A few hours into Ironman Coeur d’Alene, Zach Wimberly lay on the fire hot asphalt, trying to relieve the paralyzing cramps taking over his body. But, with 11 hours to go on the bike and a full marathon ahead in triple digit temps, Zach found the determination and sheer grit to finish the race with minutes to spare through his passion for mental health awareness and fellow Ironman athlete and friend, Devon Lind.
“It was pretty brutal. I just had to keep one foot in front of the other,” said Zach Wimberly.
The endurance race includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile marathon. Zach and his good friend, Devon, trained together for years for the big race.
“We learned from each other,” said Devon.
As a former college athlete at Eastern Washington University, Zach struggled with mental illness during his time on the football field. So, when he signed up for Ironman, he wanted to use the platform as a way to raise money for Hilinski’s Hope, a non-profit honoring WSU quarterback Tyler Hilinski, who died of suicide in 2018.
“It’s close to my heart. There’s such a stigma in the student-athlete realm that you have to be tough to make. I want to normalize that it’s okay to not be okay,” said Zach.
Zach wore a #3, Tyler Hilinski’s jersey number, and set out to make a difference on race day. Zach clipped into his bike after the swim portion of the race and set out to conquer 112 miles in record-breaking heat. Around mile 57, the first cramp took hold.
“My whole lower half was cramping. I just thought about who I was representing, those impacted by mental health, and thought about myself and all the pain I went through,” said Zach.
With that mindset, Zach fought through the cramps and finished the 112-mile bike ride. But, as he put on his running shoes for the marathon, he knew it wasn’t going to get any easier.
“I just prepared myself for the death march. I could hardly walk. But I knew I had to make it,” said Zach.
Around 14 miles into Zach’s run, Devon, who had just four miles left in the race, crossed paths and stopped running to walk alongside Zach.
“He was down. He was mad at himself. So, I just said, ‘We’ve got to finish this thing’,” said Devon.
Devon encouraged Zach for several miles by creating smaller goals such as making it to the next stop sign, the next tree, and the next mile marker. Quick spurts of jogging followed by painful walking. Then it was time for Devon cross the finish line.
“He turned to me and said, ‘I’m going to finish, and then I’m going to come to find you, and we’re going to finish this thing,’” said Zach.
After finishing the race, Devon relished in the remarkable moment for a few minutes, then quickly turned right around and ran four miles to find Zach.
“It was dark at that point. I don’t know how I had the energy, but I just ran and stopped at the aid stations asking if they’d seen a bald guy come through here,” said Devon.
Finally, Devon reached Zach, and together they painstakingly increased the pace to finish within 17 hours, as required by race officials. Finally, just two minutes and three seconds shy of the 17-hour mark, Zach crossed the finish line and became an Ironman. In all, raising $5,100 for Hilinski’s Hope.
“I just folded over. I was overcome with so many emotions. I hugged Devon and said, ‘I couldn’t have done it without you.’ It was a pretty cool experience,” said Zach.