Ironman Pinter finishes what he starts
Gary Pinter likes to put it this way: "I'm a 61-year-old grandpa playing in the same sandbox with the greatest athletes in the world. I hope they don't throw too much sand in my face."
No doubt, the Ironman competition is a young person's sports, but the Sussex native capped off a five-year training renaissance when he finished at Ironman Wisconsin on Sept. 8 in Madison. Pinter negotiated the 2.4-mile swim, the 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in 15 hours, 3 minutes and 53 seconds. That was good for 18th in his age group and 1,952nd overall out of 2,543 competitors.
"Eight years ago, I was 50 pounds overweight," he said. "I was getting older and slowing down. My wife, Bet, found the Senior Olympics sign up sheet and I signed up to get back into shape. The rest is history."
Challenged by his son, Hamilton graduate Josh Pinter, Pinter used the Senior Olympics as a springboard to build toward bigger and better things. He trained on Hillside Road in Sussex, a hilly jaunt that helped him for the challenges of the Madison event, considered one of the world's toughest Ironman competitions and welcoming athletes from 37 countries.
His journey wasn't always smooth, and it required some pushes forward from family and even a stranger. After enduring the bruising swim ("I was elated to come out of the swim in one piece," Pinter said of an event that featured 3,000 swimmers competing for the same territory), he began the first of two 42-mile loops on the bike.
"People lined the route, encouraging us to push, saying 'Don't quit, you're almost there,'" Pinter said. "I wanted to break seven hours (at that phase) and I got off my bike at 6:59:35.
The back spasms began there. A physical therapist was on hand to help work them out in advance of the marathon portion, and though Pinter started slowly on a 13-minute mile pace, he gradually got better from there. Halfway there, he felt fine, but darkness fell as the fatigue intensified.
"It was dark outside and I couldn't see anyone; we wore a fluorescent green collar to keep others from running into us," Pinter said. "I was getting tired and slowing down when near Observatory Hill, I hear a voice, 'Dad, you're looking good! I called out and said, 'Josh and Jackie, is that you?'" They said yes and asked me how I was doing, and I told them, 'Great, now!'"
Pinter said his son and daughter-in-law appeared just in time to help him regroup, and they stayed with him for a couple miles before heading to the finish line. But on a final rotation around the state capitol to the finish line — less than 1,000 feet from conclusion — the back spasms returned, and Pinter was in severe pain.
"God sent me an angel in the form of three people," Pinter said. "They asked me how I was doing, and I told them I'm fading fast, and I don't know if my body can go another 800 feet."
One of the strangers told him to stop so he could massage Pinter's back. It gave Pinter a push, though the cramps returned 400 feet later, and again the stranger told him to stop so he could massage the spasms out.
"I turned the corner, and 3,000 people started to chant," he said.
He gave his wife, Beth, a hug and kiss before officially crossing the finish line.
"I didn't ever think about becoming an Ironman," Pinter said. "But as I trained for the last several years, I got stronger and stronger. I competed in more events and harder triathlons. My body got stronger, not older."
At the Senior Olympics in July, Pinter won the Racine Half-Ironman, winning the 60-64 age group in 6:46.49.
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