Derm completes Ironman, promotes skin cancer awareness

June 1, 2011

Dermatologist Robert Nossa, M.D., entered the lottery for the 2010 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, expecting that he wouldn’t win one of the coveted spots in the internationally acclaimed endurance race. He was wrong.

Verona, N.J. - Dermatologist Robert Nossa, M.D., entered the lottery for the 2010 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, expecting that he wouldn’t win one of the coveted spots in the internationally acclaimed endurance race.

He was wrong.

Dr. Nossa was sitting at his desk when an email notice popped up on his computer. Among other things, it said “Aloha” and “Congratulations.”

“I think about 8,000 people registered for the lottery, and they selected (150 from the United States),” he says. “I have to say it definitely was a shock. But I realized immediately that it was something that I was going to have to do. It’s the type of invitation that is not easily refused.”

The 40-year-old dermatologist completed the Oct. 9, 2010, Ford Ironman World Championship’s 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike event and 26.2-mile run. His total time for the 140.6-mile triathlon was 13 hours, 40 minutes and 12 seconds.

Dermatologist Robert Nossa, M.D., competes in the 2010 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii - while helping to promote skin cancer awareness and prevention. (Photo: Robert Nossa, M.D.)

He also managed to raise awareness about the Skin Cancer Foundation and to bring in more than $2,000 in donations to the charity.

A tight fit
Dr. Nossa says he had completed shorter-distance triathlons, including half-Ironman events, as well as 13 marathons, but the Hawaii competition was his first attempt at the full distance. After winning a spot, he trained for six months, working around his busy practice schedule and young family.

As director of laser aesthetics and clinical trials in a six-office dermatology group, Dr. Nossa works about 60 hours a week. His children are 9 and 7 years old.

“Most of my training was before dawn at about 4:45 every morning, and my evening workout was after 8 p.m.,” he says. “During peak weeks, I would be gone most of Saturday. I might leave the house at 5:30 a.m. and come back at 4:30 p.m. I was working out, on average during peak training, about 18 hours a week.”

Dr. Nossa admits he must have been pretty fatigued, but, at the same time, he was exhilarated.

“You’re invigorated during the day when you get up early and get a great bike ride, or run or swim before your day at work,” he says. “The second workout was more of a challenge because, at that point, I was usually pretty exhausted. I had a goal in mind - a finite moment in time - and I knew I had to work toward that.”

Making it bigger
Dr. Nossa says he knew that preparing for and participating in the Ironman would be a major life event. But he wondered if he could make it even bigger.

“As a dermatologist, I thought the most problematic condition that I treat is skin cancer. (I thought) if I could use this to promote skin cancer awareness and prevention … that would be a good tool,” he says.

He partnered with the Skin Cancer Foundation, which promoted his participation in the Ironman on its website and to its members. Dr. Nossa sent a donation request letter to patients and to his family to help not only generate funds but also to draw attention to skin cancer education.

“It attracted a lot of attention to their website,” he says, and he was able to raise a little more than $2,000.

The amazing race
For triathletes around the world, the Ironman World Championship in Kona is the defining race. The majority of athletes have to qualify to get into the event.

Dr. Nossa says he and his family arrived in Hawaii a week prior to the competition. He describes the experience as absolutely spectacular.

“It was a taper week - a week where I actually reduced my volume of workout - so I was actually forced to relax. It was the perfect place,” he says.

He’d swim for a mile at a time in the ocean, he says, “in a beautiful coral paradise, with sea turtles and amazingly colorful fish.” He’d run on the Queen K Highway, which is part of the actual racecourse.

“It was exciting because you’re on this desolate highway with lava on either side, and you can see the thermal waves streaking across the road ahead of you,” Dr. Nossa says.

He says he was surrounded by perfectly sculpted athletes, the highest-tech bicycles and the extreme intensity of extreme competitors.

Dr. Nossa tackled the course and distance with caution, keeping within his comfort zone. He says at mile 20 of the run, which is the last of the three legs, he wasn’t fatigued and could have gone on.

The Ironman mantra is “Anything is possible.” As an Ironman finisher, Dr. Nossa has experienced the mantra but refuses to rest too much on those laurels. He is training for his next goal: the Ford Ironman Lake Placid on July 24 in Lake Placid, N.Y.