Kingsport's Joe Fleenor finished the last 100 yards of the 140.6-mile Iron Man race with his children by his side to celebrate his amazing transformation.
As a child, I had a great life growing up with three older sisters and a wonderful mother and father. After my father passed away at a young age, I struggled with what to do with my life. In the fall of 1988, I joined the Marines and stayed in great condition. After completing my five-year enlistment, I returned home and attended Northeast State and settled into a typical college regiment.
To my surprise, within just a few months, my weight had ballooned to 349 pounds. That was 2009. And, at that point, I vowed to lose it.
Around the same time, I went through some rough spots in life and the depression didn't help much, but I stuck to my commitment of becoming healthy. All I could ever think about was being there for those who loved me. I started swimming at the YMCA to help get my weight under control. Then, I decided to run local races.
During the fall of 2010, I met my wonderful wife, Brooke, while running the Haunted Half Marathon in Kingsport. It was a fairy tale meeting. As we passed back and forth, we started encouraging each other and, in the end, she waited on me at the finish line. I had no idea what her name was at the time. Thank God for the Google search engine and Werunevents. Five months later, we were married and my life was set in the perfect direction. As it turned out, we had traveled similar paths.
Beginning in 2010, I turned my attention to triathlons. The fact that Brooke was so encouraging fueled my fire! I began studying the tri sports and quickly became hooked - almost obsessively - on triathlons. Of course, this was only after multiple epic bike failures, pedal falls, broken skin and thousands of dollars in gear.
Earlier this year, my achievements were rewarded with a 140.6-mile Iron Man Distance finish in Sandusky, Ohio,, and I am now just four races away from completing 100 races in three years.
Though it was amazing, I spent many hours alone training - sometimes 29 hours a week. My wonderful wife did her best to train with me as much as possible. In preparation for the race, over a 7-month period, I had 149 workouts, lost 160 pounds of weight, put in close to 500 hours of training. I didn't even attempt to add up the weights lifted or any of the cross training that I did along the way.
The anticipation of a 140.6-mile race is frightening no matter how much you train and prepare. Race morning, my wonderful wife and I were up at 4 a.m. I ate, grabbed my things and out the door we went. I had checked my bike in the day before and prepared as many things as I could ahead of time to keep the nerves down on race morning. We got everything ready and returned to our cabin to get the four kids.
When we arrived back at Transition around 6:15 a.m., I was a little more talkative than usual and even joking a little. The sunrise was the most beautiful I have ever seen. I stepped in the water to check the temperature. I gave kisses and said goodbye... "See you in about 14 hours!" As I entered the water, I started to choke up as this dream of mine was so close at hand.
The weight was lost, the training was complete. Now, I just had to do it! It was all me, or so it seemed. I kept thinking of the sacrifices my wife and family made, and how I couldn't let them down. The horn sounded to start the race and we were off. After settling in to my stroke, I noticed a little pain in my right shoulder, but this was it - it doesn't matter, I thought. Before I knew it, the swim was over. I felt great! I quickly gave my wife and kids the thumbs up, grabbed my swim-to-bike bag and ran into the changing tent. After ensuring my wife that I was fine, I set out on the 112-mile bike course.
It was a beautiful course. It took us through a few towns where spectators were ringing cow bells and there were signs of all kinds. I felt great about my bike and about my nutrition. As I entered Transition again, I kissed my wife across the fence and told her I would see her in 26.2ã€€ miles.
My body wanted to stop and walk, as my legs had just pumped my huge 6-foot-2-inch, 200-pound body for almost seven hours. There was no relief and, soon, I began to wonder if this was the end of all the hard work and sacrifice. Meanwhile, I assured my family I was OK. I didn't want them to worry.
I had pushed the first half so hard that I knew I was going to make the race cutoff time of midnight. All I had to do was be smart. The spectators were cheering, whooping and hollering. I was in a lot of pain, but knew the end was near.
With about three miles to go, I was able to share the amazing story of how I met my wife with another competitor. I explained to him how my family was my life and that the sacrifices they had made for me were amazing. As we draw closer to the finish line, I pulled my banner from over my heart and prepared to achieve this dream in style.
As I rounded the chute to the finish, my four kids joined me in the last 100 yards and the clock showed 14 hours, 37 minutes. I mustered the strength to hold the banner high - a banner that captured my entire story. It said... "I love you, Brooke and kids..." and, on the bottom, in big letters, it said "WE did it!"
Today's feature was submitted by Kingsport's Joe Fleenor. Sunday Stories invites readers to share their photos every week in Sunday Scrapbook and, from time to time, will share extended stories through features like these. If you have a story that you'd like for us to consider publishing, please contact Carmen Musick, Sunday Stories editor, at 423-723-1435 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.