By COURTNEY LEWIS
PLATTSBURGH — Competing in a triathlon is often a solitary pursuit.
But Bob Heins is motivated by something bigger than himself. The 71-year-old Plattsburgh dentist will compete in his 11th Ironman triathlon at today's Ford Ironman Lake Placid, and this time he's taking part in the Janus Charity Challenge.
The program encourages participants of several Ironman races to raise money for nonprofit groups and then makes additional donations to the charities of the top fundraisers.
"A lot of people say you're selfish when you're doing Ironman because you're training by yourself," Heins said. "But when you get in with Janus and get involved in a program ... it broadens your whole horizon. You go to Rotary clubs and talk, you get involved with people and you feel like you're doing something for somebody besides yourself. That's an experience."
Heins is raising money for the Blazeman Foundation for ALS, which was founded by triathlete Jon "Blazeman" Blais before he died in 2007 of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (also called Lou Gehrig's disease). Heins said he got involved with Team Blazeman after meeting Blais' father and learning about 13 people in Clinton and Essex Counties who have the disease.
"What I was surprised at ... was how little the ALS treatment and prognosis has changed since 1939, when Gehrig got it," Heins said. "ALS is still basically the same — no major changes at all. And that got me started."
Heins has been a part of Team Blazeman in the past — participants log-roll across Ironman finish lines because that's how Blais crossed the line when he completed an Ironman in 2005 after his ALS diagnosis — and said having a cause is motivation during the race.
"I did (Ironman) Arizona and rolled for Blazeman, and people would holler along the course, and it inspires you," he said. "Especially when you're in the dark periods, as they say, about mile 16 of the marathon. And you realize you're doing it to bring his spirit along."
Don't be fooled by the "professional" in professional triathlete. While the elite competitors have sponsorship deals and will be vying for a $50,000 purse today, they don't necessarily make a living in the sport.
Many pros have other jobs, especially as coaches.
Caitlin Snow, the 2008 champion, said her real income comes from coaching with QT2 systems, and her husband Tim, also a triathlete, teaches high school math.
"I actually try not to look at the prize money because I don't want that to be the draw," Snow said. "I feel like once that becomes the draw, it's not going to be fun anymore. Right now, it is the excitement of being in the competition, being the potential winner up there on the podium and being able to duke it out with the best women in the sport.
"But I do need to supplement it, definitely."
Tara Norton coaches with Absolute Endurance, and she said while racing is her passion, she enjoys sharing her knowledge with others.
"I actually started coaching a number of years ago, and it's a great addition and a great supplement income for me," she said. "But even more importantly, it's really, really rewarding to watch athletes you coach finish their first Ironman, any race. So for me it's passing on my passion to other people."
When an age-group competitor asked some of the professionals Friday for tips on today's race, Jason Shortis' advice was this: "It's not too late. You can probably still pull out."
He was joking, but several pros acknowledged that even for them, an Ironman can be a struggle.
"If it was easy, it wouldn't really be worth it. It wouldn't be so great," Snow said. "And the way you get through it is knowing that it is going to end, it is going to get better.
"You have to be able to just push through, and you have to be able to handle more pain than the person in front of you, basically, because they're going to go through the same thing."
E-mail Courtney Lewis at: email@example.com