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Rob Verhelst

- Triathlete, Firefighter, Coach, and Motivational Speaker -

"Your strength is in your passion"

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"I feel if each person looks within themselves to find their key passions in life, then aligns them with their priorities, your journey becomes clearer. Think of your life as a story and never let anyone else hold the pen."


Robert Verhelst, a 34-year old Madison Firefighter, and lives in Waunakee, WI in the USA. He is an active Firefighter for the City of Madison, WI. An Air Force Veteran and dynamic participant in endurance events of all sizes, Rob uses his varied experience to inspire and motivate his audience to “participate” in life. He is real, approachable and provides a framework for others to believe in following their dreams, ideas, and passions.

For the novice athlete, it’s hard to imagine what it feels like to participate in the grueling athletic competition known as the Ironman Triathlon: the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike race, and 26.2-mile run all in one stretch. Now imagine doing the last leg weighed down by 50 pounds of firefighter gear! The first time he did an Ironman, he didn’t know what to expect, even though he had been in fires, and worn the gear for the job for the last 12 years that he had done it. He knew it was going to be hot and heavy, but he also knew the mentally that he would have to overcome to get through it.

It goes back to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Rob had been a Firefighters for less than a year and was at work that morning. As soon as he heard the news he knew he had to go to New York. By the time he got to Ground Zero two days later, search and rescue had become search and recovery. For the next eight days, he helped comb through the rubble. Then, last year, before the 10-year anniversary of the attacks, retired California Firefighters Lorenzo Abundiz visited Verhelst's firehouse to talk about his foundation, Code 3 for a Cure, which is designed to raise money for Firefighters diagnosed with cancer.

So now, through his Ironman events, the man known as “Fireman Rob” (firemanrob.com), raises money for Code 3, along with an organization Verhelst co-founded called Destination Donation, an endurance team that promotes organ donation through athletic events. Rob has become Code 3's biggest fundraiser to date, raising at least $20,000. Verhelst is also motivated by the unity the nation felt after Sept. 11 and the camaraderie involved in the Ironman events. Once, Rob mentioned the following: “It's not a cause, but just remembering how we came together as a country after 9/11 — that perseverance that commitment, that teamwork really is something that I carry with me during every one of those Ironmen. I can see it in the endurance athletes; along the way they help me finish these races."

He said he tries not to train when the kids are around. Instead, he will sneak out in the morning, late at night, or at the fire station. “I get in what I can get in and beyond that, I just really keep an active lifestyle. And, I think that's the biggest thing that helps me out.” The Firefighter gear he wears in the races include a helmet, coat, bunker pants, and an air pack or breathing apparatus that Firefighters use. The pack weighs 30 to 35 pounds. “Getting myself to the point of becoming uncomfortable, and getting past that to keep going” is something Verhelst said he learned in the Air Force. Verhelst said his message has different meanings to different people; his goal is to show people that they can persevere beyond their pain, by showing that while what he is doing may be causing him pain; he can push through that pain and conquer seemingly insurmountable challenges.

"The mission of the Fireman Rob Foundation is to provide a trusted platform and vehicle that allow others to inspire, and also to be inspired to be part of something bigger than themselves. The mission is two-fold; the fundraising done for the Fireman Rob Foundation will be used to deliver Gund bears to children in local children's hospitals and provide a donation to local children's charities or hospitals in cities where Fireman Rob competes, speaks or visits. Fireman Rob's mantra is “Your Strength Is In Your Passion,” and his passion is driven by his love for his children. The second component, The Fireman Rob Foundation is the TEAM that is composed of individuals with a drive to spread our message of passion and being part of something bigger, as well as, making a difference through action. Individuals or groups can sign up to live an inspired life and be part of Team Fireman Rob Foundation. Fundraising funds are then used for our Gund bear mission and delivered to local charities. Administrative costs of the Fireman Rob Foundation will be funded by direct sponsorships, so no fundraising or donation funds will be used for administrative costs. Be inspired and live inspired. The Fireman Rob Foundation is about creating a TEAM or Ohana of people who want to make a difference in their communities, cities, or worldwide. We are a Foundation built on passion and inspiration, and will help makes others to believe in the impossible. "Fireman Rob is a brand that promotes inspiration, passion and purpose primarily through events, social media and speaking. I strive to show people the potential in life and business through action based experiences and living," Rob says. If you want to support Fireman Rob's Fundation, and obtain more information, please visit the following link www.firemanrobfoundation.com Along with his non profit, he also helps to raise awareness and funds for others, including, Destination Donation (promotes organ donation nationally through endurance sports-he is a co-founder), RACC (Racers Against Childhood Cancer), One Man One Mission Foundation(helps create "Early Learning" centers worldwide for individuals with CP and other disabilities), and various others.

Robert Verhelst

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Why did you agree to become part of Triathlon Inspires?

I feel that inspiration is the driving force behind endurance sports as a whole. Inspiration in triathlon is seen through the countless people who brave the pain, time, stress and other elements it offers to find themselves. It provides a different emotional level to each person since everyone has a different story and journey to the finish.

How does it feel to be an inspiration to others? Did you ever expect to become an inspiration?

It is very humbling and amazing to have people feel that you are an inspiring factor in their life. It is a great responsibility to live your life in a manner that you want your children to be proud of and model for the future. Inspiration is not a black and white feeling, it encompasses all the colors, thus I feel that inspiration through action provides others the ability to take what they need to succeed.

Why are Triathlons so inspiring? What makes this sport so special around the world?

This sport is for anyone. Providing a platform for people to push their limits and dreams in a venue that tests your mental, physical and emotional fortitude.

When did you start participating in triathlons? Were was your first competition?

I started participating in triathlon at age 10 in a sprint kids triathlon in Wisconsin. I took some time to play basketball and water polo in college then as an adult I started back in triathlons around 2005 at Ironman 70.3 Florida. After that point I was hooked and loved the energy it provided.

What motivates you in life?

My Ohana (Family) is the driving force in my life. They provide me with the inspiration to start, the motivation to keep going and the love which ties it all together.

What would you say to other people with similar ambitions?

"Your strength is in your passion" is the Fireman Rob motto. I feel if each person looks within themselves to find their key passions in life, then aligns them with their priorities, your journey becomes clearer. Think of your life as a story and never let anyone else hold the pen.

Who inspires you? Why?

My Ohana (family) is always first and foremost, then it is people who reach beyond the comfortable and follow their passions and dreams to find an unknown journey. Inspiration is a very person emotion and to put your finger on one thing that inspires me is difficult. I love the unknown of what will inspire me to keep going...that is the inspiration of triathlon.

How did you deal with obstacles in your life?

I have had major obstacles from dealing with working at Ground Zero during 9/11 and other life events, to minor obstacles like lost luggage at an event. The one constant with overcoming obstacles is YOU. You determine how you react to it. You attack the challenge with the strength needed. You decide whether it will define you or you will use it to move forward on your journey.

What do you like most about Triathlons?

The greatest thing about triathlon is that no matter if you are a professional or a first timer, triathlon is about your personal journey through a grueling, challenge event to find that you are worth every step, every drop of sweat and anything is possible with passion.

Mention major accomplishments in your life other than triathlons

Married to my wife Nicole with three amazing kids (Son - Noah, 7 Stepdaughters - Avery, 11 & Payton, 9) Was named by Wisconsin InBusiness Magazine as one of the 25 Most Influential People in the Greater Madison Area for 2013.

What is in the future for you?

Being the best husband and Dad I can, with speaking and endurance events mixed in to continue inspiring and motivating others to live an action based life.

Do you support or represent any Non-Profit Organizations?

Yes. Fireman Rob's Fundation. For more information, please visit the following link: www.firemanrobfoundation.com Along with his non profit, he also helps to raise awareness and funds for others, including, Destination Donation (promotes organ donation nationally through endurance sports-he is a co-founder), RACC (Racers Against Childhood Cancer), One Man One Mission Foundation(helps create "Early Learning" centers worldwide for individuals with CP and other disabilities), and various others.


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