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Albany's Willcox enjoying success in Ironman races

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Robert Downey Jr., eat your heart out.

The real "Iron Man" is in Southwest Georgia.

It's former Westover and Georgia cross country star Jason Willcox, who swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and ran 26.2 miles as he finished 50th overall and second in his age group (age 40-44) with a time of 9:20:38 in the Florida Ironman triathlon in Panama City, Fla., last weekend.

"It was something I've always wanted to do," said Willcox, who lives in Albany and was competing in his second career Ironman. "I was never sure I'd have a chance to compete in Hawaii, but things came together and I had a big day."

It was Willcox's best-ever finish in the notoriously difficult competition, and qualified him for the Iron Man World Championship in Hawaii on Oct. 8, 2011, which was an unexpected surprise.

"I thought I could probably go somewhere between 9:35 and 9:45 and I was just hoping to earn a slot (for Hawaii)," Willcox said. "The problem is, you don't know how many slots there are until the day after the race. So after I was done, I tracked the race on Ironman.com."

At first, the 40-year-old thought he finished seventh in his 40-44 age division, but he soon found out he got second out of 403 competitors, giving him an obviously satisfying accomplishment and free trip to the Aloha State.

"(The Ironman) is pretty hard," Willcox said. "I swim somewhere around 10,00 yards a week -- sometimes up to 15,000 or 16,000 -- (leading up to it). I also bike about 150-200 miles a week and run usually 40 miles."

It's a tough regimen for the lawyer and father-of-three, but he's used to it.

"I guess I've always done endurance athletics since high school," said Willcox, who is a 2010 Albany Sports Hall of Fame inductee. "I ran the mile and half mile for Westover, then went to Georgia on a track scholarship and ran there. Starting in 2002, I began doing decathlons.

"Once I heard my friend did Half Ironman, I decided to (try it out)."

He started training and eventually competed in his first Ironman in Arizona in 2005. But this year, he had to overcome Mother Nature in addition to regular preparation.

"It was freezing down there," Willcox said. "I biked a course in October and it was in the low-to-mid 90s the two days I rode. Standing on the beach (last weekend), it was 38 degrees when I got into the water.

"It was a good swim and I didn't encounter any traffic, then when I got on the bike it was 41, which was 50 degrees less than what I'd been training in, so that was a big shock. It was a good, surprising bike ride, though, then I got on the race course and it was one mile at a time."

Willcox, who won the state AAA championship for Westover in cross country in 1988 and was an AAU state champion and All-American, also has to maintain a strict diet 10 months out of the year -- mainly chicken, pasta, fish, vegetables and nothing fried -- but thanks to his wife, DeeDee, and children Deena (8), Carson (7) and Charlie (4), he's found the motivation to keep going.

"My wife and family went down (to Florida) and I had some friends that were extremely helpful during the race," said Willcox, who was a No. 2 finisher for his team in the SEC cross country championship at UGA. "It's a long race and seeing them there cheering for you gives you a little bit of momentum."