Today, almost 10 years to the day he tried to end his life, triathlon has given Heisler a way speak of his future.

If you ask us, the coolest thing about triathlon is that hours after the first-place finisher breaks the tape, winners are still crossing the line. Though much fanfare surrounds the jaw-dropping speed and unfathomable strength found in the professional fields, the age-groupers are the ones who quietly inspire. Need proof? Each of our cover finalist athletes exemplify the heart and soul of our sport: Everyday people doing extraordinary things. Meet our contest winner here, and then meet one of the other inspirational finalists below. 

Adam Heiser

Atlanta, GA

In July 2008, Heiser walked into the Gulf of Mexico and started swimming. He swam as far as he could–so far, that he couldn’t swim back. His life would end, and that was okay with him–it was a wasted life, anyway. After multiple DUIs, felony counts of narcotic possession, and numerous arrests, Heiser felt he had no other option. It had to end.

And then, a revelation: F.E.A.R. Heiser could forget everything and run, or face everything and rise. Somehow, Heiser made it back to shore alive.

He started running in 2008 as a way to get–and stay–sober, this time for good. Then, in 2012, a new challenge manifested:

“A group of my friends went from running to triathlon,” recalls Heiser. “I decided to give it a try.”

The last time he had gone swimming was his attempt to end his life. Triathlon was a difficult, yet cathartic way to face the depths of despair – once more, he was presented with the opportunity to face everything and rise.

“Having that perspective gives me gratitude,” says Heiser. “It gives me joy to train and ultimately race and finish.”

Today, the 41 year-old Heiser gives back to the sport that gave him a second chance at life. As the founder and head coach of ITL Coaching and Performance, he’s a fixture of the Atlanta triathlon scene.

“Adam is selfless,” says ITL athlete Kristi, who nominated Adam for the Triathlete cover contest. “He’s the person who shows up on big bike day driving his truck around for over eight hours for sag support for his athletes. He’s the friend who stays until midnight at Ironman competitions to help support and cheer the last athlete to the finish line. He’s the coach who commits to making your goals and aspirations his own.”

Today, almost 10 years to the day he tried to end his life, triathlon has given Heiser a way speak of his future: “I’d love to train and race in a way that sets a good example for the community for years to come. Making the hard days hard, the easy days easy, and embracing all the hurdles along the way.”

Meet more of our cover finalists