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Randolph College Physics Professor Claims Ironman Status

Peter Sheldon tests his endurance in Ironman triathlon

7/31/2009 3:27:32 PM


Update: Physics Professor Peter Sheldon officially became an Ironman Sunday, Aug. 30, 2009, when he successfully completed the Ford Ironman Louisville Triathlon. Sheldon finished 1706 out of 2388 racers. His swim was 1:50:03, his bike was 7:03:42, and his run was 4:41:04, for a total time of 13:56:10.

Read more about his journey below:

LYNCHURG — Most people would think twice before attempting an Ironman triathlon — especially when they don’t know how to swim. Not Randolph College physics professor Peter Sheldon.

Sheldon, who is also coach of Randolph’s cross country team, is training for the Ford Ironman Louisville Triathlon in late August. Already a tough endeavor, Sheldon’s training is made even more challenging by the fact that until recently, he couldn’t swim.

“I like getting into the water,” Sheldon said. “But I really thought I would hate swimming. It’s been kind of interesting to learn something new, and that’s made this process fun.”

Fun might not be the word the average person would use to describe triathlon training. The Ironman Triathlon is one of the most grueling events in the world of sports, pushing athletes to the limit with a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a complete marathon (26.2 miles) all in succession. Athletes have just 17 hours to complete the event.

Training takes months and requires strong commitment and discipline. Sheldon, who was used to hard training as a marathon runner, said this newest challenge is one of the hardest he has ever faced. He started training about 18 months ago but only began learning to swim last December. In April, he kicked up the intensity. Every day, for at least two hours, he pushes through a tough workout of swimming in the morning and biking and/or running at night. On the weekends, he adds six-hour workouts — while still managing his full-time job and many responsibilities on campus. “It’s daunting and scary,” Sheldon said. “And there are days when I’m not sure how I’m going to do this.”

Failure is not an option for Sheldon, who will turn 42 shortly before the late summer event in Kentucky. “It’s hard to put into words what this will mean to me,” he said. “Even today when I finish a marathon — and I’ve done close to 20 of them — it’s such a feeling of accomplishment to push yourself to do something that you never thought you could do and to see yourself meet that challenge.”

Sheldon is part of a team of 32 Lynchburg athletes training for triathlons. The group, which includes everyone from stay-at-home parents to doctors, is raising money for the local Alliance for Families and Children. Catherine “Cat” Phillips, a high school teacher and co-coach of Randolph’s cross country team, has been helping Sheldon train. An experienced triathlon competitor herself, Phillips said Sheldon has exactly what it will take to be successful in the race.

“Peter is a get-things-done kind of guy,” Phillips said. “He sets his mind to something, and he accomplishes it. In the classroom and during cross-country practice, he leads by example. He is excited about the research he does as well as the athletic endeavors he pursues. He is a great role model for the students, showing them how to be dedicated and hard working, but he also knows how to have fun.”

One of the biggest appeals of the Ironman triathlon is the sense of personal accomplishment it brings to athletes. For Sheldon, it’s about mastering his fears and proving to his students that even lofty goals can be reached with hard work. Raising money for a worthy organization adds to the incentive to keep training.

“People tell me I’m crazy,” Sheldon said. “Sometimes I think I am, but this is something that I am doing for me. When I am out there on the course, it will be up to me to finish. If you are going to accomplish things in life, you have to take some risks. I know I have it in me to do this.”

As for his plans after the race? He’ll be heading home to Lynchburg. Classes start the very next day.

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CONTACT: Brenda Edson, Director of College Relations


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