Obviously this level of competition requires a trained body, but Otstot emphasizes how his overall William and Mary experience prepared him mentally for his achievement.
“Any person who can succeed at a school like W&M can become an Iron Man if that's where their passion lies. It’s all about sacrifice, persistence, a willingness to learn new things, and having fun.”
Otstot received his B.S. in Kinesiology and was a varsity cross country athlete all four years as an undergrad. “Having that understanding of physiology, sports psychology, anatomy, biomechanics all contributed to having the skills to be able to coach myself,” Ostot says.
He was a runner on the NCAA Division I championship squad. In the fall of his junior year, his team placed 14th in the nation. Otstot fondly remembers that victory as one of his favorite memories at William and Mary. It was his time on this team that taught him to dig deep within himself to find the inner strength necessary to be an Iron Man.
“When you train and race as hard as we did in college, you can mentally put yourself deeper into the ‘pain cave’ in workouts and in races. That’s part of being successful at any sport …being mentally tough and not giving up when things get rough.”
After college, Otstot decided to remain a member of the Tribe. He received his M.Ed in K-12 administration and supervision from the educational policy, planning and leadership (EPPL) program at William and Mary’s School of Education. However, for Otstot, graduating from college didn’t mean graduating from the team. He explains, “I had seen such drastic improvements in the time that I was in college, and I knew I had more in the tank. So I kept training with the team as a volunteer assistant and grad student.”
Otstot watched the Iron Man World Championship in Hawaii on television since he was in high school. “It was always in the back of my mind to race in it, but more than anything,” He recalls, “I wanted to go because the athletes competing are truly the best.” He bought a bike to cross train and found that his physical talents extended to cycling as well. However, Otstot wanted to know just how far he could push his talents. He wanted to test himself against the best in the world.
So, he took temporary leave from his teaching position in the James City County Public School System said goodbye to his students at Rawls Byrd Elementary School. “I was left almost speechless as they threw a going away assembly for me Friday afternoon,” He describes, “The inspirational words, kind gestures, financial contributions, and rallying support really helped me to get to the starting line with confidence and even a little swagger.
Even with his swagger, Otstot could not deny the intimidation factor when he arrived to compete in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. “The entire week there was a constant stream of people running and cycling up and down the road in front of our house. Everyone was fit, confident, and fast. Unless you recognized someone's face, you couldn't tell the professionals from the amateurs.”
If you have ever watched the Iron Man World Championship, you might be able to picture the intensity of the situation that Otstot was competing in. The race starts at 7:00 a.m. with the 2.4-mile swim. He described this start to be a frenzy of kicking legs and powerful arms hitting bodies and faces. “I would have been wise to hire Chuck Norris as my personal trainer if I had known what it was really like,” he jokes.
After beating his goal swim time by three seconds, Otstot jumped onto the bike. The course is curvy, hilled and made difficult by Kailua-Kona’s oppressive October climate. Otstot fought through strong winds of the island and the incredible heat emitting from the fields of lava that he was biking on. “It had reached 95F plus humidity,” He describes, “and then in addition to that, we were out in the middle of a lava field with black rock radiating all that heat and making it feel even hotter.”
Off the bikes and onto the pavement, Otstot began the last stretch and started his 26-mile run. He was able to maintain a seven-minute per mile pace throughout the run despite the “ludicrous” heat that was consuming the island. Otstot remembers the climb up Palani Road:
“Right at mile 10 there's a pretty serious climb up Palani Road to the Queen K Highway. On the lava fields again! This hill was the breaking point of a lot of athletes. I felt like Usain Bolt running past them at 7:00 pace.”
He admits that the last miles were the most difficult point of the race, but he continued to pass runners as he made his way back into town and finished the race with a time that he was very proud of. At the end of the race, Otstot was emotional and grateful for many things, including the observers and locals that provided him with lots of liquids and especially grateful to one volunteer who dumped a gallon of ice water on his head after the race in celebration.
“I felt thankful when I finished, thankful for all who helped me get to this point, thankful that I didn't suffer from any serious problems that would have required medical care, and thankful that it was done and I could go and sit down for a while.”
Now Otstot is back at Rawls Byrd Elementary teaching his students “the importance of becoming physically fit, staying active, and eating healthfully.” He continues to train and will compete in a few half iron mans and couple of Olympic distance Triathlons in the coming year. He will stay an amateur one more year, but eventually wants to qualify as a professional Iron Man.
Otstot describes his experience in the race as “an accomplishment that I’ll cherish,” He continues, “I learned a lot of things about myself in that 9:27:49 that you can’t learn anywhere else but by yourself in the middle of a lava field in the Pacific Ocean.”