The Midwest, with its hot, humid summers and typically cold, snowy winters, is not exactly known for producing endurance competitors.
But Monroe County appears to be a hot bed that readily grows or attracts them.
In September, the Republic-Times reported on Waterloo’s Gary Schmidt, who had just completed an Ironman competition in Madison, Wis. In addition to enduring the day-long event, Schmidt also “competed” against Type-1 Diabetes as he pushed to the finish.
In November, we wrote about a group of Columbia residents who conduct daily 5 a.m. runs. The group includes Stephanie DuVall and husband and wife, Mike and Carla Becherer, who compete in marathons and half and full triathlons.
Then, last week we reported on Gibault Catholic High School principal Russ Hart’s recent achievement of a qualifying time for the 2017 Boston Marathon.
This week, we turn our attention to Michael Crook, home for a visit with his parents, Adrian and Marcella, on their family farm south of Waterloo, following a November Ironman race in Panama City, Fla. Here, he is helping get the farm ready for the coming winter, cutting trees, splitting wood and other preparations with his father.
And he is continuing to work out to stay in shape
Crook continues the Gibault connection as well, having graduated from there in 1985 and recently attending his 30th reunion with classmates.
Michael told the Republic-Times that he wasn’t a runner in high school. He did play soccer. He continued on to the University of Illinois on a math scholarship, joining the Air Force ROTC program there.
“I started running then,” he said.
Although he said it was partly for physical fitness, it was also for what he humorously termed “study avoidance.”
Upon his graduation in 1989, he was commissioned in the Air Force, which led to a 24-year career. His first duty station was McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Wash. Two years later, he logged the first of many marathons in Seattle. He served his career in financial management, overseeing military and civilian pay as well as travel pay and regulations.
During a military career that took him from Washington to Alaska to Germany, Korea, Florida, Japan and the Mideast, Michael added marathons in such places as Tokyo, Paris and the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C.
Asked how he gravitated to Ironman races, Crook said he had accumulated several books on how to compete in these races, “but I never got around to reading any of them.”
Instead, he just plunged right in – the Ironman starts with a 2.4-mile swim – in Panama City, Fla., this past September, recording a time of 13 hours, 20 minutes and 39 seconds.
“I am still feeling my way in these competitions,” he said. “I need to work on my swimming, and I was wary about expending too much energy on the bike ride. I still had a marathon to deal with. So, I think I had more in reserve and I’m targeting a 12-hour finish next time.
Crook detailed a number of potential issues with the Ironman. In addition to water temperature cut-offs for wet suits, there are several potential time penalties in the cycling section.
“You cannot litter with water bottles or draft on another rider by riding closer than 20 feet, or deviate too far from the prescribed path. All of those violations are penalized by making you stop at penalty tents – they are time lost,” he said.
Although he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2013, Michael still maintains an Air Force connection, riding with the Air Force Cycling Team in the annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa – or RAGBRAI.
That annual event covers some 468 miles in six days.
There’s another Air Force connection for Crook. His wife, Nyree, is also a Lieutenant Colonel, with 18 years of service. She is serving as a financial manager at Moody Air Force Base near their home in Valdosta, Ga.
And the day before we interviewed him at his parents’ home, she called and informed him, “I’m being transferred – we’re going to the Pentagon!”
Crook said he replied, “I’m retired. You’re going to the Pentagon. I’m just going to Washington, D.C.”
In addition to training for endurance competitions, Michael is halfway through preparation to become a certified financial planner for his next career.
And so the pattern of distance swimmers, bikers and runners continues to manifest itself across Monroe County.
Nobody’s setting any world records – but just getting there is a magnificent personal achievement in itself.
By the way, if you see an oval decal on a car’s back window that says, “13.1,” that signifies someone finished a half marathon. A “26.2” tells of a full marathon completion.
Is there one for finishing an Ironman? Yep. It says, “140.6.” But there are not a lot of those in the grocery store parking lot.