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Mark Kieffer, of Rochester, will compete this Sunday in the Ironman Chattanooga with his son Jesse. The Ironman is a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 116-mile bike ride and a 26.4-mile run. The race-day forecast calls for a high of 91 degrees. The event starts at 7 a.m. and won't finish until well after dark.

Jesse Kieffer has his own definition of "crazy."

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Jesse Kieffer

An example is what his father, Mark Kieffer, is about to do. Jesse will join him in it on Sunday in Chattanooga, Tenn., when the two take part in the Ironman Chattanooga.

"In my mind, 'crazy' is trying something just a bit further than I have ever done before," Jesse said.

By that standard, 36-year-old Jesse will not go down as "crazy" Sunday, but Mark — who's on the brink of turning 60 — will.

This is Mark's first time putting himself through the madness that is an Ironman competition: a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 116-mile bike ride and wrapping up with a 26.4-mile run. The forecast Sunday is also daunting, with the projected high 91 degrees. The event starts at 7 a.m. and won't finish until well after dark.

Mark has run a marathon before and done a triathlon. But the length and demands of an Ironman are on a completely different level.

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Mark Kieffer

"I've got one side of my brain that says doing this is not smart," said Mark, who has spent the better part of a year training for the event, going at it five days per week and regularly mixing in 80-mile bike rides, 13-mile runs and 2-mile swims. "I've got another side of my brain that says that I will finish no matter what.

"But I just figured this is an excellent way to kick off the last one-third of my life. Plus, I thought it would be a great experience to share with Jesse."

For Jesse, this Ironman business is nothing new. Sunday will be his fifth one.

Talk about crazy.

"When I watched my first Ironman (in 2006), I remember thinking, 'These people are nuts,'" Jesse said.

But after going through challenges in his life that included a battle with alcoholism, Jesse became inspired enough by Ironman participants, that he became one.

Giving back

It's filled a need. It's also been a way to give back to those who were there for him during his troubles. He said they find inspiration from his grueling athletic feats and the fact that he's been sober for nearly 10 years.

"Everyone needs some sort of goal in life," said Jesse, who lives in Poolesville, Md., with his wife, Courtney, while Mark and wife, Cheryl, still reside in Rochester. "For me, this has been my thing the last six years, to finish Ironman races. And it's been a celebration of life, as I think about all those who have helped me in my life."

One of those guys has no doubt been his father, Mark, the former longtime Rochester Mayo boys basketball coach.

A role model, a pillar of strength and a motivator — Mark has been all those things to Jesse, who once played for his dad at Mayo, where Mark was known for his demanding style. Jesse used to watch Mark bicycle to work in the dead of winter, stay up half the night going over game film, plunge into freezing water to raise money for causes, run a marathon and hammer through a triathlon.

He also was with him this past July 4, when they had the opportunity to train together for a day. They did it by biking from Rochester to Baldwin, Wis., a 90-mile trek.

Mark has been an avid bicyclist for years. Still, Jesse could hardly believe his eyes as he watched his dad churning away.

"It was awesome to be biking with him," Jesse said. "Here we were, biking down Highway 61 and my dad — at 59 years old — was just hammering it. I'm looking at him and thinking, 'I want to do that when I'm his age. You talk about a beacon in my life."

A reversal

Their roles have been reversed in some ways as they've prepared for Sunday's Ironman. For the last few months, the two have talked or texted almost daily, sharing training ideas and feats. But it has been Jesse, who, for a change, is mostly giving his dad — the old coach — tips, not the other way around.

Jesse is the expert, Mark the novice. That's taken some getting used to, but Mark sure respects his son's knowledge.

"Jesse is the one who taught me how to swim more efficiently, and he taught me how to eat while training," Mark said. "And (the eating) is important, because this is a 15-hour event."

Says Jesse, who's still getting comfortable with the idea of being a mentor for his dad: "I've been learning about how to communicate with him at that level."

One thing that is easy for Jesse to communicate is how proud he is of his father, with the way he's prepared himself for Sunday.

He says his dad is ready, no doubt in his mind.

"My dad is a machine; ready to do an Ironman," Jesse said. "He's built an engine that's going to allow him to do it."

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