Are you looking for inspiration to be healthy, overcome injuries or a good example of perseverance? Then look no further than Newtowner Dr. William Begg.
After 13 years of intensive training, a myriad of injuries, and having completed 14 of the 21 Ironman triathlons he has participated in – Begg achieved his goal of qualifying and competing in the Ironman Triathlon World Championships, held in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii earlier this month. .
Begg endured (and enjoyed) 15 continuous hours of swimming, biking and running with other relentless athletes in 95-degree heat, high humidity and high winds.
He qualified as a legacy competitor after completing at least a dozen full Ironman triathlons. Injuries and various other factors, including weather conditions at some races, prevented him from qualifying earlier.
Has this iron man ever considered throwing in the towel?
“Absolutely not. My line from the start was ‘I’m going to keep racing and I’m going to end up at the finish line or I’m going to end up in the ER,'” he said.
Sure enough, Begg, who works at Danbury Hospital in the emergency room, ironically enough, found himself in the ER more than once following the setbacks of the Ironman event. He has also reached the finish line at more than enough Ironman events to qualify for Hawaii, including 11 consecutive Ironman Lake Placid events beginning with his first Ironman event in 2009.
“Let me tell you, it was probably the greatest experience of my life,” Begg said of competing alongside top athletes from around the world. He narrowly missed the end of the national competition, missing only ten miles. He completed the 2.4 mile swim, the 112 mile bike ride and more than halfway through the 26.2 mile run (marathon distance).
“I gave it my all,” Begg, 59, said.
“It was by far the toughest bike of my life,” Begg said, adding that in addition to temperatures nearing 100 degrees, competitors faced humidity over 70% and windy conditions. “The humidity was absolutely overwhelming.
“It was 5,500 feet of clean climbing and the wind was blowing 15 to 20 miles an hour in my face,” Begg said, adding that he drank 16 liters of fluid on the cycling portion alone.
Prepare to qualify
Just qualifying for this event was a major feat in itself for anyone, let alone a 59-year-old. Not to mention, one who has a full-time job and a part-time job. Begg’s job at Danbury Hospital is part-time, and he is Vice President of Medical Affairs for Nuvance Health Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, NY.
Despite his responsibilities, Begg managed to prepare for this grueling competition, to say the least.
As of April 2022, Begg has been training an average of 150 miles a week, doing lots of trail riding and running after dark, with a headlight, and swimming in the morning before the sun — and probably many of us by the way – was up.
“The biggest benefit of this whole business is trying to stay healthy,” Begg said. “It’s a reason for me to get out of bed and train and make good decisions. If I never finish another one, I’m okay with that.
As for the setbacks Begg has had to overcome over the past decade and more: he had to have his neck fused following a bicycle accident, there was knee surgery, a concussion, a lung collapsed and various fractures. “I had a lot of injuries,” he understated.
But still managed to achieve his goal.
Begg went to Hawaii 13 years ago to volunteer as a doctor at the Ironman triathlon medical tent, when his brother, Tom, competed. Begg was most inspired by people who had full-time jobs but still prioritized commitment to a healthy lifestyle of eating and exercising so they could compete in such a high level. “If I can do well in medical school, and it wasn’t easy, I can do it,” Begg thought.
No stranger to rigorous drills and competitions to begin with, Begg was an avid runner and completed over 1,000 runs. He got involved in cycling with Team 26, a group that cycled in honor of the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting. Begg did some of his swim training with his wife, Leah, who has completed six Ironman triathlons.
In addition to his wife’s involvement, their children Erin, Billy and Molly were implicated. Molly has competed in triathlons, Erin and Billy have completed ironman events, and Erin is only three away from qualifying for the world championship.
“We’re going to go back to Hawaii in a few years to watch it,” Begg said.
Begg and her daughter will compete in the Maryland Ironman event, one they have done before, next September as part of her qualifying and joining the action.
His brother, Mike, also qualified this year. “It’s been a family affair for a long time,” Begg said.
At the end of the day, Begg considers his training and maintaining good health, while serving as an inspiration to others, as the greatest benefit of this whole endeavor.
“I think of myself as another middle-aged person trying to stay healthy,” Begg said.
After competing in Hawaii, Begg first retired from this intense training – for a week. But he decided to get back to it and even ran the Weston Reservoir Run half marathon in Weston last weekend.
“I’m so happy to be so healthy that I don’t want to give up training,” he explained.
Begg, however, will backtrack slightly. Now he plans to only compete in the “easier” Ironman events – those that take place on flatter terrain and in more comfortable temperatures.
Working at Danbury Hospital, Begg says he has seen people younger than him admitted after suffering heart attacks and strokes and is motivated to stay healthy and fit for a long time to come.
“You have choices about your diet and your exercise. You can have a happier, longer life if you make these tough choices about diet and exercise,” he said.
And maybe participate in an Ironman triathlon (or 20 something like that).
Sportswriter Andy Hutchison can be reached at [email protected]
Dr. William Begg, of Newtown, competed in the Ironman Triathlon World Championships, in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, in early October. The event includes 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of cycling and a 26.2 mile run. —photos courtesy of Dr. William Begg
It took 13 years and 21 attempts to complete at least a dozen Ironman triathlons for Dr. William Begg to qualify for world championship competition.
Dr. William Begg is pictured with his wife, Leah, and their children Billy, Molly and Erin at Ironman Lake Placid in 2009. It was Begg’s first Ironman triathlon.
Dr. Willaim Begg is pictured with his son, Billy, at the 2019 Maryland event.
Dr. William Begg and his daughter Erin at the Maryland event. They will be back next fall as Erin plans a trip to Hawaii for the world championships.