Former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward loves a challenge. So does UPMC and Steelers' Neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Maroon. And on October 12 both of them will face the same challenge when they compete in the 2013 Ironman World Championship Triathlon.
The 140.6 mile swim, bike and run triathlon in Kona, Hawaii is known as the "Super Bowl" of triathlons, an event only the best of the best normally participate in.
For Ward, it will be his first ever triathlon, but for Maroon, it's old hat. Over the last 25 years he has competed in 65 triathlons and eight ironmen competitions.
Maroon began training for this one about six months ago, gradually increasing his workload each week. It's an amazing physical challenge, but even more it's a mental challenge.
"I am very goal directed," said Maroon. "There is a saying that the greatest moments of our lives are when our mind or body is stretched to its limits in the voluntary pursuit of something difficult and worthwhile. I am blessed in what I do in surgery. It's a similar experience. You have to focus and concentrate on what you do. There is a beginning and an end. There is nothing more gratifying than completing an operation or a triathlon."
Ward is competing as a part of BECOME ONE, sponsored by Got Chocolate Milk, the nourishment he relies on to refuel after competitions. While he has been training and participating in smaller events, he knows the real challenge is ahead and isn't afraid of it.
"I love challenges," said Ward. "I have always thought outside the box and tried to be more than just a football player. This is the toughest challenge I have done. It's me vs. myself, mind over matter. You have to have the never quit attitude. I am excited about the opportunity to compete at the Super Bowl of the triathlon world and I want to make the most of it."
Maroon said he just marvels over the fact that Ward has been able to progress as far as he has and reach such a high level so fast.
"I am amazed at what Hines is doing," said Maroon. "It took me eight years to work up to an Ironman distance race. To go from zero to the Hawaiian ironman, wow. What Hines has done in some of the preliminary races is nothing short of phenomenal. He is a super athlete. But I am going to beat him."
While winning was always Ward's number one goal when playing football, as far as the Ironman triathlon it's all about finishing.
"People ask why I want to put my body through the pain," said Ward. "But it's a sense of satisfaction if I can cross that finish line. What a great accomplishment that would be.
"When I get at the starting line I know I am not going to win the race, but it's all about finishing. That is something I am fighting and struggling with. I just have to stay within myself."