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Perkinston athlete goes for the gold in Iron Man World Championship

Danny Walton apologized for his answer, which had yet to leave his lips. No, the upcoming competition is not like the Super Bowl -- it's bigger.

The 44-year-old Perkinston man has been training for this competition for more than a decade. And the moment is finally here.

On Saturday, Walton, along with more than 2,000 of the fittest triathletes on Earth, will compete in the Iron Man World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

"In my eyes, this is making it to the Olympics, baby," Walton said late last week. "I want to make South Mississippi proud and put them on the map (and prove) a boy from the Gulf Coast can go compete with the pros and finish a World Championship Iron Man in Kona, Hawaii."

To say the course will be grueling would be like calling a Robert Nkemdiche sack a love tap. The comparison doesn't do the act justice.

Iron Man bills the 140.6-mile World Championship as "the ultimate test of body, mind and spirit."

First there's the 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike race. Then, all that's left is a 26.2-mile run. Oh, and there's also the brutal winds that Walton talks about. Piece of cake, right?

A long time coming

Walton has been preparing for Saturday since 2012 when he first participated in a "sprint" triathlon, which essentially is a truncated triathlon, on a borrowed bike.

He was hooked. Walton completed his first full Iron Man in November 2003 in Panama City, Fla., and has completed 14 more across the region, which qualified him through a legacy program for Saturday's World Championship.

Walton said nearly a third of the field doesn't complete an Iron Man competition for any number of reasons from hydration or conditioning to even mechanical issues. The fact he's already completed 15 is unheard of in this area and is really a badge of pride that no medal can out-shine. Well, except for maybe one on Saturday, of course.

"I just loved it," said Walton, who has also completed 18 70.3 Iron Man competitions, which cuts the distances in half. "Just the way it makes you feel. There's a competitive nature and always trying to better yourself. ... It's a very rewarding sport."

Walton said his best time in a full Iron Man was 13 hours, 14 minutes and 59 seconds. His last one, which was in Texas in May, was just north of 15 hours. He's gunning for a sub-15-hour time Saturday.

Words to live by

Walton has a motto he lives by: Your health is your wealth.

"You could look at that in different ways," he said. "You can work all your life to have money in the bank, and then you get older you have to give the doctors all of your money. Or you can try to stay healthy, young and in shape as you're getting old.

"That's what I've always felt -- my health is worth more than just money."

Walton said he doesn't have any vices like drinking or smoking and doesn't limit himself to some mega diet. He basically eats what he wants -- and it's easy to see why when you consider how much he trains. Walton, who is the head lifeguard for the Biloxi Natatorium, said he bikes about 100 miles a week, runs 16 miles and swims -- his best event for obvious reasons -- for a couple of hours.

And Saturday all of that training will come together.

Does Walton expect to be in the two-thirds of competitors who finish on Saturday?

"You got that right," he said. "I'm not going in, hitting that 2 1/2-mile swim with any doubt in my mind."