Sept. 11--Robert Verhelst, the Madison firefighter who participates in Ironman races weighed down by 50 pounds of firefighter gear, finished Ironman Wisconsin Sunday at 11 p.m. with a time of exactly 16 hours.
The crowd that lined the home stretch on Martin Luther King Boulevard went wild when he approached the finish line.
"It was a phenomenal race," Verhelst said. "It was amazing the number of people out there. I had my whole family out there -- huge support."
His time was a little faster than he expected. Last year, also wearing his gear for the marathon portion, he completed the race in 16 hours and 17 minutes.
Verhelst, who was featured in a Sept. 2 story in the State Journal, was approached Sunday by four people who told him they had watched the YouTube video of him finishing last year and were inspired to do the event themselves.
"It just floors you. It's just amazing. It gives you goose bumps just thinking about it," Verhelst said. "And all of them achieved their personal goals of doing it. It's neat to be a little, little part of that whole affirmation that they can do anything that they want to do."
Known as "Fireman Rob" (firemanrob.com), Verhelst, 34, has now completed 12 Ironman races wearing his professional gear to walk-run the marathon portion.
Ironman Wisconsin includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike race and 26.2-mile marathon.
Verhelst competes in support of Code 3, a group that raises money for firefighters with cancer, along with an organization Verhelst co-founded called Destination Donation, an endurance team that promotes organ donation through athletic events.
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