Panama City Beach, FL --- The 15th installment of IRONMAN Florida finished late Saturday night and while the leaders set North American speed records for the event and were done by the middle of the afternoon, many competitors still raced into the midnight hour, the final hour, as the weekend culminated in a celebration of outstanding achievement and personal victories.
Just before 7 AM, IRONMAN Florida competitors began a journey that would push them to their extremes for over 140 miles, testing their toughness, physically and mentally.
While pro triathletes dreamed of a perfect race, clocking in at record time, many hoped to simply finish what they started.
In this, the final hour, the remaining racers never had a chance of winning, let alone crossing the finish line before sundown.
So why volunteer to suffer this physical anguish?
For Muki Laszlo, she did it to prove to herself she could.
"This morning, I didn't think I could do it. I wasn't sure. I looked at those waves and I looked at the water and i thought, 'I don't know if I can do this. What did I sign myself up for?!' I cried, I laughed, I smiled. It was just the most incredible day of my life."
For Katrina Silvia, she did it for her friend, fellow firefighter Andrew Hills.
"This race was in tribute to my best friend that passed away June 4th. He was 33 and he died of cancer. We went through EMT together, fire school together, and got hired together. He said I was his hope and inspiration so now I have a guardian angel looking down on me."
Silvia was also racing as the national ambassador for the "Code 3 For A Cure" Foundation, which assists firefighters financially who are suffering from cancer. She also donned full fire gear for her marathon portion of IRONMAN, running all 26.2 miles in her helmet and gear she wears on the job.
For pro triathlete Andrew Starykowicz, who set an American record for the event just seven hours earlier, he returned to support and cheer.
"We have people from all ages, all races, all sizes that come out and participate. So many people go, 'Oh, I can't do it. I'm not fit.' These people have signed up and made the decision, made the choice to make it there. This is my life and I'm passionate about it and so are these people."
For Joe Stone, who's attempt to become the first quadriplegic to finish IRONMAN was cut short, he watched for motivation.
"I missed the swim cutoff by two minutes and that was pretty devistating for a while, but I had an amazing experience, unlike I've ever had before. I'm just honored to be with all these athletes tonight. To see everyone cross the finish line right now is pretty amazing and emotional. We'll be back. I'm not letting go of this one. Not until it happens."
As for the finishers, they went through all the pain and all the emotion just so they could hear... this...
"You are an IRONMAN!"