage, as this sport is a fine balance between power and weight. Kopp, who played at 245 pounds, now weighs in at 195 — still 40 pounds heavier than most of the competition. Jeff is the owner of Trek Bicycles of Jacksonville and he’s helped coach the Providence High School football team.

These seven local athletes have swum more than 900 miles, cycled 22,000 miles and run 4,400 miles in 1,700-plus hours of training. If you ask if was it worthwhile, they’ll answer, “Absolutely.” They made it to the World Championship.

The balance needed for achieving success in triathlons — swimming, biking and running — is nothing in comparison to the skill needed to achieve balance in the family, work, sport triangle. Not only are these seven adept at sport, they all have family commitments, are successful in their professions and active in the community. These local athletes have achieved that balance and their drive and dedication have placed them at the top of the field. While this sport and these distances are not for everyone, it is hard to hear someone say, “I just don’t have time to do that” when you look at the descriptions here.

The Beaches Fine Arts Series (BFAS) has a local series of shorter distance races which are perfect for first-timers. If you’re interested in trying out a tri, contact the Hammerhead Triathlon Club at hammerheadtriathlon.org

Shawn Burk

Shawn Burke is a triathlete trainer in Jacksonville Beach who has competed in dozens of Ironman competitions.

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