After years of training and overcoming obstacles, Richmond Hill resident Rick Betancourt fulfilled a lifelong dream when he completed the Iron Man World Championship Triathlon in November in Clearwater, Florida.
The event featured 1,800 qualifying competitors from 48 different countries and featured seventy miles of racing by swimming, bicycling and running. After several attempts over the past few years, Betancourt finally earned the right to participate in the event by finishing in eleventh place in a recent qualifying race in Cancun, Mexico. Betancourt finished in 120th place at the world event.
"I may not have won the world title, but competing in the world championships was one of the greatest experiences of my life," Betancourt said.
Betancourt has had his sights on the Iron Man competition for many years, but his quest has been daunted with one tragedy after another. In addition to minor pitfalls, like a flat tire during the bicycling part of the race, Betancourt endured a huge setback while competing in an Iron Man qualifying race in Orlando in 2005. During the bicycle part of that race, a fellow competitor from New York rammed his bike into Betancourt as he tried to pass. Betancourt lost his balance, receiving road rash and other injuries.
This did not deter Betancourt from his vision, as he travelled to Cancun later that same year for another qualifying race. Ultimately, his injuries deterred him from finishing high enough to advance to the world competition. That December, Betancourt had back surgery. Ever since then, he has been on a strict training regimen under the tutelage of professional triathlete and Savannah resident Radick Parnica.
"If you believe in yourself, you can reach your goal," Betancourt said. "My goal was to go to the world championship. I fought through my frustrations and failures and have reached my goal. Things don’t come easy in life. You have to work hard for them, but anything is possible."
Betancourt said the grand spectacle of the world championship was a surreal experience. He said the residents of Clearwater treated him and the other competitors like celebrities and the 50-plus blocked roadway was lined with people shouting encouragement with each step or turn of the pedal he made.
The Iron Man competitors started the triathlon at 5 a.m. with the one-mile swim. Betancourt said it was a tight start, with most of the participants coming out of the water at the same time.
After reaching the shore, the athletes entered the changing tent and jumped onto their bicycles, which they found on the other side of the tent. Betancourt said the 56-mile bike race was very intense.
"Racing against the best in world was quite an experience," he said. "As much as I’ve competed, I’m not used to that level of pace. I finished 12 minutes faster than in the qualifying race in Cancun. I had no choice – that’s what I had to do to keep up. I definitely pushed myself to the limit, and I learned something about myself: if pushed harder, I have it within me to go faster."
Betancourt said the 13-mile run that followed started out great, with him near the front of the pack. During the second half, however, the added pressure he put on his body during the bike race started to catch up to him.
"The muscles in my legs started to cramp, which forced me to slow down," he said. "I was upset because I was so close to the finish line and I was doing so well, but there was nothing I could do about it."
Nonetheless, Betancourt had what is considered a very respectable finish. He said he is starting an upgraded training regimen in December to condition himself as he now knows what it takes to win the championship.
"I will definitely be back next year," Betancourt said. "This was a great experience because I learned what it takes to survive in a world championship environment. I will carry the Iron Man experience in my heart always. It gives me chills just thinking about it."
Betancourt said achieving his goal of competing in the Iron Man finals could not have been reached without all the support from many of his fellow Richmond Hill residents. He said his biggest supporters are his wife Solangel and his three children, Jean-Paul, John Andrew and Danielle, who have "sacrificed so much to help me achieve my goals."