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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

After 2011 Ironman warm-up, Tom Aylward has sights set on 2012 finish line

Tom Aylward, 63, of Spirit Lake, has won a handful of age-group medals since attempting to complete Ironman Coeur d’Alene in June. (Kathy Plonka)

When readers of The Spokesman-Review last heard from Tom Aylward, the Spirit Lake man who lost 80 pounds while training for his first Ironman, he had fallen short of completing the 2011 Coeur d’Alene race.

He made the 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride just fine, but had nothing left for the marathon – a 26.2-mile run. He was at peace with his performance and didn’t plan to attempt the grueling endurance race again.

Three days later, he woke up and signed up for the 2012 race.

“I gotta do it again,” said the 63-year-old. “I was so close. I had to finish it because it’s something I haven’t finished. I don’t want to give up again. This time I’ve got to finish it.”

Since the Ironman, Aylward has won a pile of medals in shorter triathlons. He finished second in his 60-64 age group three times and placed third in the half-Ironman in Grand Coulee on Sept. 17. He trains daily and plans to kick it into high gear on Jan. 1 in preparation for his second attempt at the full Ironman.

Aylward originally was motivated to begin training following the May 2008 death of his wife. His weight had risen to 319 pounds and he was on a self-destructive path of eating and drinking too much. On a suggestion from a friend, he volunteered at a triathlon, then at the Ironman. Inspired by watching people cross the finish line, he latched onto finishing the Ironman as a goal.

Aylward hired Coeur d’Alene personal trainer Shawn Burke, and the two continue to work together weekly. Burke, an 18-time Ironman finisher, has become a close friend and a source of inspiration for Aylward. Following last summer’s Ironman, Burke felt so strongly he’d let his client down that he couldn’t face him for three days.

“I learned from it also,” Burke said, asking himself: “How could I be a better trainer? How could I be more effective?”

One thing Burke decided to do is not compete in the race himself next summer, instead focusing all his attention on supporting his client.

“I think doing the Grand Coulee half (Ironman), he got the glimmer back of, this is feasible,” Burke said. “We took a negative and turned it into a positive.”

Though Aylward didn’t finish the Ironman, training transformed his life from a sedentary one in which he did not eat healthy foods to one in which he trains daily, eats more healthfully and has an active social life with friends and training partners.

He also inspired numerous people, from a Washington State University professor who included Aylward’s story in her nutrition textbook to friends who are marathon training to people who still approach him randomly, saying they felt inspired to pursue their own goals after reading his story in the paper.

Next on Aylward’s agenda are the New Year’s Day Hangover Handicap 5-mile race in Coeur d’Alene, followed by the Polar Bear Plunge into the lake.

“I never stopped training,” Aylward said of the aftermath of Ironman, which was on a Sunday. “I would say by Tuesday of that week I was back training again, so I took one day off.”