By Richard Rhinehart
Cambridge, Maryland, June 4, 2015 – With an easy familiarity and lasting friendship that comes from shared experiences and time spent together in challenging athletic endeavors, Air Force veteran Larry Gunter and Robert Clayton are training hard for their first IRONMAN as members of national non-profit World T.E.A.M. Sports’ 2015 triathlon team.
Participating in the October 3 IRONMAN Maryland hosted in the Eastern Shore community of Cambridge, both men have undertaken similar training activities, even though Gunter lives in southern Alabama and Clayton in New York’s Long Island. On a recent training day, Gunter ran 12 miles on his local high school track, while Clayton ran a similar distance in New York. Surprisingly, both finished their runs within seconds of each other, even though they had not coordinated their schedules.
Gunter, blind since 1994 owing to the progressive disorder retinitis pigmentosa, and Long Island businessman Clayton met during the 2012 Sea to Shining Sea cross-country ride from World T.E.A.M. Sports. They rode together on a tandem bicycle in the organization’s June 2014 CanAm Veterans’ Challenge. The 766-mile, 16-day ride included 15 military veterans with disabilities from Canada, the United States and Denmark, along with eight able-bodied riders. They’ve also participated in several Face of America rides, joining nearly 600 other veteran and civilian riders on a two-day, 110-mile ride from the Pentagon to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Including a 2.4 mile swim in the 73-degree Choptank River, a 112-mile bicycling course through the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and a 26.2-mile run along flat country roads, the IRONMAN Maryland will test the endurance and physical fitness of both athletes.
“I don’t know where we’ll finish,” said Clayton, who has experience finishing as a “much younger man” in the Beach2Battleship Triathlon in Wilmington, North Carolina, which featured IRONMAN lengths. For Gunter, who admits the IRONMAN will be his longest distance for a single day event, “the ability to finish the event will be very rewarding.”
Clayton and Gunter are experienced triathletes, having successfully finished several triathlons. Gunter competed last September in the Knuckle Man Tri in New York, a Long Island triathlon that raises money for charities. To prepare for the IRONMAN, Clayton notes that “Larry and I are going to compete in at least three triathlons and a half IRONMAN prior to the event in October.”
Looking forward to the teamwork and pushing himself to new heights in physical fitness and endurance, Gunter recognizes he is an inspiration to others for participating. He reports that competitors in World T.E.A.M. Sports’ Adventure Team Challenge New York inspire him. Serving as a coach for the participating developmentally-disabled athletes, he gained perspective as to the influence sports has in bringing people together and working as teams to overcome challenges. “Seeing children with disabilities pushing themselves and being witness to their great sense of joy and happiness in participating in the sporting events” inspires him.
Clayton notes that participating in World T.E.A.M. Sports events since 2007 has changed his life. Everyday issues and problems seem less troubling when he considers the dedication and persistence of persons with disabilities who are overcoming life-altering physical and emotional challenges. As to athletes considering joining an event such as the Face of America, Clayton recommends not to hesitate. “Just pull the trigger, do it and you will be happy you did. You will meet friends you don’t know yet and have an amazing lifelong experience.”
World T.E.A.M. Sports 2015 IRONMAN Team is seeking additional participants to join Gunter and Clayton in Cambridge this October. “World T.E.A.M. Sports is always looking for new avenues through which to highlight our organization, our mission and our athletes,” said Van Brinson, the organization’s CEO and President. “Our partnership with the IRONMAN Foundation allows us another venue through which to accomplish this. Having Bob and Larry participate in this event wearing the World T.E.A.M. Sports tri suits will further elevate our visibility while highlighting the ability of those athletes with disabilities.”
Additional information regarding joining the team and participating in the October 3 IRONMAN can be found online. Team registration is open until July 3 for qualified athletes.