For access to all of our training, gear, and race coverage, plus exclusive training plans, FinisherPix photos, event discounts, and GPS apps, sign up for Outside+.
Traveling the world for triathlon I meet a lot of interesting people, from all corners of the globe, motivated to train and race for a wide range of reasons. One such acquaintance I made during an April trip to Asia was Bob Shuler, an age grouper far from his home in Austin, Texas. I knew Shuler was a generous guy when he kindly offered me his place in line for the bike mechanic, as I was short on time and trying to squeeze in a pre-race ride with pal Hillary Biscay. It turns out that gesture was but a tiny hint of Shuler’s selfless spirit; he was competing in Challenge Taiwan as the fourth stop on a six race, six continent swim, bike and run tour designed to raise funds and awareness for Well Aware (wellawareworld.org), a charity focused on creating sustainable water systems in Africa. Read on to learn about Shuler’s impressive journey, which he’ll complete on the finish line on Ali’i Drive in Kona, a bonus seventh race after being selected for an Ironman World Championship lottery slot.
The inspiration behind the adventure…
“In 2012 while racing Ironman New York City I spent nearly two hours during the marathon portion helping a recently found friend and celebrity, Guy Adami from CNBC’s Fast Money, through his first Ironman race. He was raising money for Team in Training and the inspiration I received from Guy and the TNT members as they recognized each other during those two hours made me think of what I could do to potentially make a difference.
As a chemical engineer my whole working career has been spent making chemicals to clean the water that six billion people in the world have access to. But one in seven people in the world do not have access to the water that we take for granted every day. I wanted to try and make a difference for just some of those one billion people, in whatever small way I might. I also knew that doing something that would be viewed as ‘crazy’ or ‘unachievable’ in the eyes of most people would probably attract the most attention to my cause.
Without a specific charity in mind, I decided to race an iron-distance event on every continent in the same year. I knew that this surely would be a world record. It had to be. But as the kids say today, ‘Not!’ My research found that Petr Vabrousek, a professional triathlete from the Czech Republic, had actually done this feat. The only thing I could do was to do it quicker than Petr had. Interestingly enough, Petr raced in two of the events I did this year and has become a good friend.
In early 2013 I charted out my plan of attack to hit all the continents. I would start with the HITS Triathlon in Naples, Florida in January and then race on the other five continents in quick succession starting in late March–Ironman Melbourne on March 23rd, Ironman South Africa on April 6th, Challenge Taiwan on April 19th, IronCat (in Spain) on May 10th, and Ironman Brazil on May 25th. This would blitz Petr’s record of seven months with the new record being nineteen weeks, and the last five completed in nine weeks.
It took nearly nine months from the time I decided to race an iron-distance triathlon on every continent to find the water charity I would represent. I am a Rotarian International member. At our weekly meetings we have speakers and at one meeting our speaker was Sarah Evans from Well Aware (WellAwareWorld.org). Sarah founded Well Aware after a visit to Kenya and was inspired to start a grassroots charity based in Austin, Texas to install sustainable water systems in Africa. Well Aware is famous for their transparency of where donations go and can boast that nearly 90 percent of all gifts go to the kids in Africa that need it most. Obviously we hit it off instantly. To represent the charity and the plight of the children I decided to carry a five-gallon water can during the marathon portion of the races.”
A highlight from each race…
HITS Naples: “I thought this was going to be a slam-dunk easy race due to the flatness of the course. Surprisingly, it turned out to be the second most challenging race of the year. For some strange reason I am extremely susceptible to blisters on my feet. If anything were to keep me from finishing six continents in such a short timeframe it would be because of blisters. This race was no exception. The marathon portion was painful. I am convinced a higher power was looking after me at this race. I met a person during the marathon that told me to use moleskin on my feet as a preventative measure. I used moleskin on my feet the remaining five continents and had no issues. And as fate would have it, this lesson came 10 weeks prior to the five remaining continent blitz, allowing those blisters time to heal.”
Ironman Melbourne: “Ironman Melbourne was epic. I got to race with the best athletes in the world. My prior races never had this caliber of athlete. I stayed with a Rotarian family in Melbourne. At most Ironman races my family stays at home due to the expense of travel and the fact that Ironman isn’t exactly a spectator sport. But in Melbourne, around mile 13, I heard, ‘Go Bob!’ and lots of screaming. My homestay family drove around the marathon course and actually found me three or four times to give me encouragement. I was very honored and touched by their act of kindness.”
Ironman South Africa: “I lost my job leading up to my six continent adventure, so I changed my travel plans and stayed two weeks in South Africa prior to racing Challenge Taiwan. Again I stayed with a Rotarian family. Words can’t explain how friendly and accommodating these and the other Rotarians were to me. The president of the Rotary actually stuck around past midnight to help me as I finished that race–albeit it being five minutes late. Another memory of that race was Andrew Messick, CEO of WTC, spending 30 minutes with me on course doing anything he could to try and inspire me to the finish line before midnight. Thankfully they let me finish the race, keeping the goal of ‘finishing’ an iron-distance event on every continent alive.”
Challenge Taiwan: “Everyone who does triathlon needs to do a Challenge race at some point in their career. When Challenge says ‘family’ they mean it. Michael D’hulst is the race director for Challenge Taiwan. Here is what he did for me: He arranged for me to hang around with the pros at pro only events. He bought me a five-gallon can to carry during the marathon. He arranged to have my bike transported from transition, which was three miles from the finish line. He booked my lodging and inter-Taiwan flights. That’s family!”
IronCat: “A very interesting race” in Ampolla Spain, this is the Spanish federation iron-distance championship. The race is limited to 250 competitors and has a 15-hour time limit. This was my second fastest race of the year but I still finished second from last in 14 hours, 52 minutes.”
Ironman Brazil: One word: Endurance Sports Travel. Whoops, that is three! Ken Glah and his group do it right. They take 100 percent of the pressure off of logistics and allow you to race. One of Ken’s coworkers in Brazil even arranged for me to carry his 20-liter can during the race. It was a great way to finish the six continents. Plus I met up with my old friend from Taiwan, Petr Vabrousek, at this race. It was fitting that the previous holder of the record would be with me.”
What he looks forward to most about Kona…
“Kona I view as the ‘victory lap’ to cap off a very exciting year. I look forward to just soaking in all the hoopla of the big week. Unlike most of the athletes I am only looking for a finish at some point before midnight. It will also act as the 20th anniversary trip my wife Anita and I never got to take two years ago. Much of this comes with the help of my new corporate sponsor, ConnectWise. It has been a tough year financially and their help is appreciated. In Kona there is a saying race week: Anything is possible. Being a 59-year-old from Austin, Texas and completing six iron-distance races on six continents in 19 weeks, I have to agree. Anything is possible.”
How to help…
To give to Well Aware and make other dreams possible, donations can be made to wellawareworld.org or 6on6in14.com. A simple $15 donation allows one child to go to school, versus fetching water for his or her family.