Chistian Jensen pulled, carried and pushed Mary Cox for 140.6 miles on Sunday, yet said he would never be an Ironman without the woman who can’t walk.
“There’s no way I would do an Ironman on my own,” Jensen said, just before midnight at the finish line in Madison’s Capitol Square.
“She really puts it in perspective for me. She taught me never waste a moment. That’s why we’re here.”
The duo representing myTeam Triumph Wisconsin Chapter actually had very few moments to waste. A delayed start in the 2.4-mile swim put them behind pace on the 112-mile bike leg, and with 20 miles to go, they were in danger of missing the time cut-off.
“I put my head down and gave it everything I could,” said Jensen, a personal trainer for Bellin Health, in Ashwaubenon.
Captain Mary never had a doubt.
She soaked in the cheers from the myTeam Triumph supporters, old high school friends and thousands of spectators, while riding comfortably in a high-speed stroller on the bike and run segments. Even after twisting sideways in the boat that Jensen pulled in the swim, Cox remained comfortable and confident.
She beamed with pleasure after 16 hours and 23 minutes out on the course, including the nearly six-hour marathon through the dark streets.
“It was the most awesome day I ever had,” said Cox, a 63-year-old from Green Bay who has been disabled by muscular dystrophy most of her adult life. “It was just a dream, and now it’s a reality.
“He made me an Ironman.”
Jensen began working with Cox about five years ago, making the most of the limited physical ability that she has. During her training sessions, they began to talk about running and racing, and the discussion grew into their Ironman quest.
While Jensen provides the propulsion, Cox provides the inspiration.
“People like Mary, they live beyond their challenges,” said Jensen. “She’s always living life to the fullest.”
Across the winding course, the crowd cheered wildly for the Cox-Jensen team, and the Pease brothers, another assisted athlete duo from Atlanta. Brent Pease powered Kyle along the way, and they finished in 15 hours, 9 minutes, well under the 17-hour time cut-off.
It was Kyle who pursued the Ironman journey, after watching Brent finish an Ironman in 2010.
Like Cox and Jensen, the Pease boys dedicated their Ironman to raising money for other athletes who need able-bodied assistance. The brothers share their stories of triumph and living their dreams to help and inspire others through their achievements and through the work done at The Kyle Pease Foundation.
Strutz stays steady: Laura Strutz, a 15-year cancer survivor, set only one goal for her first Ironman: to finish. And she did, with nearly an hour to spare.
For nearly seven hours, Strutz race-walked and ran for short stretches with Michael Wilkerson, and steadily covered the 26.2-mile finishing leg of the race. Strutz smiled and never showed signs of panic, even as the midnight closing time approached.
She celebrated at the finish with hugs from her trainer, Amber Budahn, and a short recap: “I’m spent.”
Deep in the night: This was my first time spectating at an Ironman and the experience far exceeded anything I could have envisioned.
Maik Twelsiek looked powerfully strong and impressive, built a 10-minute lead on the bike portion, bolted into the run like it was a 5K and victoriously approached the finish line as if he was taking a leisurely training run.
The German native ran a 3:06 marathon to finish in 8:40:15, nearly six minutes ahead of Daniel Bretscher, from Iowa. It was Twelsiek’s second Ironman Wisconsin victory. (You can find a full recap and results here).
In the women’s race, Jackie Arendt, from Verona, used the support of the home-town crowd to chase down Malaika Homo around the 14-mile mark on the run, and held off a closing Beth Shutt over the final miles. Arendt won in a time of 9:47:07.
“I had a bit more confidence than usual about my fitness,” Arendt said at the finish line. “I feel like there are a lot of girls who are the same as me and I just had a good day.” Arendt’s grandmother placed the medal around her neck at the finish line. “She (Shutt) just looked amazing. I was running scared. It was good because it kept the pressure on. I run better when I’m running scared.”
Those elite athletes showed remarkable fitness and ability, yet my lasting memories of the Ironman will be the determination of the hundreds, of the 2,544, who finished near the 17-hour mark. Most walked the marathon, others shuffled along listing badly to one side or another.
Some managed to stay cheerful and smiled at the volunteers handing out water, wet sponges and food. But many, if not most, plodded ahead with a 1,000-yard stare, seemingly oblivious to the raucous crowds that cheered along State St.
On the far reaches of the run course, they worked in isolation and darkness, driven by a deep motivation that seems beyond my own.
After pushing themselves for nearly 17 hours, nearly all of them found some reservoir of fortitude to run up the Mifflin St. hill, guided by the lights of the Capitol, then around the corners to the finish. Their reward: a medal and the declaration, “You are an Ironman.”