Marylanders gear up for Ironman triathlon Saturday in Hawaii

Five years ago, Billy Busko kept a promise to himself that changed his life.

Shortly after learning his father, Bill, had been diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare form of skin cancer, Busko made the two-hour drive from his home in New York City to the Hamptons on Long Island. Busko entered a bicycle rental shop, picked out a road bike and asked for a 100-mile route.

The shop attendant looked at Busko like he was crazy. And he might have been. Busko promised himself that if he could bike 100 miles and still be able to walk the next day, he would enter the Ironman triathlon to honor his father.

The ride left his legs feeling heavy and his body a bit sore, but Busko was excited that he met his goal. He raised nearly $15,000 in donations for cancer research and competed in Ironman Canada in Penticton, British Columbia, that August, finishing 413th overall in a field of more than 2,200 participants.

Now a veteran of the competition, Busko will compete along with 17 other Marylanders in the 2010 Ford Ironman World Championship on Saturday in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

"I think it's very rewarding, both physically and mentally," said Busko, a 46-year-old Cockeysville native and 1982 graduate of Dulaney High. "Growing up, I had watched the Hawaii race on television and wanted to try something that would push me and something I didn't know if I could complete going into it. No guarantees."

The Ironman World Championship is the ultimate test of endurance, forcing competitors to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles over Hawaii's rugged terrain.

Glenwood native Roseann Dougherty will be competing in her fifth Ironman and her first world championship Saturday. As an oncology nurse at University of Maryland Medical Center, Dougherty draws inspiration from her patients' daily battles with cancer and chemotherapy. The 51-year-old scribbled the names of more than 100 patients on a lei to connect them to her journey in Hawaii. She calls them her cancer warriors.

"Everyone has a story," Dougherty said. "We're all connected and here to help one another. It's a gift to be here and we want to share it with everybody."

Cockeysville's Ed Jablonski, 49, will be competing in his ninth Ironman, and his fourth in Hawaii. Jablonski trained roughly 20 hours per week in the 16 weeks leading up to the world championship, waking at 4 a.m. to train on weekdays before heading to his job as an engineer with Northrop Grumman. On weekends, Jablonski dives into the pool at 7 a.m., begins a four-hour bike ride at 8 a.m., and finishes with an hourlong run.

"It takes a lot of training and a lot of focus over a long period of time," Jablonski said. "It's not as daunting a task after all these years, and you can't look at it like that. You have to compartmentalize and break it down."

In the 2009 world championship, Busko finished 64th of 183 participants in the 45-to-49-year-old age group with an overall time of 10 hours, 51 minutes, 11 seconds. Busko has been an active runner since high school, when he ran cross country at Dulaney under legendary coach Bob Dean, whom Busko credits for pushing him to be the athlete he is today. It wasn't until the preparation for his first Ironman when Busko began biking and swimming competitively.

Busko's father died in February 2006, less than six months after his son began competing in his honor. Busko cherishes the people who donated money to cancer research five years ago in tribute to his father. And before he ventures to the starting line Saturday, he will look at each of their names and channel their generosity for an added boost.

"I've always been really moved by the number of friends and family that supported me during the cause," he said. "He was very happy for me and was really overwhelmed for the support by our family and friends. It's great inspiration."