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Floral Park’s Schneider earns bid to Hawaii Ironman competition

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Dave Schneider is a bit of a celebrity around Floral Park. Whether in the supermarket or at the Royal Ranch Club pool, which he manages, the thin 56-year-old with the goatee gets the same reaction from people who recognize him.

“You’re the runner,” they say.

The follow-up question is the one that used to bug Schneider.

“Are you one of those Ironmen on TV?”

“No, sorry I’m not,” Schneider would respond.

But then Schneider thought, why not? After all, he was known as the runner. He was a pretty good cyclist and he certainly could swim.

“I did a lot of swimming, but I never thought I could swim for 2 1/2 hours without a wet suit,” Schneider said. “But two years ago on vacation in St. Croix I swam for an hour in those salty waters without a wet suit and thought, ‘I could do this.’”

Two years later, after winning the Ironman USA in his age group (55-59), which he did last month in Lake Placid, Schneider stamped his ticket for a second straight trip to the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.

Yes, that Ironman, the one on TV.

“It’s the Super Bowl of triathlon, all the elite athletes are there, the television coverage,” Schneider said of the Ironman World Championships, held on Oct. 19 on the big island of Hawaii. “My goal is to be one of the five on the podium, which is a pretty big goal to have because there are no lightweights there. Everyone there qualified from all over the world. It’s the best of the best.”

Schneider said winning the Ironman USA, a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2 mile run, in just more than 11 1/2 hours, was the greatest accomplishment in his 18 years of running.

While he started running to escape drug abuse and a traumatic divorce, it has become a way of life for the publisher-turned-personal trainer.

“It’s a discipline,” said Schneider, a day after finishing third in his age group in the New York City Triathlon. “Some may say it’s obsessive, but it’s a lifestyle.”

Schneider’s close friends and Team Runner’s Edge teammates Simon Butterworth and Robert Cook also finished in the top five in Lake Placid and joined the Martin Van Buren graduate on the winner’s podium.

Schneider actually passed Butterworth during the run and finished 90 seconds ahead of the Melville resident, who captured the only other slot available in their age group and will join Schneider in Kona.

More than the physical rigors of the Ironman race, the key is the mental aspect, Schneider said, which is something he learned from six-time Ironman champion Mark Allen.

“Your mind has to be so focused, you have to be able to not get distracted and keep your mind on the task at hand,” Schneider said.

Two years ago Schneider didn’t know what to expect when he raced at Lake Placid for the first time. After constant training he surprised himself, finishing third in his age group in 11:25:11. Since one of the runners ahead of him already qualified for the Ironman World Championships, Schneider got the elite invite.

This year, though, Schneider didn’t train as hard, having to concentrate on graduating from the National Personal Training Institute in Manhattan (he completed and passed the six-month, 500-hour program last month).

Still, Schneider prevailed in Lake Placid.

“Last year [in Hawaii] I went to experience the hoopla, it wasn’t so much about speed,” said Schneider, who also competed for the US in six duathalons and qualified for a seventh. “This year I want to have a good race.”

To prepare for the Ironman World Championships, Schneider runs a 100-mile course that brings him from Floral Park to the Sagtikos Parkway in Suffolk County — which he considers a “warm-up” — back north to Huntington and Cold Spring Harbor and then to Oyster Bay and Center Island.

His biking is done along the Long Island Expressway service road in Little Neck with a group that affectionately called Schneider, “the tri geek,” and he swims in Jones Beach, Sunken Meadow State Park as well as pools at Great Neck South High School, the Nassau County Aquatics Center and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point.

When Schneider’s ex-wife Leslie went to Hawaii for her honeymoon, she brought back a souvenir shirt for Schneider. At first he was hesitant to put on the Ironman tank top, feeling he didn’t truly deserve it.

But now, as he scampers around Floral Park, “the runner” can proudly display the black tank top and nod when his neighbors ask him if he’s one of those Ironmen from TV.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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