Erik Dellasanta is a father, husband, son, teacher and basketball coach.
But only his close friends and relatives might also know that he's into testing the limits of his body by competing in triathlons. Dellasanta, a science teacher and the varsity boys' basketball head coach at North Middlesex Regional High School, has developed a passion for triathlons - which consist of swimming, biking and running - over the past two and a half years with friends Justin Maly and Kyle Fossey.
The 41-year-old, along with seven other members of the Lunenburg Triathlon Club, trekked to Gilford, N.H., on Sunday to compete in the Ironman 70.3 Timberman.
Dellasanta, Fitchburg High science teacher Phil Moore, Maly, Courtney Zivojinovic, Mike Wright (a Lunenburg grad), Keith (a Fitchburg High grad), Sandy Orni and Geri Gardner will all compete in the half-triathlon, comprised of 1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of cycling and a run of 13.1 miles.
The group of local triathlon enthusiasts, however, is also competing for a much greater cause. Moore spearheaded the idea of everyone in the club fundraising before the Ironman with all of the proceeds raised going directly to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation's mission statement is: "We grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy."
"We all believe in this," Dellasanta said. "Our goal initially was to raise $500, but now we're over $1,000. It's nice to race, but it's great to do something for others." Dellasanta said all the members of the Lunenburg Triathlon Club are "going to make the most of this together and have fun doing it."
But Dellasanta's competitive fire will also come out this weekend, as he has some personal goals set for himself.
"This is my second race, so I'm racing it and want to push the limit," Dellasanta said. "I hope to be in under five hours and be one of the top guys in my age group. I'm trying to compete in this, not just hoping to finish."
Dellasanta, a 1989 St. Bernard's grad, says he is drawn to competing in triathlons because of the variation in training.
"I like doing all those different workouts, and I enjoy being outside a lot," he said. Dellasanta's wife, Gail, also races, along with 7-year-old son Vinny, who has already completed two triathlons for kids.
"It's something me and my family can all enjoy," said Dellasanta, who also has a 5-year-old daughter, Lyla. Dellasanta swam competitively until the age of 12 and also ran cross country for four years at St. Bernard's. He says he enjoys all three events that comprise a triathlon.
But the bike might be his overall favorite?
"I love the bike, it's super fun," he said. "You're trying to go fast but you know you have to save some for the run. It's a huge adrenaline rush. "The run can be unforgiving. It's you against the road, there's no machinery. I like the mental challenge of it." In July at the Massachusetts State Triathlon in Winchendon, Dellasanta surprised even himself with a second-place finish in the age 40-44 category. "I was hoping to be top-three in my age group," said Dellasanta about the .9-mile swim, 22-mile bike ride and 6.2-mile run. "I was happy with that finish."
In September in Madison, Wis., Dellasanta competed in a full triathlon - 140.6 total miles (2.4 swim, 112 bike, 26.2 run) - with friends Fossey and Maly.
"We had an experience of a lifetime together," Dellasanta said. "One of our main goals was to not fail." Even a confident basketball coach like Dellasanta, who teaches his players to be confident no matter the obstacles they face on the court, had second thoughts about his own abilities before competing in the full triathlon.
"I have confidence in my abilities, but this was one of the first times at an event that I was unsure," he said. Dellasanta says he trained up to eight hours per day and "punished myself" in preparation for the triathlon and also had to overcome some tough moments, both physically and mentally.
"There were times on the run that I was cramping up," he said. "I would think a lot about my family, and other times I would think about how hard I trained for this."
Dellasanta finished with a time of 11 hours, 31 minutes. "
Goal No. 1 was to just finish," Dellasanta said. "That made me tremendously happy." Dellasanta says he's also tremendously lucky to have a wife who is incredibly supportive of his triathlon hobby.
For the many who know him only for his coaching exploits, Dellasanta, a quiet and team-driven individual, is so much more than just a basketball coach. Follow Chad Garner on Twitter and Tout @CGARNER23