MADISON, Wis. - A 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride.
Oh, and a marathon to top it off.
Sunday's Ironman Wisconsin served not only as a test of strength and endurance but, on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of Sep. 11, 2001, athletes also showed the spirit of an entire nation's resiliency.
When strength meets the fanfare of a finish line, the glory of success is easy to see.
Along the quieter paths of the Ironman Wisconsin marathon, glory is a mere passenger to a stronger driving force, or, as Madison police Lt. Dave McCaw said, "It just reminds you that things are bigger than you."
For about 150 police, fire and military servicemen and women, 2011's Ironman Wisconsin is a chance to carry the legacies of those who lost their lives a decade ago.
"Even though I have no personal connection to those individuals, through the profession, there's a close-knit tie," said Madison police Capt. Carl Gloede.
Even before Sunday's event started, emotions were already running high.
"I think it's going to be an extremely emotional day, for a lot of reasons and for a lot of people," said Krista Verhelst, a Madison police officer.
Representing the spirit and strength of Team 9/11, Madison firefighter Rob Verhelst carried 65 extra pounds through the Ironman Wisconsin's marathon, gear that reminds the 11-year veteran firefighter why the journey must continue.
"When people see me walking in that gear, struggling with those 26 miles, in 65 pounds of gear, I want people to think of more than just, 'Oh, he must be tired,'" said Verhelst. "Think about why I'm out there. Why I'm doing what I'm doing."
Moments after the attacks, Verhelst drove to New York City to continue the work of his fallen brothers and sisters.
"I did eight days there," remembered Verhelst. "I got there two days afterward. So it's a huge part of my life."
Verhelst said he saw both the worst and best of humanity at Ground Zero.
"It's important to remember the attacks happened," said Verhelst. "But I think it's more important for people to remember what happened post-attacks. How we all came together as a nation, and how we all were going towards a common goal."
Along the Ironman Wisconsin course, just the sight of Verhelst drew an emotional high for the crowd, WISC-TV reported.
"I was very emotional," said a member of the crowd. "I mean, it's a wonderful tribute to the great sacrifice that a lot of people made on 9/11."
"Our guys are out there running for our brothers and sisters that lost their lives on 9/11, and that means a lot to all of us," said one of Verhelst's firefighter co-workers.
As Verhelst inched closer to his goal, Team 9/11 reflected on how the path to a nation's healing must move beyond the race.
"The people who cross the finish line, or even the people who cross after midnight, it's about spirit," said McCaw. "And I think that's what 9/11's resolve of America was. Our spirit will prevail."
For more information and race results, go to the Ironman Wisconsin website.
Along the Ironman course, firefighters paid special tribute to those who lost their lives on 9/11.
A display at Fire Station 4, in front of Camp Randall Stadium, showed the 343 names of the fallen New York firefighters. The holes in the skyline of the memorial represented those gone but not forgotten.
One of the creators of the memorial said it's his own way of never forgetting.
"It's a representation of what firefighters do every day," said Patrick Masters. "They don't know what they are going to or what the consequences would be but they go anyway and that's the ultimate display of that on 9/11."
Masters, along with Jeff Frank, put together the memorial.
He said he hopes the sign also gave strength to those taking part in the Ironman Wisconsin competition.
Other members of the Madison community reflected on 9/11 through music on Sunday afternoon.
The Madison Symphony Orchestra hosted a free concert to commemorate the day with songs honoring those who lost their lives and loved ones.
"Our thoughts to put this concert together was to give the community a voice and a place to commemorate and observe what happened 10 years ago that was so significant to the lives of so many people," said artistic director Gary Lewis. Lewis said around 300 volunteers from the Madison community participated in the concert.
Elsewhere, a University of Wisconsin-Madison student organization planted more than 3,000 American flags on Bascom Hill. The group responsible said its goal is to urge other students to come together and honor the victims.
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