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Bob Babbit writes about triathlon age-grouper Mike Bucher, who is the proud father of 14 children.
Mike Bucher (pronounced “Boo-ker”), the pastor at the Calvary Chapel in Cleveland, was sitting in his home while I was in our radio studio in San Diego. “So Mike,” I asked, “can you name your kids?”
For most parents, it’s a total snap. Remembering three, four or five names? What’s the big deal?
But Mike and his wife, Sheila, are not like most parents. For a time, their family vehicle was a 15-person shuttle bus. They spend $500 a week on groceries, go through a battalion-size box of cereal for breakfast and an oversized bottle of ketchup at dinner along with five gallons of milk. Their washer and dryer handle five loads of laundry every day.
That’s what happens when you have 14 kids, which is why my question didn’t seem so easy to me. Mike laughed. “I used to also be able to give you the birth weight and birth date for all the kids,” he says, “but just the names? No problem! Matthew, 25; Elizabeth, 23; Noah, 22; Caleb, 21; Joey, 20; Isaac, 18; Anna, 16; Abby, 15; Melody, 14; Becky, 12; Daniel, 11; Mikey, 9; David, 7; and Sammy, 4.”
Sheila and Mike went to rival high schools in the Cincinnati area and met on a blind date. “We were married when Sheila was 19 and I was 23,” he says. Two years later, they became parents for the very first time.
Mike grew up loving speed. His dad, Jim Bucher, was one of the best top fuel dragster drivers and an inductee into the Drag Racing Hall of Fame. During his teenage years, Mike drove dragsters, played baseball and football, and lifted weights. “I despised endurance sports,” says Mike, laughing.
After breaking an ankle playing football when he was 45 and being told he would never run a marathon because of the severity of the injury, Mike created a four-year plan to not only complete a marathon (he finished his first marathon at the age of 49 in 2011) but to finish an iron-distance triathlon. He completed a sprint triathlon nine months after breaking his ankle and loved it.
He moved up in distance the next few years and completed an Olympic, a half-Ironman and then two iron-distance Rev3 Cedar Point races in Sandusky, Ohio. “The event really should be called the Iron Heart or Iron Will Triathlon,” he says, “because that is exactly what it takes to get to the finish.”
While Sheila homeschools the kids, Mike puts his bike on the trainer with his MP3 player, Bible and notepad to prepare his sermons. “I can spend two to three hours working on my message,” he says. “There are a lot of voices in the house and a lot of voices at the church. While I’m running or riding or swimming, that is the alone time I need to do my job as a pastor.”
At the age of 50, he feels he is fitter than ever. “I want to still be healthy when my youngest is as old as my oldest,” he continues. “I’ll be 70 then.”
While their life certainly has challenges, there are some significant upsides. “We always have plenty of labor to rake leaves, shovel snow and mow the lawn,” he says. “Every child does their own laundry, and they all are growing up to become responsible young men and women. I feel like our kids have learned to be selfless, not selfish, and that’s an important life lesson.”
One of Mike’s favorite triathlon memories came at the end of his first Rev3 iron-distance race in 2011, where he went 13:42, when 12 of his kids were there to run across the line with him. “That was a very special moment for me,” he says.
But while Mike is well aware that finishing two long-distance triathlons is great, the real star in his world is his wife. “Sheila has given birth to, raised and homeschooled 14 children,” he says. “Sheila is the only real Ironman in our house.”
Bob Babbitt is the co-founder of Competitor magazine, the co-founder of the Challenged Athletes Foundation, the host of Competitor Radio and an inductee into the Ironman Triathlon Hall of Fame and USA Triathlon Hall of Fame. To hear his interviews with more than 500 endurance legends, visit Competitorradio.com.
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