He took a bet from his buddies and became an Ironman

Cameron Streff of Port didn’t even own a bike when he committed to the notoriously tough triathlon, but fueled by a never-quit mindset he finished the 14-hour race
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

Cameron Streff of Port Washington isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.

So when his friends threw down a bet of completing an Ironman triathlon race, Streff stepped, swam and biked up to the plate.

Streff, 28, is physically fit — he remembers his health teacher at Grafton High School inspiring him to workout and eat healthy — and completed a marathon last year without really training for it.

His regimen for that 26.2-mile run to benefit Feeding America included eating one Arby’s sandwich per day for 30 consecutive days, and the night before the race, he stayed up until midnight setting up a GoFundMe page.

“I went in with the mindset I was going to finish,” he said. “I feel if I put my mind to it I can do anything.”

That was tested on a larger scale in the Ironman Wisconsin race in Madison on Sept. 13. Once he took the bet, Streff knew he had his work cut out for him.

He didn’t even own a bike. Streff borrowed one from his uncle before he bought a used one.

Embarking on a 12-week training program, Streff arose at 4 a.m. to either swim, run or bike before going to work as a senior project engineer at Kohler Co.

Running wasn’t a big challenge since he had already completed a marathon. This marathon, however, is run after a 2.4-mile swim and 112-mile bike ride.

Streff worked up to swimming two miles at a time at the Feith Family Ozaukee YMCA in Saukville and sometimes in Random Lake to get open-water experience. The Wisconsin Ironman swim is held in Lake Monona.

When the weather was nice, he would bike 27 miles to his job and go for longer rides on weekends. But he never approached 100 miles, a mistake in hindsight.

 “I recommend people doing an Ironman know what 100 miles feels like,” he said.

He also recommends respecting wildlife. During one five-hour bike ride, he came across a “legit gang of geese” and said “It wasn’t pretty.”

After a lot of hissing, Streff turned around, put his head under his handlebars and sprinted away.

Streff’s preparation also included a half marathon in spring and a half Ironman in July.

Two and a half weeks before the race, Streff had to slow training after developing a stress fracture in his foot. But he would not be deterred.

This time, the night before the race he made sure to get a good night’s sleep.

Swimming was first and, sure enough, the water was rough that day.

Streff was confident since he could swim two miles, but he said he got nauseous on the last quarter mile from seasickness.

Biking was next, which had participants taking two loops through Middleton and Mt. Horeb.

Streff faced a mental challenge. While on the first loop, he convinced himself he was on the second.

He also had to lock his front and back brakes once coming down a hill on a tight turn. The path at times got tight, with Streff comparing it to the Tour de France.

It rained during the biking and running portions. Streff remembered some Ironman advice he had come across.

“Think what could happen because it’s going to happen,” he said.

The run through downtown Madison included two 13.1-mile loops and provided another mental hurdle. The first loop takes participants about 50 yards from the finish line before starting the second loop.

“The last 10 miles were definitely a trying time,” he said.

On the final mile, Streff’s brother ran with him next to the course, providing encouragement. The crowd gave Streff high fives on the last stretch of the race on the red carpet.

After 14 hours, 8 minutes and 23 second, Streff crossed the finish line.

“I was ecstatic that it was over,” he said with a laugh.

He saw his friends and family, who had supported him on his journey.

“It’s hard to process in the moment,” he said.

Streff was a mix of sweat, gel, anti-chafing cream, Gatorade and peanut butter and jelly.

A space blanket was thrown on him. He said he didn’t need it, but within five minutes he was shaking in the rain.

Streff initially told himself “I’m never doing this again,” but reflected on it the next day. He took a day off from work to recover and had trouble walking.

“I see a lot of benefit in doing something that challenges you,” he said.

“I think a lot of time we get stuck in our comfort zones. Ten years go by and you’re doing the same thing. The only way we grow is if we challenge ourselves,” he said.

Streff took some time off from training but has since resumed his regimen. He plans to do another Ironman and is looking into ultramarathons.

Streff upheld his end of the bet, and in return his friends — he describes one as a “beer league athlete” — had to run a half marathon.

Everyone finished, Streff said, although one pulled his groin halfway through and crossed the finish line in tears.

That provided fodder for the group’s podcast called Back40 Sports, which focuses on hunting, fishing and “ridiculous” news stories in a comedic style.

“We love the outdoors and wanted a reason to be together and do something that’s challenging,” Streff said.

Streff got out of his comfort zone again, learning photography and video editing to do the shows. He works on it every day after work.

After starting it a year and a half ago in the basement of a house where Streff and a couple friends live, the weekly podcast — it comes out on Thursdays — has thousands of followers. Guests include hunting and fishing experts and enthusiasts and other social media personalities.

“It’s fun. We’ve got our high school friends listening to it. I get recognized as the Back40 Sports guy at the grocery store,” he said.

Eventually, Streff said the podcast may take on sponsors. Streff has a vision to someday open a Boys and Girls Club-type of facility for children in the inner city of Milwaukee who grow up near world-class fishing but don’t have the opportunity to partake in the sport.

For more information, visit backfortysports.com.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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