It had been a little over 11 hours since Springfield College Director of Marketing and Communications Steve Roulier began the grueling task that is completing an IRONMAN on the sport’s biggest stage in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii at the IRONMAN World Championship. After pushing his mind and body to their limits, Roulier found himself running with renewed energy as the end drew near.
“Coming down Alii Drive finally at the finish, it was everything they say it is and more. The streets are lined with people,” Roulier said. “You come running down this chute, and I’m just slapping hands with as many people as I could see, and [at] that point just kind of mentally realizing that I’m completing my dream.”
Roulier completed the 35th annual IRONMAN World Championship on October 12 in a time of 11 hours and 14 minutes. Although it was around 50 minutes slower than his personal-best that he set at Mont Tremblant to qualify for the race, he was still pleased with his performance given the circumstances. Each course offers its own varying degree of difficulty, and Kona had an uphill stretch from mile 10 to 16 during the running portion that tested Roulier’s mental strength.
“I felt good for the first 10 miles, and then it all started to fall apart,” Roulier said. “The pain, it’s pretty real at that point. You just want to stop and you know you have another hour and a half, and you’ve got to keep running.”
There comes a point in almost every triathlon where the mental outweighs the physical. Roulier relied deeply on his connection with the Springfield College philosophy to push through the pain and endure.
“It’s just about survival at that point,” Roulier said. “You do start thinking about spirit, mind and body and what that means. You go into a spiritual place.”
Roulier was able to push through and staved off excessive overheating to finish the race. It was very hot, humid and windy throughout the day, which Roulier knew to expect due to his research and advice he received from his friends, Doug and Mary Guertin. Doug was also competing in the race, and Mary had competed in the past.
Thanks to this knowledge and his training and preparation with Dr. Vincent Paolone (Exercise Science and Sports Studies) and his graduate assistants, Boe Burrus and Deb Stroiney, Roulier had a better knowledge of his body. They tested him in the department’s portable heat chamber by turning up the temperature to 95 degrees with a 40 percent humidity to mimic the racing conditions as best they could. The tests showed that Roulier had a tendency to overheat, and that he had to drink a lot and keep pouring energy into his body to perform well.
“We told him exactly how much water he was losing, how much water weight he was losing, and calculated for him how much he should replenish during the activity,” Paolone said.
For Roulier, the experience was all the more memorable because his 19-year-old daughter, Stephanie, got to be there with him. Stephanie signed up to be a volunteer handler. Handlers walk finishers to the recovery area and carefully monitor them to make sure that they are not in danger health-wise.
“I knew that she was going to have a very special experience and that it was going to strengthen her bond with this sport and with me and what I do,” Roulier said.
Although she was taking care of another runner when Roulier crossed the finish line, she found her dad shortly after and gave him a big congratulatory hug. That evening, she gave him an even better gift.
“Somebody asked her when we were hanging out later that night, ‘Hey Steph, are you going to do an IRONMAN someday?’ and she said, ‘Yeah, maybe.’ That was the first time she’s ever even acknowledged that,” Roulier beamed.
Roulier, a 10-year triathlon veteran, had to qualify in order to compete at the IRONMAN World Championship. He did just that at Mont Tremblant in Canada on August 18, running a personal-best of 10 hours and 24 minutes and finishing in third place in his age group (50-54). Rich Veres, the director of Undergraduate Admissions at Springfield and a fellow triathlete, recalled keeping an eye on Roulier’s incredible run on ironman.com, where people can track runners.
“I remember when he crossed the [finish] line I said to Amy [my wife], ‘I think Steve just qualified,’” Veres said.
Veres and Roulier are both members of the Cyclonauts, an organization that was created as a support system for, among other things, triathletes to train together. Although Veres is on “sabbatical” from triathlons for the time being, he has competed and trained with Roulier before and understands the significance of Roulier’s accomplishment.
“I think to finish is many people’s goal with an IRONMAN,” Veres said. “To get to where he’s at, the level, it’s something that most triathletes only dream of, and for very few it comes true.
“He’s a competitor, no question about it. He’s pretty driven.”
As he soaked in the full revelation of what he has accomplished while lying on Hapuna Beach, Roulier expressed pure delight at the opportunity that he never saw coming.
“I did not expect to be here. This was not a plan for me to be here. It was a wish, it was a dream, but it wasn’t a plan, so it made it even more special to come across that finish line,” Roulier said.
It may have been an unexpected dream, but Roulier seized his moment and swam, biked and ran his way to completing and becoming one of a privileged class of ultimate Ironmen.