They are training for the Ironman competition at Panama City Beach next weekend.
Being accepted to participate is not easy. The slots are gone in a few seconds after they become available. David said being a volunteer at previous Ironman competitions improves your chances of getting one.
But running is just one part of their training. As of now in preparation for this triathlon, David has gone about 5,945 miles running, bicycling and swimming. That includes running about 2,400 miles, biking 3,261 miles and swimming 272 miles.
He and his friends have been conditioning themselves almost daily for six or seven hours for months.
Notice I said it is a competition. David explains that you are only competing with yourself. Winning is doing your best.
He also emphasizes that you must look deep inside yourself and train mentally, too. Your personal best is your end goal.
I have known David since he was in my third-grade class at Canton Elementary. As with most successful students, his parents, Jimmy and Sandra Ledford, were very supportive of their children.
As an aside, it always makes me feel warm inside when a student from decades ago remembers something we did in class. When learning how to write letters, David remembers each student writing a letter to a well-known person asking what they liked on their hot dogs. Then the class made hot dogs. On one half they put what the person they had written liked. On the other half they put what they liked. Then they ate them.
The first Ironman challenge was issued by Naval Commander John Collins and his wife, Judy. They are recognized as founders. They proposed an event that would include swimming 2.4 miles in the ocean, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles to the finish line.
In 1978, the first competition was in Hawaii with fewer than 20 contestants. One recent estimate said there are now 17,000 people worldwide who participate in Ironman triathlons.
Whatever the weather, other than lightning, the race will be on.
People from all walks of life enter. Most are extremely fit while others have severe disabilities.
David and his wife Wendy say it is inspirational seeing people with disabilities in the triathlon. Some are paraplegics. They recall when a blind fireman in all his gear, a double amputee and a Wounded Warrior who had lost one leg were all in the triathlon.
Wendy, has a role in this, too. David describes her as being something like the team mom. She is on the sidelines encouraging David, Steve, Lee and Adam to keep going.
But not working to be an Ironman does not mean she is a couch potato. Wendy does a fitness regimen with CrossFit. She says Jeff Rice of Superior Health Club has changed her life.
As you would expect, David and Wendy do more than keep physically fit.
Their daughter, Abbie, is a 10th-grader. David has coached her soccer team. She plays the bass guitar, does some CrossFit and carries a heavy load in school as she plans to go on to college at Berry or Tennessee.
Wendy and David both work. He is a civil and construction engineer. Wendy works from their home with an insurance company.
With Wendy’s encouragement, David has recently completed a master’s degree in engineering from Auburn University. He did it all online.
After this Ironman competition is over, what will he do next? Will he participate in another of the Ironman events across the country or internationally?
He and Wendy have not made that decision yet. Training takes a tremendous amount of time. The competition is expensive, too. David wears out two or three pairs of shoes as he trains. Participants need a top-notch bike, too.
They have rented a condo on the beach for a week. During that time, David is continuing his training and also attending mandatory meetings. One class is for safety instructions. Another reviews the rules.
So what happens if David is successful in achieving Ironman status? What is the prize?
First, when he crosses the finish line, he will hear someone announcing, “David Ledford, you are an Ironman.” Then he will get a medal, a shirt and hugs and kisses from his supporters. But the greatest reward will be his own personal satisfaction.
Plus, as founder Commander Collins said, “Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles— brag for the rest of your life.”
Marguerite Cline is the former mayor of Waleska.