SAN BENITO — As they made their way toward the finish line, they began feeling a mix of emotions — pain, happiness and relief.

They knew they were just strides away from accomplishing the goal they had made for themselves a year ago.

What seemed to be a tiring and endless physical and mental journey for four Valley barbers ended in victory.

After completing a 2.4-mile open water swim, followed by a 112-mile unassisted bike ride and a 26.2-mile run, Chris Hernandez, Nathan Hernandez, Fabian Rico and Emmanuel Ramos made it through their first Ironman triathlon April 27 in The Woodlands.

It was no easy feat for these four members of the iTRY RGV triathlon team based in Harlingen.

From the beginning of their adventure, these barbers knew they were going to need to create balance in their life to set themselves up for success.

In addition to their full-time roles as barbers, husbands and parents, the triathletes added lengthy daily workouts into their hectic schedules for the past several months.

We have followed them through major portions of their journey.

Now, their finale.

ahernandez@valleystar.com

NAME — Chris Hernandez

AGE — 43

HOMETOWN — San Benito

OCCUPATION — King Kuts Barbershop barber

FAMILY — Married with five kids and two grandchildren

IRONMAN FINISH TIME — 13:30:58

As Chris Hernandez began running closer toward the end of the Ironman triathlon, he saw his family cheering and waiting for him on the sidelines with his San Benito Greyhound flag.

They handed Chris the flag and he immediately held it above his head, smiled and ran with it across the finish line.

He knew he could officially call himself an Ironman now.

“Just the title itself, doesn’t mean much to people that don’t know very much about the Ironman triathlon, but to people who know the sport, it means a lot,” Chris said.

For Chris, becoming an Ironman was a phenomenal and spectacular accomplishment.

“Out of the four of us who raced, I finished with a better time than the younger guys so I was extremely excited,” Chris said with a laugh and a smile. “It goes to show age isn’t anything but a number.”

Throughout the triathlon, Chris saw several people fainting and dropping out of the race.

“When I was running, I had about five more miles left out of the 26-mile run and my body wanted me to pull over, lie down and go to sleep,” he said. “What kept me from giving up were my kids, my grandchildren and the students from the San Benito Sullivan Elementary School who made us good luck posters and letters.”

He said he felt motivated and determined to show them if he could accomplish the Ironman triathlon, anything is possible.

“I would definitely make another attempt at the Ironman Challenge,” Chris said. “There’s only room for improvement now that I know I can do it.”

NAME — Nathan Hernandez

AGE — 30

HOMETOWN — Harlingen

OCCUPATION — Blessed Kutz Barbershop barber and co-owner

FAMILY — Married, seven children

IRONMAN FINISH TIME — 16:01:01

Within those last few minutes remaining of Nathan’s run toward the finish line, his body wanted to give up.

But his heart and mind kept saying no.

“I was pushing my body all day through pain and suffering, but in the end, it was very rewarding,” he said. “If I could do that, I can do anything.”

Nathan said he doesn’t think he could have made it to the end without his family and friends because they were his support system.

“Once I saw the finish line, I knew everything was going to be OK because I had my family, friends and most importantly God,” he said.

To Nathan, the Ironman triathlon would not be called the Ironman if it didn’t make competitors feel like giving up throughout the entire course.

“The swim was tough because you have thousands of people swimming next to you while bumping and kicking you, during the biking part there was a lot of headwind, and the sun was against me on the run,” he said. “So, this sport is not for the weak or weak-minded at all.”

Nathan said his memories of Henry Roberts, founder and owner of Bicycle World who died of cancer in March, also helped him get through the triathlon.

“He fought a battle that he didn’t win and his words of encouragement kept replaying in my head,” Nathan said. “He helped me through some pretty tough situations and so even though he was not there physically, spiritually I feel like he helped me.”

Nathan plans to sign up for next year’s Ironman Texas triathlon.

NAME — Fabian Rico

AGE — 29

HOMETOWN — San Benito

OCCUPATION — King Kuts Barbershop barber

FAMILY — Married, one child and a baby on the way

IRONMAN FINISH TIME — 13:38:44

Throughout the entire triathlon, Fabian Rico said he kept thinking about his family waiting for him at the finish line.

When he began to reach the end of the running course, he saw them and they began cheering.

After seeing them and feeling their support, he felt a burst of energy and excitement that helped him sprint toward the finish line.

“I felt very thankful to God that my dream has come true and that I made it through the triathlon safely,” he said. “The whole course was long and intimidating, but I think we all learned a lot from it.”

Fabian believes the Ironman triathlon experience wouldn’t be the same if he had not competed with his friends.

“If it wasn’t with the crew, it might have been a totally different, boring and not as motivating experience,” he said. “Training for our first triathlon together made it more fun.”

He said his next greatest challenge and goal is to compete in the Boston Marathon.

NAME — Emmanuel Ramos

AGE — 26

HOMETOWN — San Benito

OCCUPATION — King Kuts Barbershop barber

FAMILY — Married, one child

IRONMAN FINISH TIME — 15:51:34

The morning of the Ironman triathlon, Emmanuel Ramos felt prepared and ready to tackle what he had spent months training for.

He didn’t feel “nervous or anything of that nature,” which he found to be surprising.

“It was funny to me because when I did a half Ironman triathlon, I was nervous and couldn’t sleep the night before because I was tossing and turning,” Emmanuel explained. “With this one you would think I would be nervous for the full Ironman because it was a longer distance, but I was ready to get it over with.”

Emmanuel said throughout the swimming portion of the triathlon, there was “a nice morning breeze,” but the comfortable weather soon altered into unbearable heat accompanied by strong gusts of wind during the cycling and running courses of the race.

“Throughout the course, a lot of people were throwing in the towel,” Emmanuel said. “They just couldn’t continue anymore and I felt blessed I had the strength to keep pushing forward step-by-step.”

About 70 miles into the cycling course, Emmanuel reached a rest spot equipped with food and drinks.

He said at that point in the triathlon, he didn’t want to get back on his bike and continue.

“I wanted to quit for a minute, but I remembered who was waiting for me at the finish line, which was my son,” Emmanuel said. “And all I can remember was the thought of him going through my mind and so I just had to push through.”

Moments after accomplishing the race, Emmanuel said he didn’t feel the drive to compete in another Ironman triathlon.

However, that feeling quickly faded away.

“The next day, I felt determined to do it again and get a better time,” he explained. “I’ve done it once and I know I can do it again so I just might end up signing up for it next year so I can beat my time.”

EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the fi

EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the final part of a three-part series. To read the first two stories, go to valleystar.com.

NAME — Fabian Rico

AGE — 29

HOMETOWN — San Benito

OCCUPATION — King Kuts Barbershop barber

FAMILY — Married, one child and a baby on the way

IRONMAN FINISH TIME — 13:38:44

NAME — Chris Hernandez

AGE — 43

HOMETOWN — San Benito

OCCUPATION — King Kuts Barbershop barber

FAMILY — Married with five kids and two grandchildren

IRONMAN FINISH TIME — 13:30:58

NAME — Nathan Hernandez

AGE — 30

HOMETOWN — Harlingen

OCCUPATION — Blessed Kutz Barbershop barber and co-owner

FAMILY — Married, seven children

IRONMAN FINISH TIME — 16:01:01

NAME — Emmanuel Ramos

AGE — 26

HOMETOWN — San Benito

OCCUPATION — King Kuts Barbershop barber

FAMILY — Married, one child

IRONMAN FINISH TIME — 15:51:34