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Ironman competitors thrive on enthusiasm of family, strangers

Mon., June 25, 2012

Behind every Ironman competitor is a dedicated support team. Take Team Mattison, for instance: Their day began at 4:30 a.m. when they helped Matt Mattison, 27, set up for the swim portion of Sunday’s Coeur d’Alene Ironman. And well past noon, when Mattison came running down Seventh Street, they broke out in cheers, screams and high-fives worthy of a rock star. Mattison beamed while running by.

“It looks like he’s doing good,” said his dad, Greg Mattison, with a huge smile on his face. “We just follow him around. We’ll find another spot to watch now, and then we’ll head on to the finish line.”

Team Eric was wearing bright red T-shirts and camping out on Sherman Avenue, near 10th Street, waiting for 18-year-old Eric Fisher to bike by. The Fishers had family in town, including grandma and grandpa who came from Minnesota to watch.

“Eric just graduated from Coeur d’Alene High School, so we are having a combined Ironman and graduation celebration,” said Debbie Fisher, Eric Fisher’s mom.

Debbie Fisher said her son started training for Ironman in his senior year, after he decided he wanted to do something other than play football. He’s put in countless hours of running, biking and swimming to get ready for the event, said Debbie Fisher, adding that she was more worried than Eric and most anxious about the swimming.

“I didn’t sleep at all last night,” she said, scouting down Sherman, looking for her son. “So it helped that I was 5 inches from him when he came out of the water, and I was able to cry and see that he didn’t drown.”

About 4,500 entries were expected in Sunday’s race, and thousands of volunteers in lilac T-shirts worked tirelessly through course closure at midnight to make sure everything went well. Even in the middle of the race, they all seemed to have time to smile, ring the little Ironman cowbells and cheer on the tired athletes.

The Blazen Divaz of Coeur d’Alene were cheering for the third year in a row, this time near the corner of Sherman Avenue and Seventh Street.

Wearing grass hula skirts and various combinations of brightly colored wigs, sunglasses and upbeat attitudes, the group of women danced, clapped and cheered all afternoon.

“Usually they do community service and nonprofit work, but we wouldn’t miss this,” said John Parmann, whose wife Julia Parmann is part of the group. “They really connect with the runners. You just can’t bottle their kind of enthusiasm.”

Support teams don matching T-shirts and colorful outfits to make it easier for tired competitors to spot them along the route. Stephanie Felber was wearing a polka-dotted shirt and a bright pink headdress while waiting for her husband, Gary Watts, to bike by. Felber was training for this Ironman but found a lump in her breast that turned out to be cancer. The diagnosis put an end to her Ironman plans, but it did not stop her from showing up to cheer on everyone else. And her prognosis is good: She plans to participate in Ironman 2013.

“People say they can’t believe I’m here cheering,” Felber said, “but why wouldn’t I be here? I had planned to be here all along. And this will give me something good to think about when I go through chemo.”

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