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Closing The Loop: Gary Rodebaugh

Gary Rodebaugh was a triathlete who lived in St. Augustine, competed internationally. But before he started training he was in bad shape.

“I was working in Phoenix, Arizona for a major insurance company. Part of my job was to entertain clients and management,” Rodebaugh said. “We would work all day and then party at night. I bought Wild Turkey by the case, and smoked cigarettes, up to two packs a day.”

An event prompted Gary to change the way he lived. “I went into work one afternoon, and my boss came into my office and asked, ‘did you hear about Dan?’ I said no. ‘He had a heart attack last night and died.’”

“That scared the bejeezus out of me,” Rodebaugh said. “I went with another friend to a bar, and at the end of it was the newspaper. There was a notice for the Fountain Valley Marathon. My friend asked, ‘You used to swim in college, didn't you?’ I said, ‘yeah’. ‘Can you ride a bike?’ Yeah. ‘It's 56 miles.’ I had no idea what I was getting into."

Gary trained for and completed the race, going from 205 pounds to 165 lbs in half a year. He entered the race and finished, although he told his friend he’d never, ever do it again. He was wrong. “Something about doing triathlons and exercise gets into your blood,” Rodebaugh said.

Gary ramped up his training. In 2004, he qualified for the U.S. Triathlon team that competes internationally.  At that time, Gary was in his late 50s. “My first one was in Madeira, Portugal. This year, I qualified to go to London for the world championship,” he said.

Gary Rodebaugh retired in 2010 at age 62 and moved to St. Johns County with his wife, Margaret. “My wife and I use the U.S. Triathlon for vacations. When I go to London, we may spend two weeks traveling around,” Rodebaugh said.

Gary’s incurred injuries to his shoulder from heavy swimming and to his legs from a bike crash. But the surgeries and rehab, just like the training and races, were components of his life that couldn't be separated.

"Triathlon makes you focus. We know what we want, we know how to get there. Most top triathletes are Type-A personalities — we're goal-oriented, we concentrate on the goal, but we know our limitations."

The World Triathlon championship that Gary Rodebaugh qualified for was held in London in September 2013. Gary swam, biked and ran one of his best races ever, and placed 12th in the world.

A week later, after his wife and he returned to St. Augustine, and before he could resume training for his final event of the season, Gary suffered a heart attack. He died a week later.

But before he passed away, Gary had shifted his priorities — not only for training, but for his entire life. “Everything I did was geared to climbing the corporate ladder. But when I got to the corporate level, I didn't want to do it anymore. Instead, I got to watch my daughter grow up.”

Warren Miller is a writer and financial executive who lives near St. Augustine, Florida.