Jefferson Award winner competes in IRONMAN triathlons in firefig - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

Jefferson Award winner competes in IRONMAN triathlons in firefighter gear

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WAUNAKEE (WKOW) -- Competing in an IRONMAN triathlon is hard enough, but imagine doing it over and over again, in full firefighter gear.

That's what this month's Jefferson Award Winner does to raise money for kids and provide some inspiration.

"I always say your strength is in your passion. My passion is just to inspire people, to be a positive influence on this society and people around me," says Waunakee's Rob Verhelst.

He's always wanted to make a difference.

Rob served in the Air Force and has been a Madison firefighter the past 15 years.

He also volunteered eight days at Ground Zero in New York City after the September 11th attacks.

 "For a lot of years, I held a lot of anger and just bad emotions on it. Through that I've had to come out with a positive outlook on it. Everything I've done moving forward with this has stemmed from 9/11 and from what I experienced there."

On the tenth anniversary of the attacks, he competed in IRONMAN Wisconsin, running in his firefighter gear, to send a message.

"I really wanted people to remember that day for how important it was and how we came together."

The response was so overwhelming, he decided to continue his mission to inspire.

He started the Fireman Rob Foundation in 2013, and has since finished 15 full IRONMAN triathlons, and 14 half IRONMAN triathlons, with 50 extra pounds on his back.

"I have the bunker pants, the jacket, the helmet, and then the air pack."

Rob plans to break the Guinness World Record for most half IRONMAN triathlons completed in one year, 22.

Friend, Brent Hoffman says, "Be a part of something bigger than yourself and that's inspirational. And that's something everybody should be a part of."

Through the races, Rob raises money for the foundation to buy Gund bears.

They've delivered them to children's hospitals in 29 states and two countries and put smiles on thousands of young faces.  

"That smile is the endorphins to help their white blood cell count go up and help them get healthier or just help them smile for one second," says Rob.

"I talk about living an able life and following your passion. An able life is action based living and being engaged in every moment in your life."

Rob hopes to break that Guinness World Record by November.

He also wants to raise $20,000 this year to donate the bears to 100 different hospitals.  

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