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Tarpon Springs man is the ultimate Ironman

In 1983, fresh out of college, Dean Cosgrove thought he was fit.

"I was pretty big … pumping a lot of iron," he said. "I could bench 300 pounds, no problem."

Then one day, a friend offered a challenge. There was a new sport — swim, bike and run — all in one event. If Cosgrove was really the athlete he thought he was, he should have no problem completing this "triathlon."

So the 6-foot, 220-pound exercise physiologist dusted off his ancient 10-speed, picked out an old pair of Converse All-Stars and headed to the beach.

"It was a humiliating experience," he said. "I was the last guy out of the water and a 90-year-old lady passed me on the bike. I came away with a new appreciation for cardiovascular fitness."

•••

Shortly after his first triathlon, Cosgrove heard about a new endurance event in Hawaii. Sports Illustrated and ABC's Wide World of Sports had both covered the swim, bike and run around the island of Oahu.

It all started in 1977, when U.S. Navy Cmdr. John Collins convinced a group of Navy SEALS to combine the Waikiki Rough Water swim, the Around Oahu Bike Race and the Honolulu Marathon into one event.

Collins declared that the winner of this race would be officially christened the "Ironman." Fifteen men participated in the inaugural event. Twelve finished.

"It sounded wild," said Cosgrove, now a 48-year-old from Tarpon Springs. "I knew that it was something that I just had to do."

Cosgrove started training, and gradually, over the years, he built up his mileage. In 1990, at age 30, he entered his first Ironman, finishing the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in 14 hours and 44 minutes.

He hasn't missed one since.

Eyes on the prize

Cosgrove, who founded the Tarpon Springs Wellness Associates, never planned on setting the record for the consecutive Ironmans.

"It just sort of happened," he said. "I'm not a tri geek. I don't need all the latest gadgets. I just swim, bike and run because it helps me keep in shape."

In general, Cosgrove has gotten faster as he has gotten older. Several times over the years his time has suffered as a result of illness or bike trouble.

"The amazing thing is that I have been able to remain pretty much injury-free," he said. "That is no easy task."

Cosgrove's secret is a holistic approach to health and fitness. "It takes body, mind and spirit," he said. "All three need to be in synch."

He is careful not to overtrain.

"Everyone gets 168 hours a week," he said. "If you sleep seven hours a night and work 40 hours a week, that leaves 79 hours."

During peak season, the months leading up to the race, Cosgrove trains 12 to 18 hours a week. That includes 300 miles of biking, 30 to 40 miles of running and six to eight hours of swimming.

"I still do some strength training," he said. "I think that helps keep everything together."

Anyone can do it

Cosgrove laughs at the notion that he may soon become the Ironman's Ironman.

"People ask why I do triathlons and I tell them it is because I like being able to go play golf," he said. "You are better at everything when you are in shape."

He credits his family's support with helping him stay focused.

His 18-year-old daughter, Kailand, is the top-ranked triathlete for her age group in the United States. Daughter Erin, 20, is also an accomplished triathlete, having won her age group in the St. Anthony's Triathlon and San Francisco's Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.

Cosgrove, who has a Ph.D. in health science and undergraduate degrees in nursing and neuromuscular therapy, believes that anybody can complete an Ironman distance triathlon with enough training and preparation.

"It is like building a house," he said. "If you have a good foundation, you will save yourself a lot of trouble down the road."

Faster with time

In general, Dean Cosgrove has gotten faster as he has gotten older. Here are his times from his previous 18 Ironman World Championships.

YearAge Time

199030 14:44

199131 15:02

1992*32 16:42

199333 13:31

199434 13:36

199535 13:32

199636 13:44

199737 13:07

199838 14:05

199939 13:55

200040 13:46

200141 13:43

200242 13:47

2003**43 14:21

200444 13:40

200545 13:51

200646 13:55

2007+47 15:00

*Very sick that year; ** Flat tire;
+Bike trouble

>>FAST FACTS

Ironman World Championship

When/where: Saturday; Kona, Hawaii

Distances: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, 26.2-mile run

The purse: Ten professional male and female athletes split $560,000, with $110,000 going to the fastest man and the fastest woman.

The athletes: About 70,000 compete each year for 1,800 Ironman spots. Triathletes can qualify at one of 22 Ironman events or gain entry through a lottery system.

Course records: Men — Luc Vn Lierde, Belgium, 8:04:08 in 1996. Women — Paula-Newby-Fraser, Zimbabwe, 8:55:28 in 1962

Follow the action: Fans can follow the action through a live, 17-hour Webcast by logging on to ironman.com. A taped account of the race will air from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Dec. 13 on Ch. 8.

Tarpon Springs man is the ultimate Ironman 10/07/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 9, 2008 7:05pm]
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