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This Doctor’s Success in Triathlon Is All About His Gratitude, Not His Finish Time

He might not be the fastest triathlete, but Bill Begg certainly races with the most heart.

It takes a certain type of person to get the attention of Mike Reilly, “the voice of Ironman,” at a race. After all, Reilly welcomes home upwards of 2,000 triathletes at the finish line of each event he works, and he really doesn’t have much time for chit-chat.

But in 2012, Reilly noticed Bill Begg and his family at Ironman Lake Placid. “He told us that he’d been at the job for a while, but he’d never met a family like ours,” Begg recalled. Indeed, the clan couldn’t help but be noticed. There was a total of seven Beggs racing that year, including Bill, 57, his wife, his daughter, his son, his two brothers, and a niece.

“It was so cool to be able to see all six of my family members out on the course,” he said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing to have seven Beggs line up for Lake Placid, and made the entire experience so special.”

Begg doesn’t just stand out because of his ability to convince his nearest and dearest to dedicate a year of their lives to training for a race–only to suffer all day long to get to that finish line. An emergency medicine doctor, he’s made headlines in the past for saving the lives of two separate men in two separate road races (coincidentally, both went down with cardiac arrest near Begg, who was competing. Each time, he immediately started CPR, and continued compressions until they reached a hospital). He lobbies for gun control and safety laws after watching several of his friends lose children in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in his hometown of Newtown, Connecticut. And, this past year, he has served on the frontline of the pandemic in Vassar Brothers hospital in Poughkeepsie, New York, attending to hundreds of patients diagnosed with COVID-19.

All that, plus a racing resume that features 14 Ironman finishes over the past 12 years—an accomplishment that’s earned him a spot in the Ironman World Championship through the Legacy lottery, the program that randomly selects from a pool of athletes who have completed at least 12 Ironman races. He plans to race in 2022.

Bill Begg and his family. Photo provided by Bill Begg.

Among all of his many titles–doctor, hero, advocate, Ironman–Begg is most proud of his status as a family man. A father of three and a dedicated husband, Begg is just as close to his two brothers, who share his passion for triathlon. Michael also has a Kona legacy spot, and he’s hoping that Tommy will hit the lottery in time for them to compete alongside one another in the world championship in 2022. It would be especially poignant for the brothers, who lost their father when Bill was just seven. “When my dad died when we were small, our mom sat us down and said, ‘We only have each other and we have to stick together,” he said. “So that’s what we’ve done. We’ve stuck together through thick and thin. And triathlon.”

Begg is quick to say he “stinks” at triathlon–(“I’m so slow,” he said with a laugh)—but despite routinely finishing towards the back in races, he hasn’t let that deter him from going after his own goals and dreams. Having the perspective of an ER doctor and knowing first-hand the fragility of life certainly helps.

“Every day, I see people lose loved ones, or be diagnosed with life-altering illnesses. That’s just part of the job,” Begg said. “So if I’m in last place, or have a bad race, I just take a step back and appreciate that I have the ability and the courage to get to that finish line.”