The thrill of competing
Gary Jensen, a physical education teacher in Sayville School District, is headed to the World Ironman competition in Hawaii.

Courtesy photo

The thrill of competing

Story By: LIZ FINNEGAN
10/4/2018


SAYVILLE—Later this month, the World Ironman Championship will kick off in Hawaii, the place this renowned competition got its start in 1978. This year, a Bayport resident and Sayville teacher, Gary Jensen, will be among those competing.  This will be Jensen’s 14th Ironman competition, but his first world championship event.

“I’m very excited,” Jensen recently remarked in a telephone interview. “Going to compete in Hawaii has been my goal since I was 15 years old and watched the Ironman in Hawaii on TV,” he said. “But I’ve been doing [triathlons] for over 20 years.” His first Ironman event was in 2000 and his most recent was this past summer. 

The Ironman Triathlon is a test of skill and endurance. It involves a consecutive 2.4-mile swim that must be completed in two hours, 20 minutes; a 112-mile bicycle ride that begins at 7 a.m. and the competitor must be off the bike by 5:50 p.m.; and then finally a 26.2-mile marathon. “You are racing against time,” said Jensen. “You only have until midnight to cross the finish line.”

He only found out he was chosen to go to Hawaii eight weeks ago, shortly after competing in the summer event in Lake Placid, N.Y. He said those chosen to attend meet the competition’s criteria, which includes placing in a certain percentage in an age group. This year, 2,300 people are expected to compete.

Participants incur all of the costs of attending the event. Although a large cash prize is awarded to the winner, Jensen said he has no fantasies about winning it. Everyone that finishes does get a medal, though. “My award is just the accomplishment,” Jensen noted.

The Cherry Avenue and Sunrise Drive Elementary School physical education teacher is married and the father of three. He said his kids compete in triathlons as does his wife, Vanessa, who will be accompanying him to Hawaii. 

Over the past five years, Jensen has been organizing a duathlon (bicycling and running) for Sayville’s elementary school students. This year’s event will be held on Oct. 27 and once again at Sunrise Drive Elementary School. Last year over 400 kids participated. While Jensen is committed to helping kids have fun while getting exercise, he is using his position in the upcoming Ironman to draw attention to ROHHAD FIGHT Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization founded for Marisa, a Bayport girl with a rare disorder. 

Dr. James Foy, principal of Sunrise Drive, said he is very happy for Jensen’s upcoming adventure. “It’s amazing, but it doesn’t surprise me [that he was selected to compete]. That’s just the type of person he is: hardworking, dedicated and a great role model for kids.”

Foy added that he’s looking forward to seeing the event on TV as it’s being televised on NBC. “I plan on taping it,” he added.

“I can’t even describe how I feel,” Jensen said regarding his upcoming competition. “I just think about how lucky I am. It’s a dream come true.”