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Former NFL Lineman Tackles IRONMAN

October 9, 2014, 5:55 PM HST
* Updated October 9, 5:57 PM
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Ten years ago, Don Davey said he would one day compete in an IRONMAN race.

While playing with the Jacksonville Jaguars, he blurted it out while being tended to by team trainer Mike Ryan, an IRONMAN finisher. Davey weighted 285 pounds at the time and no one took him seriously.

Now, nearly 80 pounds lighter, Davey is just hours away from being able to follow through on his once-lofty goal.

Davey is one of over 2,100 athletes competing on the biggest state in triathlons, the IRONMAN World Championships, presented by GoPro. The event will be held in Kailua-Kona on Saturday.

“Football was such a big part of my life,” Davey said. “From age five to age 30, my life really revolved around football. When I got out, I really had to work hard to fill my life with lots of different things to get that same sense of fulfillment, and that’s where IRONMAN has stepped in and has been great for me in my transition out of football. I’ve found another outlet for my competitiveness and another way to stay physically fit and another way to compete against some of the best athletes on the planet.”

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Davey has done well at pretty much anything he has come across. During his collegiate football career at the University of Wisconsin, he became the first player ever to be named a four-time Academic All-American.

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He wasn’t just known for his smarts, though. He was a team MVP in 1990 and was an All-Big Ten First Team selection at defensive tackle. He played in both the Senior Bowl and Japan Bowl and was eventually named to the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame class in 2010.

Following an eight year career in the National Football League, four years each with the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville, Davey continues to find success. He is the founder of Disciplined Equity Management, an institutional money management firm. He also owns a real estate company, development group, and a restaurant holding company that holds the rights to 12 Firehouse subs franchises in Florida.

“I was good at football and I loved to play football as much as anybody on the planet, but, actually, football is something I did. It wasn’t who I was,” said Davey. “I always have been pretty well rounded outside of football as well. Academics was always important to me. Even when I was in the NFL, I had an entrepreneurial-type spirit. I wanted to learn about money and investing.”

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The first thought of doing an IRONMAN came from a conversation with Ryan, a 1994 IRONMAN World Championships finisher.

“I remember him coming into the training room and showing us all pictures of this amazing race that he did, and you know, I was a 285-pound defensive lineman,” Davey explained. “He was taping my ankles and he was showing me these pictures and, just kinda on a whim, I said that in five years out of the NFL, I’m gonna do one of those IRONMAN things.

Don Davey.

Don Davey.

“Of course, he laughed, and the whole locker room laughed and they said there was no way in hell you could ever do that thing, but it kinda stuck in the back of my mind. When I got done in the NFL, I kinda did a sprint triathlon just on a whim with some buddies and it made me realize that I literally almost died. I was so physically exhausted at the end of the sprint, but I was also hooked.”

Davey’s first IRONMAN was in Wisconsin in 2005. He’s done six full-distance events in preparation for the chance to be among the world’s elite in Kailua-Kona.

“This year, what we did, we put a partnership together between my company’s foundation, the Firehouse Subs Public Safety Foundation, and the IRONMAN foundation, and through that, I was awarded a slot to the IRONMAN World Championships.”

Through the partnership, Davey isn’t just here to complete a grueling swim, bike, and run, but to also leave a mark on the community he’s fortunate to be a part of for the better part of a week.

“We had a great VIP banquet last night (Wednesday). We had the fire chief from Hawai’i (County) here, and we presented him with a donation…for them to purchase chainsaws,” Davey said. “Believe it or not, what they told us they needed the most was chainsaws for getting into these burning buildings and burning houses and even, believe it or not, to cross through lava sometimes, to rescue people and save people from natural disasters.”

It’s one of the many stories of IRONMAN week, with people coming to Kona to not only complete Saturday’s grueling race, but to leave a lasting impact on the community they are fortunate enough to visit.

“Ultimately, what I like to tell people is that I’m getting a shot of a lifetime to do the ultimate endurance race, the IRONMAN Foundation is benefiting from this, the Firehouse Foundation is benefiting from this, but ultimately, when I turn and go back home to Florida, for the people of Hawai’i, it’s going to be a safer community and the people of Hawai’i are going to be in a better position because of all of our efforts that we’ve done through this,” Davey said.

The 140.6 mile race,  involving a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile finishing run, kicks off at 7 a.m. Saturday.

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