MONTESANO — One day, Montesano’s wastewater treatment plant manager Kevin Hegel was sitting on the couch. On television, the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, was on.
Hegel got an idea — more or less an epiphany.
“I had thought about that for years,” Hegel said. “I was just wondering if I could do it. I didn’t know about the run and the swim, but I knew I could do the bike. So, I just decided, since I just turned 52, I would try it.”
In 2010, Hegel competed in his first half-Ironman triathlon. Now 56, he has four half-triathlons and four full triathlons under his belt, along with several sprint and Olympic distance triathlons.
“I’m having a lot of fun,” he said.
For Hegel, who is also a veteran high school basketball official, he has to divide his time very precisely in order to get his training work in for his triathlons.
His base, however, is his bike. A lifelong bicyclist, the 1976 Montesano High School grad is known around town on his bike. He’s ridden in touring events such as the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic, the Courage Classic for Mary Bridge Hospital, the Mount St. Helens trail ride, Hurricane Ridge and others.
He’s also taken trips to Colorado, Montana and other parts to ride in tours and compete.
“I just love to ride ever since I was a kid,” Hegel said. “It never left me. If I go a couple of days off the bike, I get antsy. I have to get on the bike. There are days when the weather isn’t good, I’ll move the bike and run around. You have to mix it up sometimes, but it is always on the bike.
“One of my best moments was in Colorado, hitting 60 mph coming down a hill,” he added. “Of course, you start thinking about blowing out a front tire at that speed. It wouldn’t be good. I was hitting top speed and I passed a semi on the way down. I felt like I was in ‘American Flyers.’ Eventually, I pulled over to the side and the semi pulled over to give me a thumbs up. It was great.”
Hegel has written a few posts from 2006-08 on crazyguyonabike.com, a website where serious touring cyclists write about their trips.
Admittedly, Hegel has slowly gotten into running and is struggling with the swimming.
“I hadn’t swam in 42 years when I started,” he noted.
Once the basketball refereeing season ends, Hegel will embark on his six-day training regimen.
“I’ll wake up around 4:50 a.m. to get to the (YMCA of Grays Harbor) to swim, then get to work by 7:30 a.m. and be off work by 4 p.m.,” Hegel said. “On Tuesdays and Fridays, those are the run days. On Wednesday, bike and run. Thursday, just the bike. On Saturday, it’ll be a long bike. On Sunday, it’ll be a long run. A lot of times, I’ll run whatever the training is, then hop on my bike. On my off-day, I’ll get on the bike as well.
“It takes a lot of time.”
Unfortunately for him, his body frame isn’t suitable for full triathlons — 6-foot-4, 220 pounds — and he mostly competes in sprints and Olympic-distance triathlons.
“That’s not a runner’s build,” he laughed. “I can power the bike, but I just get through the run. The best I do is in the shorter distances. The extra weight on the bike is great, but not on the run. Most of the time, just like in the Olympics where you see competitors collapse at the finish line, that’s me.”
At the event
One of Hegel’s first full Ironman triathlons he competed in is the Wisconsin Ironman in Madison, Wis. This summer, he’ll return for his fourth full triathlon.
To some of the locals, he’s recognizable during the event — for his bright orange triathlon outfit he wears during the competition.
“In one of the sections of the run, you cut through some of downtown Madison and there are locals there cheering you on,” Hegel said. “They’ll go, ‘Here comes Orange Man.’ It is pretty funny when they do that.”
At the Wisconsin Ironman, the course begins at Lake Monona in downtown Madison for one loop around, continues with two 40-mile loops through Dane County on the bike and finishes with two loops through downtown Madison, the University of Wisconsin-Madison camps, Camp Randall Stadium and along Lake Mendota.
Hegel noted the course, but also the volunteers that help everyone along, as the biggest highlights of the event.
“Before the race, you sign in and you are already pumped up,” he said. “You look over your bike, get your wet suit on and get to the water. You go in waves, so you are in the water floating, freezing. Once the gun goes off, you hardly have to take a stroke. There are 2,600 swimmers in one area, just a mass of people.
“You get out and fall down,” Hegel added. “There, you have people strip you out of your suit — two people take it off (I have my tri-suit on, of course.), they help you up, hand you your suit and you head off to a room to change. From there, volunteers take your stuff, help you with your bike bag and send you off.”
Hegel also noted that before you take off on your bike, volunteers are there to put sunscreen on you and cheer for you along the way. There are even costumed spectators — a la the Tour de France — who run next to the competitors to cheer them on.
Once you transition from the bike to the run — change, get help from the volunteers — you head off through Madison and the party atmosphere along the way.
“At the aid stations, they have music playing to keep you up,” Hegel said. “Inside the campus, they say that the Ironman is just another excuse for the students there to party on Sunday. They have speakers up atop the hill. They’re dancing, partying, offering you beer. I don’t take one.
“As you come to the finish chute, there are thousands of people there cheering; it is an experience,” he added. “When I come around the corner, it is always an emotional thing for me. You cross the finish line. (The Voice of the Ironman) Mike Reilly calls out your name and calls you an Ironman and people are right there to grab you for whatever you want. It is a great experience.”
On the court
Hegel is the president of the Grays Harbor Basketball Officials Association and has been officiating basketball games on the Twin Harbors for the last 15 years. He played basketball, along with a little bit of golf, when he attended Montesano High School.
He is also one of a small handful of officials who have had the honor of officiating a state championship game — 2007, the state 1A girls basketball title game between Colfax and King’s-Shoreline, a 31-28 win for Colfax.
“It was a very low-scoring game,” Hegel said. “I worked with a guy from Yakima and one from Seattle. It is always tough to have guys work together who have never worked together before. You always want to do your best job out there.”
For Hegel, he enjoys the time on the court with the players, coaches and fellow officials. In February, during the District IV 2B tournament in Montesano, Hegel got to officiate with his youngest son, Kyle.
“That was one of the biggest things was working with Kyle,” Hegel said. “To me, that was a huge, great moment in my life. To see him become a better official and to work with him.
“We have a big group of officials, but the problem we’re having is that we’re getting older,” he added. “Over the last 10 to 12 years, we’ve only picked up three high school kids. One of those was my son, Kyle. It is a lot of fun being out there. I love staying involved in the game and being with the kids. Initially, I did it for a little bit of extra money. Now, I still do it, but the money goes toward bike touring and the Ironmans.”
Hegel, who is single, noted he didn’t know how long he’ll last as an official, but he has some plans for when he retires full time from the wastewater treatment plant.
“One of my goals is to ride across the Unites States,” he said. “When I retire, Adventure Cycling has these routes and I’m going to do the Trans-Continental route. Then, I’ll do the one across the northern states. I can just be out there by myself.”
Alone on the road, just not on the couch.
Rob Burns: (360) 537-3926; email: email@example.com; Twitter: @RobRVR.