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Competitors line up for the start of the 2019 IRONMAN Florida competition in Panama City Beach.

What do a doctor, a nurse practitioner, a division administrator and an IT manager have in common? They are all triathletes. On November 2, 2019, Bjorn Holmstrom, Denise Bushee, James Pepoon and Joshua Rivera competed in the 2019 IRONMAN Florida in Panama City Beach. Over the course of 17 hours, they swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and ran 26.2 miles. 140.6 total miles later, these Moffitt team members crossed the finish line culminating months of training and overcoming obstacles along the way. 

Denise Bushee

  • APRN, Breast Clinic
  • 22-year Moffitt team member
  • Six-time IRONMAN
  • Final time: 16 hours, 23 minutes, 19 seconds
  • Fun fact: On race day, the water was like glass. On the first loop of the swim, I saw two sharks swimming underneath the swimmers. I, ironically, did not panic, but thought ‘just keep swimming.’

How did you start competing in IRONMAN?

  • I started out wanting to do a 5k. The next thing I knew, I was running more and wanted to challenge myself more. I completed a 10k, then a half marathon and then a full marathon. Then I heard about St. Anthony’s Triathlon and decided to participate. After that, I got hooked! I wanted to challenge myself even more, so decided to do a half Ironman. When I survived that I thought…well, why not go for the full Ironman!

What does it feel like to cross the finish line?

  • This year I dealt with a knee injury that prevented me from training the way I would have liked for the run portion of the race. I took a break from running and wasn’t even sure I would be able to participate until a month before IRONMAN. I was ecstatic crossing the finish line! It was a tough day, but I got through it and finished. I had zero pain from the adrenaline of crossing the finish line.

Bjorn Holmstrom, MD, FACP, FHM

  • Assistant Member, Internal and Hospital Medicine Program
  • 15-year Moffitt team member
  • 19-time IRONMAN
  • Final time: 14 hours, 40 minutes
  • Fun fact: Everybody gets IRONMAN tattoos…I have two.

Why do you participate in IRONMAN competitions?

  • I’ve participated in IRONMAN Florida for as long as I’ve been working at Moffitt, 15 consecutive years. Moffitt teaches me how precious life is each and every day. I swim, cycle and run for those patients who no longer can.

What does your training regimen consist of?

  • Training for an IRONMAN allows a positive outlet for stress relief and provides work-life balance. I do a lot of swimming, cycling and running. I team up with my friends with Cure on Wheels to train for the long bike rides and I use Orange Theory Fitness to help develop core fitness. I usually begin training four months before the event depending on my base fitness level.

Joshua Rivera

  • Manager, Revenue Cycle Systems
  • 8-year Moffitt team member
  • First-time IRONMAN
  • Final time: 15 hours, 57 minutes
  • Not-so-fun fact: I was stung by a jellyfish midway through the two-mile swim, but I swam through it. There was also an unfortunate incident involving me crashing my bike going 23 miles-per-hour. But I got up, dusted myself off and got right back on the bike.

Why did you participate in IRONMAN Florida?

  • I promised myself I would do an IRONMAN for my 10-year anniversary of being cancer free. This was the second most difficult thing I’ve done, after beating a 15% survival rate with my cancer.

What is your message to other cancer survivors who aspire to compete in an event like IRONMAN? 

  • Just remember that the race is not the hardest part; the training is. I trained for 24 weeks leading up to the race, six to seven times a week. If you train hard enough and are smart about your regiment, race day is merely a formality. You’ve already faced the toughest adversity of your life going through a cancer diagnosis and treatment. This is nothing!

James Pepoon

  • Division Administrator, Clinical Laboratory Medicine and Anatomic Pathology
  • 1-year Moffitt team member
  • First-time IRONMAN
  • Final time: 16 hours, 22 minutes, 44 seconds
  • Ultimate goal: I hope to compete in the IRONMAN Word Championship in Kona, Hawaii. You must complete a minimum of 12 full distance IRONMAN races in order to qualify.

What’s your key to success?

  • Start small and commit to consistency over the long haul, then gradually build. IRONMAN is the big picture, but it’s made of thousands of little brushstrokes. The hardest part of completing in a full distance IRONMAN is getting to the start line. Race day is the celebration of thousands of little victories that are strung together over many months of training.

How did you feel crossing the finish line?

  • Crossing the finish line is amazing! Don’t get me wrong, its work. Very HARD work. It’s dedication and commitment to perseverance, but it’s still FUN!

So what’s up next for this fabulous foursome? The annual Cure on Wheels ride to Tallahassee for Moffitt Day at the Capitol. The group will join more than 30 other cyclists who will make the 325 mile trek from Tampa to the state capitol to advocate for Moffitt Cancer Center.