Robert Verhelst | 41
Number of Totals miles raced in full firefighter gear including turnout coat, bunker pants, Air pack, and helmet (weighing 50 lbs.) for last seven years to inspire others: 1022 MILES
My name is Robert Verhelst, yet most people know me as Fireman Rob. I am a career firefighter for the City of Madison, Wisconsin for the last 18 years, an Air Force veteran, and did search and Recovery after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.
My mission to inspire people to “Live your passion” started in 2011 when I did Ironman Wisconsin, which landed on the 10th anniversary of 9/11. I did it different than most though, and for the purpose of honoring those who lost their lives and those who responded. I did the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike then donned my full firefighter gear (helmet, bunker pants, jacket, and air pack weighing 50 lbs.) for the 26.2-mile run. Finishing the race at 16 hours and 17 minutes and igniting an insatiable drive to inspire others to find their passions and LIVE!
Since that moment in 2011, I have completed 23 Full Ironman distance and 29 Half Ironman Distance triathlons in full firefighter gear for every run portion totaling 1,022 miles in my gear. In 2015, I pushed the envelope of what is possible and broke the Guinness World Record for the Most Ironman 70.3 Triathlons in one year with 23. The existing record that was done all in normal triathlon gear, but I broke it by completing each run portions with my fire gear. No extra record or credit, yet the purpose was to ignite the globe in understanding what we are capable of when driven by passion.
In addition, I started the Fireman Rob Foundation in 2013 and since that date we have delivered 7,000 Gund Teddy Bears to children in hospitals throughout the world. Our mission is simply to #BearASMILE on children in need of a moment of happiness. SMILE to me means (Simple Moments Impact Lives Every day).
My life has been a training ground and platform for understanding and developing my message on the power that Mental Strength brings to a motivated, passion-driven life. My action-based experiences through firefighting and endurance athletics, my time at Ground Zero in NY (09-11-01), and philanthropy has enabled me to become a leading voice in the industry. I deliver an empowering message to the audience about engaging their passion through mental strength to live their true potential. Our lives depend on strength to thrive; otherwise, we struggle to find success in life. Life doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.
Mental Strength is…
the greatest asset that we can utilize in times of darkness, stress and turmoil to maintain focus and direction. Our mind is by far more dominant and powerful than our physical strength. Strength of mind is your catalyst to enduring the fires of life.
The hardest thing I’ve ever done physically
Each and every Ironman race that I did was a physical assault on my body. Imagine 16 hours and 30 minutes of pain with 7 hours of it walking and running 26.2 miles with 50 lbs. of firefighter gear weighing you down. The pain of the weight on my shoulders from the air pack straps, the helmet pulling my head down, and the heat being trapped inside of the bunker gear. Along with the weight, is the shear distance after already swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles.
The most mentally grueling moment I’ve experienced while racing
I would say that Ironman Lake Tahoe in 2013 was the most grueling mental challenge I have experienced racing. The day started out with the temperatures being 30 degrees for the 2.4-mile swim in Lake Tahoe. The mental challenges began with the bike of 112 miles, in high altitude, with asthma, and over 8,000 feet of climbing. I barely made the bike cutoff and knew the pain ahead with my asthma acting up and the cold of the night setting in on hilly course. The dark paths, the pain throughout my body from the day and the mental challenge of keeping my feet moving knowing time was playing against me.
The finish line was 1 mile away and I had 9 minutes and 30 seconds to get there… in full gear (50 lbs.). The long and the short, I convinced myself the pain was temporary and finished with 5 seconds to spare. Then I collapsed…
Why I’m stronger than I think I am
My strength is developed through my experiences and my challenging of what is possible…for me. I would say that I think I am stronger than I actually am. It is a mentality of strength that makes me stronger.