Hassler, who recently earned his B.A. in human performance management, took on the Ironman challenge in July 2012, shortly after graduating with honors from Immaculata’s College of LifeLong Learning (CLL).
“The Ironman and returning to school were very similar experiences for me,” said Hassler. “They both required a great deal of dedication. For both, you need to commit the time, whether it’s staying on top of the reading and homework assignments, or going to the gym in the morning and again at night to train.”
Hassler credits colleagues and mentors with encouraging him to get his degree. After 14 years with Vanguard, Hassler, who has an associate degree from a technical school, didn’t feel the urgency, and put his academic goals off until his two young daughters were old enough to appreciate his return to school.
“A couple of people were really after me to go back to school,” said Hassler. “Not only did they have wonderful things to say about the program at Immaculata, but they were some of the people I perceived as models in my organization. It just got to the point where I could no longer come up with a reason not to.”
In 2009, Hassler made some “big-scale decisions” that changed his life. He enrolled in CLL, lost 40 pounds, and entered his first sprint triathlon with a friend. The race raised money for returning veterans, and Hassler’s older brother had just returned from Iraq. “That was the hardest thing I had ever done,” said Hassler. “But it leaves you with a feeling of accomplishment that you want to repeat over and over.”
After completing the Tri For Our Vets, Hassler was determined to pursue his new-found dream of completing an Ironman triathlon. With the help and support of his wife, Monica, and daughters Abigail, 11, and Gabrielle, 8, Hassler dedicated himself to school and getting into the kind of super-shape one needs to finish an Ironman. It was far from easy, but Hassler is guided by a philosophy summed up in a saying by Tony Dungy: Integrity is what you do when no one else is watching.
“The real challenge for me was when no one else was watching,” admits Hassler. “Getting up at 4:30 in the morning to ride the trainer alone, running at lunch, writing papers at night—these were the things I needed to do, and they could not be faked.”
You can’t fake your way through an Ironman competition, and Hassler competed in one of the most grueling of the courses—Lake Placid, NY— under some of the worst weather conditions—90-degree heat and 15 mph headwinds. It took Hassler 16 hours to complete but, at the end, “I got to high-five Mike Reilly, the ‘voice’ of Ironman, who greets all the finishers by saying, ‘You are an Ironman!’”
More importantly, Hassler’s family got to witness his personal triumph. “My daughters got to see me cross the finish line. They had watched me train for three years, seen me go from being on the verge of obese to finishing an Ironman. This was the best way for me to teach my kids a powerful lesson that anything is possible.”
Hassler’s daughters, who are both involved in sports from soccer to cheerleading, have competed in IronKids competitions, and his wife, too, runs and competes. “It has turned into what our family does,” he said.
Hassler has begun working with the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) as part of its Race for a Reason program. He will be running the Lake Placid Ironman again in 2013 to raise funds for CAF to support physically challenged athletes. According to Hassler, “If a child needs a prosthetic leg, it’s $38,000 for a running leg, which is not covered by insurance.” Hassler’s goal is to raise $5,000, to help others achieve their dreams. If this new goal is reached, he promises to run another Ironman in 2014 (www.LPIM4CAF.com).
“I know my strengths and weaknesses, as well as the goals that are the most meaningful for me,” said Hassler. “When I returned to school, I thought I was going to get a magical piece of paper that would let me into an exclusive club where all my career ambitions would come to fruition. Looking back, what I value most is the experience of interacting with the teachers and my classmates.
“You always hear that it’s not the destination but the journey,” he added. “I believe that the College of LifeLong Learning exemplifies that. I gained perspective. I learned a lot about myself. In addition to the knowledge I acquired through the program, I developed direction and a focus for my future.”