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Firefighter ties Ironman race record while honoring Arizona hotshots

PHOENIX — A man who ran in remembrance of 19 fallen Prescott hotshots tied a world record for Ironman races in Arizona over the weekend.

Rob Verhelst, a 38-year-old firefighter from Madison, Wisconsin, ran his 22nd Ironman 70.3-mile race on Sunday, tying the Guinness World Record. He said it was an honor to tie the record while honoring the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who died battling the Yarnell Hill Fire in 2013.

“We’re all family across the board,” he said. “We all put our lives on the line daily for our communities and for our other firefighters. It’s such an honor to be able to go out there and honor those 19 that were lost, as well as their families that have to deal with it every single day.”

While Verhelst’s accomplishment is nothing short of impressive, it’s worth noting he does things a little differently than the standard triathlete.

“I have done every single one of my races in full firefighter gear,” he said. “That includes the bumper pants, the coat, the air pack and the helmet, weighing upwards of 50 pounds.”

In addition to capturing Ironman records, Verhelst also runs the Fireman Rob Foundation, a charity that delivers teddy bears to children in the hospital.

“We have an amazing little individual, Tyler (Krater),” Verhelst said. “He is a family friend, and he is raising funds for his friend, Logan, who goes to Phoenix Children’s Hospital for treatments all of the time. He wanted to make that impact, so we delivered 100 bears to children at Phoenix Children’s Hospital in honor of Logan.”

The foundation has delivered about 750 bears to children in the last two years.

“To give that family that one moment, that one smile, to boost their endorphins, to boost that while blood cell count and to just have them have something that’s positive in such a traumatic environment there in the hospitals,” Verhelst said.

Verhelst will try to break the record for 70.3-mile Ironman races completed in one calendar year on Nov. 8 in Austin, Texas.

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