The setting was beautiful near dawn in Panama City Beach, Fla., but the task was daunting.
Stephanie Franklin-Rollings, of Tyler, took on and met the challenge of the Ironman Florida Saturday.
Starting at 7 a.m. and completing the feat at nearly 10:30 p.m., Franklin-Rollings tackled the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and the 26.2-mile marathon.
"When I crossed the finish line, I could not believe it," she said via telephone while taking a much-deserved rest on the beach Sunday. "It was such a surreal moment. It was 15 hours, but I couldn't believe it was over. It was amazing. … I was thinking ‘I did an Ironman."‘
The finishing time for the Tyler Parks & Recreational Director was 15 hours, 26 minutes and 45 seconds. There were some 3,000 competitors.
First up was a swim of 2.4 miles in the choppy Gulf of Mexico. The contestants swam two loops into the gulf of 1.2 miles each.
"The swells in the ocean were unreal," Ms. Franklin-Rollings said. "It was pretty rough. We trained in the pool two days a week and when it was warm we swam in Lake Tyler. It could be rough at times at Lake Tyler, but this was a different animal.
"You just put your head down; you couldn't turn back."
She concluded the swim in 1:46:19.
Next was the bike ride.
"For much of the bike ride, we were headed north right into a tailwind," she said. "But the last portion we had the tailwind behind us."
She finished the ride in 7:01.34.
And finally it was the marathon.
"We did two loops of 13.1 miles — it was dark and cold," Ms. Franklin-Rollings said. "While you are running you are trying to make sure you eat and drink. During the bike ride you are drinking water and eating, but when you are running you're brain is just not working right. You're weary and thinking ‘I just didn't want anything to eat."‘
When she made it to the finish, all the hard work was worthwhile.
Ms. Franklin-Rollings started training some eight months ago. She was up at 5 a.m. each day to train for this moment.
"I'm just an average person; I was not born an athlete," she said. "I'm not like Seth (Cooke) and Clay (Emge) (two Tylerites who recently completed the Hawaii Ironman). They are amazing athletes.
"It was like having two full-time jobs. The Tyler community is so supportive … the Tyler Bike Club, friends and family, and co-workers … I am so thankful to them all. And I'm sure my co-workers are glad they won't have to listen to me moan and groan while training."
She also thanked her coach Jen Reinhart, of Austin.
Ms. Franklin-Rollings had competed in triathlons before but decided on the Florida Ironman after seeing her classmate (Nicki Dubose) take in the Panama City Beach event three years ago. Last year, she volunteered to assure herself a spot in this year's race. The Florida Ironman began in 1999.
Even after the race, she still had energy to cheer on other racers. If you don't finish by midnight, the course is shutdown. So encouragement is essential to the competitors, she said.
This was another milestone in Ms. Franklin-Rollings' journey. In the last eight months she lost some 35 pounds to get to 128 pounds. She started her fitness quest in 2003 and has since lost some 80 pounds.
In her role with the city, she said she makes sure that parks facilities are places people can go to exercise. Work-out stations and walking trails are found in several parks.
"It is critical for us to give that opportunity to citizens," she said. "I love how much Rose Rudman (Trail) is used (by walkers and joggers). It is just incredible."
So what is next – maybe Hawaii Ironman?
"This has been a wonderful experience, but I'm one and done," she said. "That's it for me as an ironman. I will probably take a couple of weeks off and maybe train for a marathon."