UT-Tyler Coach Inspires More Than Just His Team

You won't find many cross country coaches like Bob Hepler. The Patriots second year coach estimates he has run in around 150 triathlons over the past 15 years, including 6 Ironmans in Hawaii, the Super Bowl of triathlons.  But a freak accident early last year, paved the way for his biggest accomplishment.

"I was running and I slipped on some ice," explained Hepler, "and in mid-air as I was going down, I heard a pop and it turned out, the hamstring just came clean off the bone."

"When you totally detach your hamstring, that is such a severe injury," said  UT-Tyler Recreational Program Assistant Jeff Holland.  "He was expected to come back and maybe walk without a limp."

But Hepler had other plans.  After unergoing an experimental surgery at the hands of the New England Patriots surgeon, the 43-year-old decided to make another run at the Ironman. And two weeks ago, he did just that, qualifying for his 7th world championship.

"To have an injury like that," said Holland, "to come back, it was an amazing feat and he continues to surprise all of us."

Hepler says his biggest challenge is balancing training, work, and spending time with his wife Lynne and son Harrison;  something he's much more conscious of the seventh time around. He's also pleased to see his story has helped inspire more than just his cross country team.

"Childhood obesity is a huge problem in this country and in East Texas," said Hepler, "and anytime anyone can be an inspiration to people to help overcome that is a real positive thing."

The Ironman is scheduled for October 15, right in the middle of the cross country season.  But , in a crazy coincidence, Hepler happened to have scheduled a bye that week.

Kevin Berns reporting.