Maik Twelsiek cruised to the finish line of the Ironman Wisconsin, happily waving to the crowd in an early victory lap at the victorious end of his 140.6 miles.
More than eight hours later, Dan and Zachary Rotert collapsed across the finish just seconds from midnight and the cut-off point in the grueling challenge, according to the race announcer who bestowed upon them the declaration: “You are an Ironman.” Their tears and exhaustion represented the true spirit of Ironman and the strength of the bonds between a father and son.
Hundreds of spectators still gathered late in the night on the Capitol Square in Madison cheered and cried, as the pair fell into the arms of volunteers 17 hours (almost) after their start in Lake Monona.
With eight miles to go, and an Ironman finish quickly ticking out-of-reach, Zachary lay down on the course, seemingly unable to go on. His battle with Type 1 diabetes had sapped the strength he needed to continue through the darkness.
“He laid down on the bike path and I couldn’t get him up,” said Dan Rotert, 48, of Middleton, and now a five-time Ironman finisher. “He told me he didn’t have anything left. I told him he had everything he needed.
“I told him to get up. He didn’t want to.
“He told me to go on without him, but I’d never do that. This was all about him.”
Family members and the younger Rotert’s fraternity brothers from Miami University in Ohio surrounded and encouraged him. He got up, and started a walk-run, walk-run sprint to the finish against the clock.
At the finish, aid workers quickly took the 20-year-old to the medical tent, and an ambulance took him to a local hospital for an evaluation. His blood-sugar levels had been dangerously low for much of the day. (His father reported this afternoon that Zachary will spend another day in the hospital).
In compelling fashion, he reached a goal he had set three years ago, to join his father at the finish line of an Ironman triathlon.
“He’s an Ironman and you don’t know what that means for a Type one diabetic,” Dan Rotert said, before wilting with emotion.
The Roterts raced on Sunday in raise money and support for K9 4 T1, a charity that trains alert dogs for those with diabetics. The dogs detect emergency health problems by smelling the breath of their owners. Click here for more information.