ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Roger Little will be 82 years old when he competes in the 20th Ironman World Championship in October. He'll be the oldest participant on the course in Kona, Hawaii.
"Most of my life has been focused on doing the Ironman in Kona," Little said. "But I would go from Ironman to Ironman until I got a slot. So I was an Ironman slot machine."
But, it was just recently he dedicated his life back to the sport. Every morning, Little puts in the miles — swim, bike, run. Repeat. The St. Petersburg native, who spends part of the year living in Massachusetts, knows every bump in the road and current pulling in Kailua Bay.
"I know that course in Kona like the back of my hand," he said. "I had to get to Kona because that is triathlon heaven."
Little has competed in triathlons for four decades. He's done over 400 triathlons, including 40 Ironman races. The Ironman is the most intense of all the triathlon events. It requires a 2.4 miles swim, 112-mile bike, and finishes with a marathon, a 26.2-mile run.
Little traveled the world as an entrepreneur in the solar energy industry.
"Of course, the whole world wanted to be in that business. For 30-40 years, I would start factories in different countries," he said. "I went all over the world putting factories in to make solar panels. With triathlons growing all over the world, there's a lot of chances."
He would often schedule client meetings around Ironman events.
"I had my bike in a box and I would drag it like a dog," Little said. "I want to do a world championship in Spain and by the way, I have a customer in Madrid."
Little stopped competing in Ironman events a few years ago because of aches and pains and other business ventures. Then last year, his wife, Lyn, passed away.
"I said, 'What am I going to do with my life?' I need some purpose. I need some focus. I need to do something then think about my wife. I decided I would try to get back to Kona," he said.
Little got back to training for the next Ironman qualifier. But during one morning bike ride, he was hit by an SUV.
"I just got crunched," Little said. "I had blood all over the road. It was pretty bad."
He injured his elbow, several ribs and fractured his collar bone. But the biggest concern was on his temple.
"I went to a local clinic, they stuck a needle to aspirate it, and it shot blood across the room," Little said. "The doctor said, 'That's not a hematoma. That's an aneurism.'"
He had surgery on the temple artery, and just two months later, he qualified for his 20th Ironman World Championship in Kona.
"Whether he falls off his bike or not, he's back on the next day, in the pool or running," Little's friend, Bill Riley, said. "He's the best. He's probably done more triathlons than anyone in his age group."
"I'm concerned about it this time," Little said. "I'm much slower, obviously. If I can just make it through the race in 17 hours I will be delighted."
Time and time again, Little has proven that he is the ultimate iron man.
This story was originally published by Kyle Burger on Scripps station WFTS in Tampa.