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Betancourt is an Iron Man

After many years of training, Richmond Hill resident and triathlete Rick Betancourt has finally qualified to compete in the Iron Man competition, which is the triathlon world championship.

The world event is slated for Nov. 8 in Clearwater, Florida. Betancourt qualified by finishing in 11th place in his division during a recent qualifying race in Cancun, Mexico. Only the top 11 advanced. The race included over 1,200 people from 18 countries. The Iron Man competition, as well as the qualifying race, entails just over 70 combined miles of racing on foot, by bicycle and swimming.

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 New Yorker who caused his injuries also competed at the recent Cancun event. He said the man came up to him, with tears in his eyes, and apologized. Betancourt forgave him and wished him luck.

The qualifying race began at 6:30 in the morning with 1.2 miles of swimming, which Betancourt finished in 37 minutes. A 56-mile bicycle race followed. The Cancun triathlon ended for Betancourt at the five hour, 13 minute mark when he crossed the finished line in eleventh overall place after a 250-meter run. If he was just a few seconds slower, he would not have qualified for the upcoming Iron Man world competition.

Cancun was the last of several Iron Man qualifying events that have taken place all over the world in 2008. The world event will feature 1,800 qualifying participants.

"Just to be there – among the best triathletes in the world – is a victory," Betancourt said. "It doesn’t matter how the race ends up. It will be the experience of a lifetime."

Betancourt said he could not have gotten this far without the support of many fellow Richmond Hill residents: Nonstop Fitness owner Greg Sucher, Tidal Construction owners Tony and Connie Register for sponsoring him, Dr. Amy Pierson for managing his back pain and his children’s fellow students at RHHS and RHMS. He also wants to thank his Savannah support group of Dr. Louis Horn, who performed his back surgery, and his co-workers and soldiers at Hunter Army Airfield, where he works as a fitness instructor. He said he will travel to the world competition with all these folks in his heart and mind.

Betancourt said, even though a major goal in his life has just been reached, he will continue to strive for other accomplishments in the world of triathletics. Just this past weekend, he turned in a top five finish at the annual Savannah Sprint Triathlon.

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