By David M. WhiteJanuary 31, 2019
David M. White
Public Affairs Office
Eisenhower Army Medical Center
FORT GORDON, Ga. -- Patients in Eisenhower Army Medical Center's Intensive Care Unit can rest assured that their care is in the good, secure hands of an Ironman. No, not the cartoon Iron Man.
Lt. Col. Samuel E. Burkett is a board-certified Pulmonary and Critical Care Physician, and, in his age class, 40-44, ranked sixth in the world among Ironman Triathletes.
An Ironman Triathlon is comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile run, in that order and without any rest or downtime. It's considered the toughest athletic event in the world, according to those who have tried it and those who have sense enough not to.
At age 12 Burkett participated in an IronKids event in a distance run and swim competition. And was sold on the sport.
"I ran in college at the University of Northern Iowa," said Burkett. "Cross country and track." But the running fell by the wayside in medical school. He was reintroduced to triathlon through the Dare 2 Tri race held on Fort Gordon in March.
He's been at EAMC for eight years and participated in four half-Ironman events last year, which are held regularly all over the globe. Last September, he participated in the SuperFrog competition in San Diego, Calif. An Ironman Triathlon-sanctioned event, the SuperFrog historically has been conducted under the planning, guidance and execution of the Navy SEALs.
According to the official history of the event, the [goal of the initial SuperFrog] was to "prepare Navy SEALs to do the Ironman Triathlon. The second was to promote the sport of triathlon in the SEAL Teams where physical training was multi-faceted and competitive spirit is high … All [SuperFrog events are] carefully monitored and supported by UDT-SEAL Association members and volunteers and officers and men of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL Training department from the Navy Special Warfare Command."
Burkett finished September's SuperFrog fifth overall and first in his age group. He is qualified for the main event: The Hawaii Ironman Triathlon held by qualification only in October. The Hawaii Ironman is the original race and only the best of the best compete.
"Fewer than 1 percent of all triathletes qualify for the Hawaii Ironman," Burkett said.
Burkett trains 12-18 hours per week and recuperation time after a race is a week or two.
While the racers participate in packs, the sports are generally individual by nature. Racers compete with their bodies against their minds, the clock as well as against their fellow racers.
Burkett finds peace and calm … almost a meditative state … as he runs, bikes and swims. The father of two, an 11 year old and a three year old, uses the training time to release the stress of the day.
Perhaps being a physician gives him a bit of an edge on the competition but he's not sure of that.
"I understand the physiology of endurance training and sports nutrition, but it easy to overanalyze and get lost in the details," he said. "So, just like physicians consult me for my pulmonary expertise, I found a coach to give me advice." But he doesn't think the scientific approach gives him much of a leg up … or a step ahead … of his fellow competitors.
"I'm grateful I have the ability to compete," he said, "and train."
Between now and the October competition at the original Ironman Triathlon in Hawaii … the Daytona 500 of marathon competition … Burkett will train and do a tune-up half-triathlon in Nice, France, in September.
In the meantime, he's here at EAMC caring for soldiers and their family members. If you need care fast, he's your guy. He's an Ironman.