TARPON SPRINGS — For the past 21 years, the Ironman World Championship has consumed Dean Cosgrove's life.
If he wasn't training for the famous triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, he was thinking about the training.
At the peak of his training each August and September, each week Cosgrove was riding his bike 300 miles, running 40 miles and swimming eight hours.
That's what it required to compete in what is considered by many to be the mother of all endurance races. It consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.
After finishing the Ironman World Championship for the 21st straight time this month, Cosgrove, 50, is calling it quits.
"I'm done," Cosgrove said this week while sitting in the office of his Tarpon Springs fitness center. "I like golf. I don't want to worry about putting in the training. And I don't want to go back and not finish.
"It's a lot of stress and time, and it's expensive. It's not that I can't do it, but my passion has changed a little bit."
Cosgrove is the only amateur athlete to have started and finished the event 21 consecutive times, said Jessica Weidensall, communications director for Ironman.
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Initially a 230-pound bodybuilder, Cosgrove started competing in triathlons on a dare. In 1986, a physical therapist friend challenged him to participate in a triathlon being held at Madeira Beach.
Cosgrove pulled out his "90-pound" Huffy bike for the 15-mile bike ride. He swam the required half mile and ran 3.1 miles.
"I was humbled by that experience," Cosgrove said. "From then, I started working toward getting better."
Dr. James P. Gills, a Tarpon Springs ophthalmologist, developer, author and Ironman competitor, purchased Ironman with a partner in 1990 and formed World Triathlon as its parent organization.
That same year, he invited Cosgrove to participate in the event.
That would be the start of competing in 21 Ironman Championships.
Cosgrove began to train. He dropped to 180 pounds. He and Gills competed in the race.
"It was the most painful thing I ever did," Cosgrove said of his first Ironman. "But I was hooked ever since then."
Gills said his friend of 24 years has done a wonderful job of using fitness to provide balance to his life.
"The athletic endeavor isn't to win, but to make it balance out life in a very meaningful way," Gills said. "He's used it in a very wise way to do what's necessary to keep himself in good shape."
Gills said that by calling it quits, Cosgrove is doing it smart.
"There is no reason for anybody to kill themselves on the Ironman," Gills said.
Then Gills added with a laugh, "I call him molasses because he's so slow."
Cosgrove finished this year's race in 14 hours, 26 minutes and 8 seconds.
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A graduate of Tarpon Springs High, Cosgrove also has degrees from St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida. He has a doctorate in health science and undergraduate degrees in nursing and neuromuscular therapy.
Married for 26 years, Cosgrove met his wife, Cecelia, at Tarpon High. They have two daughters, Erin, 23, and Kailand, 20, both of whom are outstanding triathletes.
Cosgrove started Total Fitness, which has fitness centers in Tarpon Springs and Durango, Colo., from scratch in 1985. By the time he sold the business in 2006, it had 60 employees and 7,000 members.
Now Cosgrove owns Bank on Fitness, a small center on S Pinellas Avenue in Tarpon Springs, where everything from cardiac rehab and weight management to sports conditioning is offered. The club's maximum is 300 members, and all the slots are filled.
"From the business part of it, I didn't want to do it anymore," Cosgrove said of having the big fitness center. "Now, everything is done on a handshake.
"I know all the people. They are all from Tarpon. If they are unhappy, they are not going to stay. But I'm happy, and I love to play golf."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174.