Bellingham, Wash. – Could you run a marathon in full turnout gear? Could you do it 27 times in one year? That’s exactly what 33-year-old Madison, WI firefighter Robert Verhelst plans to do. In fact, the marathons are only a portion of the 27 Ironman triathlons that Verhelst will compete in this year, breaking a Guinness World Record in the process. The real challenge, according to Verhelst, is bringing attention to his cause.
Although wearing more than 70 pounds worth of firefighter gear during the 26.2-mile marathon (preceded by a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride) is sure to attract notice, Verhelst says his ultimate goal is to fundraise for firefighters battling cancer. Firefighters are more likely to develop certain forms of cancer than the general population due to the chemical exposure they experience on the job, according to the Journal of Occupational Medicine in a November 2006 issue.
“Wearing that extra gear I want people to think not that I’m hot, not that I’m tired, but how can we help these people; they’re helping us all the time,” says Verhelst.
Verhelst will complete his record-breaking mission on behalf of non-profit Code 3 for a Cure, an organization dedicated to supporting cancer-stricken firefighters. Code 3 for a Cure was founded in 2008 by 27-year fire service veteran Lorenzo Abundiz, who has survived three bouts with the disease.
Code 3 for a Cure is a unique organization that provides immediate emotional and financial support to firefighters battling cancer and their families, according to Verhelst. Often, he says, research funding doesn’t come through right away, so this organization steps in to help.
Verhelst says he approached Code 3 for a Cure and offered to assist with fundraising after the organization made an unscheduled stop at the Madison Fire Department on their annual fundraising tour.
“I think a lot of people in life have to find a purpose, and my purpose is to help others, and this is a venue in which I can do this,” says Verhelst.
Verhelst says the support for his cause has been overwhelming. Recently, fire and EMS records management provider Emergency Reporting also joined Verhelst in his advocacy efforts and are hosting a secure donation point on the company’s Facebook page.
Verhelst hopes to raise $650,000 this year for Code 3 for a Cure. To find out more about the organization and Verhelst’s amazing journey, visit www.code3foracure.com or the Emergency Reporting Facebook page at www.facebook.com/EmergencyReporting.