Andy Mathews used to compete in triathlons, but he stopped for his own safety. "Biking around here is too dangerous," said the 46-year-old from Tampa, who has had his share of crashes. "And when it came to swimming, I just tried not to drown." Bored and looking for something do to with his free time, Mathews ran a few marathons — 88, to be exact. But that, too, lost its allure. "That is when I set my sights on the Grand Slam of ultrarunning," Mathews said. "I wanted to do four of the toughest 100-mile mountain trail running races in just one summer." Follow that dream
Mathews, a history teacher and cross-country coach at Tampa Catholic, has always believed in following his bliss.
When he was a senior at Auburn, his recently widowed mother decided to pursue a lifelong calling and become a nun.
"I started calling her Sister Mother," he said. "My uncle called her Sister Sister."
At first, Mathews thought his mother's decision was weird.
"But then I decided that while it was unconventional, it was also very cool," he said. "I knew anything was possible."
The long haul
An ultramarathon is loosely defined as a race of at least 31 miles. The longest certified ultramarathon is the Sri Chinmoy, a 1,300-miler held each year in New York.
The Grand Slam is made up of four of the country's toughest endurance runs: the Western States 100 Mile, the Vermont 100 Mile, the Leadville Trail 100 and the Wasatch Front 100 Mile.
Mathews flew to California on Wednesday to run the Western States, which starts on the floor of Squaw Valley (elevation 6,200 feet), then climbs to Emigrant Pass (elevation 8,750 feet) in the first 41/2 miles.
But when he got there, he learned that the race had been canceled because of wildfires. This is the race's first cancellation in its 35 years.
"It is not going to end my plans for the Grand Slam," Mathews said in a telephone message. "It is disappointing because of all the money I spent to get here, but I will just make it up with another race."
Run, run, run
Mathews typically runs about 20 hours a week.
"Sometimes we start at 3:30 in the morning," he said. "I always think it is funny that I am leaving my apartment when my neighbors are just coming in from a night on the town."
During a normal week, Mathews might log 85 to 100 miles.
"It is hard on relationships," he said. "I am sure there is a way to do it, but I haven't found the right formula."
Mathews' next Grand Slam race is the Vermont 100-miler next month.
The Leadville race is in Colorado in August, and the Wasatch in Utah in September.
For his kids
With 10 100-mile races to his credit, Mathews said he has nothing left to prove.
When asked why he runs, the high school coach did not have to search for an answer.
"It is for the kids," he said.
"If my runners see me run a 100-mile race, then maybe they won't feel so bad pushing it a little in a 3-miler."
He hopes his story will be an inspiration to all.
"You have to keep going, keep pushing it," he said. "You can never, ever quit."