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Tuesday, September 2, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 74.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Endurance Athlete of the Year, Part III
This year's Reccie winner is even more impressive
Bender emerges from Lake Monona during the Ironman.
Bender emerges from Lake Monona during the Ironman.

Dr. Colleen Capper, a professor in the UW-Madison Department of Educational Administration, sends an email in response to my Reccie Awards doled out in this week's Recreation column. In her message, she notes that Michael Bender, my pick for Endurance Athlete of the Year, has even more reserves of endurance than I'd imagined.

A member of the Head Hunters triathlon club, Bender was the last Madison resident to cross the finish line at this year's Ironman Wisconsin. After 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking, 26.2 miles of running and almost 17 total hours, Bender finished less than a scant five minutes before the midnight cutoff -- trailing 2,164 earlier finishers but edging out eight others who finished before the course closed, and 265 more entrants who started this year's Ironman Wisconsin but did not finish. If you think the efforts of people like Bender are in any way less worthy of praise and admiration than the achievements of pro triathletes who finished in a little more than half his time, go out and do something physical -- like basketball or football or walking or bowling or golfing or digging in the garden -- uninterrupted for 16 hours and 56 seconds, and then get back to me.

But what makes Bender's achievement even more remarkable, Prof. Capper notes, is the fact that he himself started the Ironman Wisconsin twice before, in 2005 and 2004, but did not finish. To find the time in your life to invest a year's worth of training, start an Ironman-distance triathlon and try but fail to finish might be enough to discourage anyone from a second attempt. To do so twice and yet make a third attempt -- and this time succeed -- bespeaks unusual focus and a determination of the sort that merits not mere applause, but a wave. Here it comes. Get up out of your chair for Michael Bender and all the other triathletes who persevere near the back of the parade, raise your arms up over your head and then, continuing in a fluid motion, lower your arms and sit back down.

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