The Ironman — a triathlon consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run — came to Madison Sunday. Of the nearly 2,000 competitors, junior Harry Panagakis was among less than 50 men between ages 18-24 racing.
“I was very grateful for all of the support I had along the way,” Panagakis said.
Panagakis was awarded the Mike Lanphere spirit award, a scholarship in honor of his lacrosse coach’s best friend who passed away from Lymphoma during his senior year of high school. With the help of Lanphere's mom, Panagakis set up a page for people to donate.
“Anytime that I have the opportunity to help them in any way, I try and do whatever I can,” Panagakis said. “I figured that this was a decently large platform and it would probably be a pretty good opportunity to raise some money and have it go to a good cause.”
Lanphere’s lacrosse jersey number was 11, and Panagakis raised $11,000. “It kind of just fit,” he said.
“I thought that was kind of cool because I got smoked by a whole bunch of older people so props to them,” Panagakis reflected.
A combination of COVID-19 boredom, and a solidified 9-to-5 schedule while working at a co-op program through the engineering major, made it possible for Panagakis to train for the race.
“I wanted something that kind of scared me a little bit,” Panagakis said. “It was something that I didn't know if I was going to be able to do as I was training for it. As I continued to progress, I had no idea, and even an hour before the race it was like, ‘I think I can do it, but I guess we'll find out.’”
The race was out of Panagakis’s comfort zone, who played a lot of sports growing up, but never anything that involved endurance. A year and a half ago, Panagakis suffered from a back injury and began swimming during his recovery as a way of staying active.
“I thought I was a pretty fit person at that time, I had always lifted weights and played sports and all that stuff,” Panagakis said. “But just swimming 25 meters across the pool, I was winded out of my mind.”
When his back began to feel better, Panagakis set small goals, seeing how far he could go starting from one length to pushing himself to swim a mile. At the time thought he could progress up to the 2.4 miles needed for the Ironman race.
Ironman competitors aren’t permitted to wear earbuds, but the atmosphere of the Wisconsin competition pushed Panagakis through the race.
“Ironman Wisconsin is pretty famous for how many people show up and support,” Panagakis said. “In the environment it was like it was very exciting. You almost didn't even need the music.”
Panagakis had family drive in from the Chicago suburbs and friends from school show up to watch him race, especially during the long run when he needed it most. Adrenaline or fear made it easiest to be motivated for the first portion of the race, the swim. Panagakis was confident with his biking after training, but found that the final leg, the run, was the most challenging to prepare for.
“You don't know how your body's going to react running after you've swam and biked those distances, so having that extra support of locals and friends and family definitely helped,” Panagkis said.
Panagakis finished 27th in his category and 712th overall, taking 13 hours, 19 minutes and 19 seconds to complete the race.