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Former supervisor turns Ironman ... again

May 14, 2014 - Andy Flynn
I’m always on the lookout for inspiring stories of weight loss and physical achievement, and last year when I saw a photo of my friend Roy Holzer posing with his road bicycle, I was awestruck.

I had no idea he was an Ironman and would be competing in the race again.

When I first met Holzer in 1996, I was the Lake Placid News staff writer, and he was the Wilmington town supervisor. By no means was he obese, but the man standing next to his bicycle was clearly a more fit version of the man I knew as supervisor. There was an inspiring story there, and I had to know more.

Holzer now operates the Little Supermarket with his wife, Becky, in Wilmington. In the back-room office of the store, he showed me the photo above his desk, crossing the finish line of the 2004 Ironman Lake Placid in 13 hours, 59 minutes and 4 seconds. That photo is his inspiration on down days.

“When I’m feeling, ‘Ugh, I don’t want to go for a run,’ I look up and say ‘I’ve got to get it done,’” he said.

Holzer remembers the first Ironman in 1999. Men and women of all ages swam 2.4 miles on Mirror Lake, biked 112 miles on a loop that included Wilmington and ran 26.2 miles, most ending their day at the finish line at the Olympic Speedskating Oval.

“I didn’t have a clue of what Ironman was, and when I finally found out, I thought they were all crazy,” he said. “Really? They’re going to do that to themselves? I was kind of a real skeptic.”

Then Holzer started going to the events. He volunteered at the firehouse for the aid station on the bike leg of the race. He attended to the swim start.

“Then I started going to the finish line, and I’d stay there and just kind of watch and see all the pumped-up emotion,” he said. “You start researching some of the people that were doing it, and you really do get inspired. It’s that simple.”

Some people who compete in the Ironman have lost an impressive amount of weight, changing their lifestyle in the process, and some have overcome diseases such as cancer.

“For me, staying until midnight up in Lake Placid watching the regular Ironmen come in — the men and women that are average Joes, and each of them have a story to tell — I get more inspired by that than anything as far as athletic stuff goes,” he said. “It’s not the pros. They’re good, and they’re awesome, but it’s the average men and women that have their stories, like the guy who had a heart transplant and finished last year. ... He had cancer, and the cancer killed his heart, so he had a heart transplant, and he completed the Ironman.”

By 2001, more than a year after leaving the town supervisor’s job, Holzer found he was no longer comfortable with his weight, and he was determined to make a change.

“I was feeling so out of shape and so heavy that it compelled me to lose some weight,” he said.

The thought of Holzer’s own mortality also played a part in his weight-loss motivation.

“When you start to realize that, unless you make some real conscious changes in your lifestyle, you’re not going to be around as long as you’ve already been,” he said. “I’m 48. Chances are — I’m middle-aged — I have more days behind me than I have in front of me. And I want those days in front of me to be as productive and as full as I possibly can. And that’s the bottom line.”

Holzer lost 40 pounds by making some fundamental lifestyle changes.

“I was never a big breakfast eater,” he said. “Even now, I hate eating breakfast. My whole lifestyle doesn’t evolve around shoving food in my mouth first thing in the morning. ... But it’s important that the first thing in the morning you’re putting something into your belly that’s going to fire up your metabolism. ... So I force myself to eat breakfast.”

The biggest change he made was eating better. Start with breakfast, and at lunch, get away from the not-so-healthy meals.

“A michigan, chips and a soda, and you’re done,” Holzer said of his old routine. “I’d keep going until late in the day, and then in the evening it was dinner and then snacks in the evening.”

Holzer drinks a lot more water now, has cut back on soda and tries not to eat after 7 p.m. When he gets a snack crave, he’ll grab some nuts or a piece of fruit.

“And then there’s the exercise part,” he said, “because no matter what you do, if you don’t cut down on your caloric intake and increase your exercise, you’re not going to lose weight. You’re just going to be status quo.”

As the weight came off, Holzer began thinking of ways to push himself, and Ironman became a possibility.

“The whole idea of doing the first Ironman, it evolved,” he said. “All of a sudden when you’re running 9 or 10 miles, you say, ‘Jeez, I wonder if I can do one of those.’”

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It was a leap. Holzer wasn’t known for his physical prowess. He ran cross country for the Lake Placid Blue Bombers but had not raced since graduating.

“When I was in high school, it was more working on the school yearbook, being on the student council, working on the school newspaper,” he said. “I wasn’t a high school jock by any means. I was into the nerdy stuff. I was class president for three years.”

Holzer had many hurdles to clear before launching his Ironman dreams, and swimming was one of them.

“The year I did Ironman, I couldn’t swim a lick,” he said. “The doggy paddle, to me, was swimming.”

In the fall of 2003, Holzer joined a master swim program in Lake Placid and continued swimming at North Country Community College’s pool in Saranac Lake. This past fall, did the same thing at the CVPH Wellness Center in Plattsburgh. To further his Ironman training, he also entered similar races such as the Tinman Triathlon in Tupper Lake.

Holzer didn’t put a time limit on his Ironman race. He simply wanted to finish. And he did, about three hours ahead of the midnight cutoff. He became one of the hundreds of people at the finish line with an amazing story to tell.

Now Holzer is preparing for his second Ironman race this summer.

“I always wanted to do it again,” he said. “This time, it’s a lot more enjoyable. Although I want to finish it, I don’t have that pressure. Before when I was doing it, I said to my wife and everyone around me, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to keep doing this until I complete it.’ This year, there’s not that pressure because I’ve already completed it.”

That doesn’t mean Holzer will give up easily. There’s still plenty of fire in his belly.

“If there’s an ounce of energy in me ... I don’t care if it’s 10 minutes after midnight, I’m going to do my best to complete it,” he said.

During this conversation, the Roy Holzer in the photo with his road bicycle came alive. He gave me some much-needed support and inspiration for my first half-marathon. I’m sure when the pain gets overwhelming, I’ll think of him and say, “If Roy can do the Ironman, I can get through 13.1 miles.” It may help me get an extra quarter mile down the road when my feet are aching, my legs are jelly and I can barely stand, never mind walk that last leg of the race up McLenathan Avenue to the finish line at the Oval.

So what advice would Holzer give others?

“My advice to anyone who is struggling with their weight is ‘Don’t be so hard on yourself,’” he said. “It all starts with a simple walk or cutting down on what you intake. ... Whether it’s 10 pounds or 200 pounds, start it somewhere and reach out to people to give you a hand every now and then to encourage you. And don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the diet or exercise wagon every now and then because it’s just part of the process.”

In the end, Holzer’s Ironman race isn’t really about Ironman at all. It’s only a tool he uses to keep the weight off and increase his quality of life.

“I’m just a regular middle-aged guy trying to get inspired by events around me to keep me on track for a healthier lifestyle,” he said. “As I move forward, I’m doing as many things as I possibly can to be as productive as I can and enjoy the ride along the way.”


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Roy Holzer, of Wilmington, finishes his first Ironman Lake Placid triathlon in 2004. (Photo provided)