Beyond his fitted wet suit, racing bicycle and long-distance footwear, Army Maj. David Rozelle will be packing a few extra pieces of high-tech equipment for next month's Ironman 70.3 Kansas in Lawrence.
"I'll have three different legs at the race - and each leg is more expensive than my bike," says Rozelle, who lost his right ankle nearly five years ago when his vehicle ran over a land mine in Iraq. "It's a lot of machinery, a lot of carbon."
The trip to Lawrence from his home in northern Virginia comes after he chose to have elective surgery last year, trimming 9 inches off his leg below the knee so that he could get better-fitting prosthetics.
"Once you're bionic, you want better parts," he said. "In order to upgrade, I needed more room."
Rozelle, who remains on active duty as aide-de-camp for the Army's surgeon general, will be bringing his can-do attitude, upbeat personality and unfailing focus to town for the June 15 Ironman. He'll be among 1,500 competitors aiming to swim 1.2 miles, bike another 56 miles and run 13.1 miles more from the event's hub at Clinton Lake.
While his mere presence promises to inspire competitors, spectators and others alike, his actual performance will carry especially poignant significance for at least one aspiring triathlete.
Maj. Brian Rau, attending the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, is the man who convinced Rozelle to sign up for the first-ever Ironman in Kansas. Rau already had committed for what will be his own first try at the "half" distance of 70.3 miles, and Rozelle said he couldn't pass up an opportunity to raise money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation and boost awareness for soldiers' causes.
And, perhaps most importantly, he'll be around to help his friend.
"I need to get Brian across that finish line," Rozelle said, "even though he told me he's going to whup me."
Rau had served with Rozelle in Iraq, and was about two miles away from his comrade when a land mine ripped into his buddy's vehicle.
That was back in 2003, and it wasn't until several months later that he'd see Rozelle again. Rozelle already was busy rehabilitating, training to return to active duty - eventually becoming the first Army amputee since the Civil War to return to active duty and command troops again in the same field of battle.
Now back stateside, Rozelle has taken his training to the next level. He's completed about 100 sprint- and Olympic-distance triathlons, plus five marathons, including the New York Marathon and seven half-Ironman events. Rozelle finished his first full-scale Ironman triathlon - that's a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run - in Idaho, qualifying for the World Championships in Kona, Hawaii.
Rozelle traversed the Hawaii course in 12 hours and 46 minutes, cutting more than an hour off his qualifying time from Idaho and finishing second in his division.
Rozelle crossed the finish line in familiar fashion: standing at attention and saluting, just as he has ended each race since losing his leg.
"That's for all the boys that I left on the battlefield, and then those that are getting their act together to join me," Rozelle said. "I salute them every time I cross."
'A little exercise'
Rau - who's never competed a half Ironman, much less a full one - regularly trades e-mails with Rozelle to pick up tips, training advice and support.
Rozelle even mailed him one of his extra bikes to use, ensuring that Rau will have the best opportunity to finish and succeed.
"Dave has motivated me, for sure," Rau said. "If this guy can do it one-legged, I can get my fat butt out and do a little exercise."
A little exercise?
"Triathlon is fun, man," Rozelle said, with a confident chuckle. "You get to swim a little bit, you get to bike a little bit and you get to run a little bit. It's like being a kid.
"(But) I admit, when I was (running) on mile 22 of the Ironman Hawaii race, obviously it was pretty tough - but, you know, no one was shooting at me and people were cheering me.
"Now, if you did it in Baghdad, and things were blowing up around you and they were throwing rocks at you, it might not be as much fun. But, you know, I was in Hawaii. It wasn't too bad."
Rozelle is looking forward to the challenge in Lawrence, an area he knows from experience. During a previous summertime stay at Fort Leavenworth, he squeezed in plenty of bike training in the area.
"It's windy and hilly there," he said, from his office in Falls Church, Va. "You think Kansas is flat but, boy, people are going to be surprised if it's their first time in Kansas riding bikes."