Greg Helbling finds himself, early one morning, standing in the sand gazing out at the open-water swim course on Lake Coeur d’Alene. It’s 2011 and, at 55 years young, he is surrounded by wet-suited athletes shaking out their arms and legs in preparation for a 2-mile swim. Some try to appear nonchalant, at ease with what they are about to embark upon. Most fail to pull it off. There’s too much energy in the air, too much buzz in the crowds of athletes and spectators to ignore the reality. It’s going to be a long day. For some it will be the toughest day of their lives. This is Ironman. And many are just hoping they can finish.
Greg’s son is out there already. He should be rounding another buoy by now. Ironman had been Brandon’s idea, and although he’d enjoyed the experience of training with his son, it had never been Greg’s intention to become a triathlete. That was simply a result of the choice he made years earlier. You see, when it comes to fitness and health, Greg jumps at every opportunity to be active, from mountain biking to mountain climbing. It doesnot matter what it is. He calls it ‘Adventure.’ And “It’s not an adventure,” says Greg, “until you don’t know if you’re going to make it home that night.” Ironman just seemed to meet the requirements.
It’s hard to say where it all began. Although he does not mention any athletic heroes from his past, Greg recalls with fondness growing up in Moscow, Idaho surrounded by family that knew how to work hard. His father and uncles owned Helbling Brothers, an International Harvester dealership. All of the male cousins got their turn to work at the family store. “[We]were issued coveralls as soon as [we]were potty-trained and big enough to carry a grease gun,” says Greg. “It was a great way of life for a young man, lots of responsibility and opportunity, and a great sense of individual and team accomplishment.” But he also recalls losing loved ones, and what a great example his family had been for him, their ability “to endure tragedy and adversity while continuing to appreciate our health and our blessings.” Clearly, these lessons of hard work and determination, even faith, have stuck with Greg over the years. “I think,” says Greg, “the best lessons in life are caught rather than taught.”
In 2009, Greg caught another valuable lesson after the results of his health screening showed high levels of cholesterol. As owner of a company that promoted health and wellness, he felt he had an obligation to set a better example for his clients and those around him. Although this was not the beginning of his active, adventurous lifestyle, it certainly gave him some added motivation and focus. The loss of other beloved family and friends to disease and poor health has also inspired Greg to take on the adventures that come his way. But the secret to his ability to stick with this program, Greg tells us, is that he surrounds himself with active people.
Since his first marathon in 1993, Greg, despite doctor’s orders, has participated in a laundry list of race events, including several triathlons, the Coeur d’Fondo, and a 70-mile bike ride known as the Triple Bypass. He’s cycled 326 miles in one day for Cystinosis and ridden over 2,700 miles with his team at the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Of his expeditions up Mt. Baker, Mt. Hood, Mt. Borah and Mt. Whitney he says, “I realize how fortunate I’ve been to stand vulnerable at the rugged edge of beauty and know that it was created out of love, and that this particular moment was created for me.”
Greg turned 59 this year. He says, speaking for himself and his active companions, “It seems that we have unintentionally found health in body, mind and spirit through blending friendship, humor and adventure.” These adventures, intentionally or not, have not only brought health, friendship and happiness, but a belief that he has a chance at longevity. “Not just that I live a long time,” Greg is quick to explain, “but that I am productive a long time. I want to be active and strong for my loved ones.”
In 2012, Greg and Brandon find themselves at Ironman Coeur d’Alene once again, perhaps for no other reason than the fact that the adventure presented itself.
By: Toby Reynolds/Photography by: Benjamin Powell