The former Pittsburgh Steelers star wide receiver and 2006 Super Bowl MVP is training for the 2013 Kona Ironman championships as part of the "Become One" program sponsored by Refuel's "got chocolate milk" campaign.
The 36-year-old Ward retired after being released by the Steelers last spring. He holds the franchise record with 1,000 career receptions and was selected to the Pro Bowl four times. Ward is one of only two players in NFL history with 1,000 catches and two Super Bowl rings.
Known as one of the most physical players at his position, Ward understands the next 12 months will require a different kind of toughness.
"For 14 years I've always kind of put my body on the line, going out there catching passes and blocking and putting my body through hell really each and every Sunday," Ward said. "For me (the Ironman) is about the learning experience."
One that will include two amateur athletes who will be selected to train with Ward for the race, which will be documented in the "Become One" web series. Ward expects to go through a culture shock while transitioning from the breakneck pace of the NFL to the steady grind of the Ironman, which requires a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a full 26.2 marathon.
"In the NFL, it's all about speed," Ward said. "It's about going as fast as you can possibly go for five seconds ...
Ward laughs when asked why not start out with something a little smaller, like a plain old marathon. He admits he never ran over a mile during his career and never considered swimming anything other than a recreational activity.
"You'd think I'd start small," he said with a laugh. "But I've always stepped outside the box, kind of put myself in different situations ... It could be a life changing moment for me again. Winning the Super Bowl was life-changing. Winning 'Dancing with the Stars' was life-changing. Now imagine going through and competing along with two ordinary folks and we're experiencing all of this together. It's going to be a great opportunity."
Ward says part of the motivation is to showcase the importance of staying fit into retirement. He insists he's "checking his ego at the door" but knows the competitive juices will be flowing.
"I've seen some of these competitions," he said. "I've seen people all shapes and sizes, people of different ages training. If I watch a 50-year-old woman zoom past me, I can't look at myself like 'I've got to go catch her.' This is just about being the ultimate endurance athlete."
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