NAUGATUCK — The family that ironmans together, stays together. Sunday, the Hellers of Naugatuck will ironman in Lake Placid, N.Y.
The idea was hatched in 2013. The Hellers, comprised of mom and dad Sandra and Dave, and the children, Kristin Mabrouk, 28, Brendan, 24, and Trevor, 22, are experienced triathletes. Arthritic knees caused Sandra, 54, to give up active competition, but she is three years into a career as a certified triathlon coach. Sunday, nine of her athletes, including three Hellers, will compete in Lake Placid.
“I had been mentoring others in the sport for a long time,” she said. “I didn’t market this. It just sort of happened.”
The Hellers have a deep connection with the sport through swimming. All three kids swam at Naugatuck High. Kristin later swam at Iona College, and Brendan and Trevor at Bryant University. All three served as captains.
Papa Dave, 55, is a familiar face at triathlons at Lake Quassapaug, which include two Revolution 3 and Pat Griskus memorial races. He is typically in a kayak or on a boat directing water safety. He is also race director for the annual Open Water Swim Festival at the Quassapaug Sailing Center, to be held this year Aug. 30.
In other words, the Hellers tend to make a big splash.
“They all had the idea to do this,” said Brendan, by cellphone Tuesday from Michigan’s Camp Grayling, where he was fulfilling a National Guard training commitment. “You could not get into a conversation with any of them without the Ironman coming up.”
When Brendan realized that Guard duties would keep him from the Lake Placid race, he fulfilled the family Ironman commitment on June 29 at the Challenge Atlantic City Ironman. Thus, he became the first Heller Ironperson.
He completed the Ironman — a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and marathon run — in 11 hours, 54 minutes, which was third in his age group and 115th overall.
It wasn’t until he completed the race that he realized what his coach — that would be mom — had done for him.
“She is very dedicated at putting out the training schedules,” Brendan said, “staying up on a Sunday night, making sure the workouts are set and accomplished. It is a lot of effort. She drove me crazy asking about my results. I didn’t realize how important it all was until I was actually doing the race. I should have been more appreciative.”
Apparently the Heller dinner table can become a battleground over training routines.
“The progression of the coach-athlete relationship has evolved,” Sandra said tactfully.
“It wasn’t good at the beginning. I was yelling at you, remember?” she said to Dave. “Reminding you that you weren’t doing it right.”
It is high-tech training now, with GPS devices and heart-rate monitors that chart progress over a 24-week program.
Sunday is graduation day and a reunion, too. Dave Heller’s sister, Carol Ann Redfield of North Carolina, another member of the Heller racing stable, will also compete Sunday, along with four North Carolina training partners, all of whom work with Sandra Heller.
This team can sell out an upstate roadside motel.
“It has been really crazy,” mom said.
“I used to say that they enjoyed torturing themselves,” said Kristin, who is the membership director at the Greater Waterbury YMCA and also director of the YMCA Racing Collaborative. “It is a genetic thing, and I didn’t have that gene. But then it manifested itself because here I am, and it’s been really good. We’re all working toward the same race, and (Sandra) helped us get there.”
It is also possible that this is an Ironman beginning. Dad said this is a one-and-done deal, but Trevor hinted there could be more down the road.
“This might be a once-a-year thing,” Trevor added. “We have to get the whole family in it together.”
That would include Kristin’s husband, Karim Mabrouk, who has also completed an Ironman.
For now, Trevor puts aside the standard sibling rivalry.
“I am just trying to cross the finish line and have fun along the way,” he said.
One future goal is to have Karim, Brendan and Trevor take a shot at qualifying for the Kona Ironman world championships, but that is speculative and far off. Trevor, an ROTC graduate and second lieutenant, begins a seven-year military hitch later this year.
That’s just another reason why the Heller occupation of Lake Placid is gratifying.
“This has been a special and unique experience,” Dave Heller said. “It allowed us to spend time together, be it on a bike, or running on the roads of Naugatuck, or back and forth across a lake. It is special to do this as a family. We trained together for six months with one goal in mind, to do something that will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”