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Marsha Goldberg, gives instruction to her spin class Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2017, at the downtown YMCA in Chattanooga, Tenn. Goldberg, who is a local fitness instructor, will be competing in the Ironman.

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Ironman is full of familiar faces: a local accountant, a neighbor, the stay-at-home mom from church, a local YMCA instructor.

There are professionals whose lives are dedicated to the sport, but Ironman primarily consists of age-groupers, the term used for the non-professional athletes who make up the majority of the race. They balance careers with families and hours of training, a sacrifice not just for the athletes but for their families and friends.

Some just want to prove to themselves they can finish the race, others dream of a high finish at this weekend's world championships, hoping to be among the best triathletes in the world.

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Marsha Goldberg

Marsha Goldberg had given up.

Her father unexpectedly died in March and she no longer wanted to train or deal with the pressure that comes with Ironman.

She was broken. It was not supposed to happen. Her dad, Robert Skinner, had been sick but he was supposed to be OK. Then, his heart stopped.

He had once traveled from his Georgia home to Chattanooga to watch his daughter compete in her first Ironman in 2015. She had spent months getting her body in top condition for both Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga in May and Ironman Chattanooga this month, but with his death Ironman no longer seemed important.

"We weren't ready for him to go," Goldberg said. "That affected me bad. I lost all interest in training. I couldn't even get up on the bike or anything. I couldn't."

Elizabeth Baker, a training partner who first got Goldberg interested in Ironman, called and told her she could not quit; it would not have been what her father wanted.

"You have to do this for your dad," Baker told her. "You have to push hard for him, because he would be so upset if he knew you gave up on your dream." She was right and Goldberg knew it.

She got her father's name tattooed on her forearm where she can see it while on the bike and training resumed.

With the help of trainer Robyn Wilham, Goldberg said, she quickly got back into racing condition for May's Ironman 70.3. She finished in five hours and 22 minutes — far better than her expectations.

Goldberg, a local fitness instructor, then began preparing for the full event. It involved early morning workouts and sacrifice, she said, but more than anything, it involved a supportive family.

"I could not do anything I do without my husband, without his absolute complete support and dedication to my goal," she said. "He's my rock."

Goldberg starts her morning at 4 a.m. with a training ride or run. Her husband, Dan, a banker at Pinnacle, brings her breakfast once he wakes up. Then he gets their two children, 9-year-old Brody and 11-year-old Reese, ready for school, packs their lunches and gets them on the bus.

"If it wasn't for him I couldn't have done this," she said.

She finishes her morning workout, teaches her fitness classes and finishes with a swim or other workout before picking up the kids from school and shuttling them to activities.

Goldberg teaches spin, barre and other classes between her two jobs at the Downtown YMCA and Balanced Studio on Signal Mountain.

She is a hit among her students, who speak highly of her character, her intensity and, most of all, her kindness.

"The thing you know about Marsha is you know it's going to be intense, but you also know she's working as hard as we are," said Forrest Simmons, one of the men in her Wednesday spin class at the YMCA. "That's the thing that I love about the class. You know she's working as hard, if not harder, than anyone else in there, and it's really motivational.

"She's an inspiration knowing that she's doing the Ironman, just seeing how fit she is. The other thing is that before and after the class, she'll talk to you, and she's one of the nicest people you'll ever know. She's very encouraging."

While the classes certainly help with her fitness, Ironman requires more specialized training that can't come in her class settings, she said. So like many age-groupers, she trains, goes to work, gets off and trains some more.

Along the way, there's been a missed birthday party, time away from her children and added pressure on her husband during the training.

This weekend's race is going to be it for a while for Goldberg. She's not completely calling it quits — she may race again in the future and plans to continue to stay active in other events — but it will be a while before Goldberg is again seen competing in such a grueling race.

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Tiffany Blair poses with her four children — from left, Brooklyn, 9, Kaiya, 5, Rylon, 7 and Peyton, 10 — after a victory in Spudman, a triathlon in Idaho.

Tiffany Blair

Tiffany Blair lives in Idaho with her parents and four children. She's starting to lose track of all the places she's lived. In the past nine years, she's moved seven times since her husband, Jason Blair, joined the military. It's an aspect of life many military families are used to, but it's not something to which a world-class athlete training for one of the biggest races of her life is accustomed.

"She's somehow working the training in with managing the children all day with very little help," said her father-in-law, Jim Blair, who has lived in Chattanooga for 40 years. "She's very disciplined, you have to be if you're going to raise four children and do all the training at the same time."

Jason Blair has been stationed at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam since June. He moved there after the family spent three years in Colorado Springs, Colo. Tiffany Blair, just months away from the world championships in Jason Blair's hometown, stayed behind in the U.S.

They sold their home and Tiffany Blair moved with her children to her parents' house in Idaho. The family expects to be reunited after the race when Tiffany Blair and the children move to Guam.

"Being a military family is hard in itself, but especially finding out that we're moving to Guam," Tiffany Blair said.

Jason Blair began with the Air Force as a nurse in 2008. Three years ago, he finished schooling to become a nurse practitioner , which ultimately led him to Guam.

The family has plenty of experience with moving, but this one has had its own challenges.

At the beginning of August, Guam was thrown in the middle of escalating tension between the U.S. and North Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jung Un threatened to strike U.S. military targets in Guam with ballistic missiles in retaliation to President Donald Trump saying North Korea will be "met with fire and fury and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before" if it did not stop threatening the U.S.

But it's something Tiffany Blair tries not to worry about.

"We feel super at ease with our military," she said. "They continue to reassure us that we're prepared, and the threat level in Guam hasn't changed. People have continued to go on with their lives, but it is a little nerve-racking to hear that when you're moving there."

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Tiffany Blair after completing Ironman 70.3 Arizona in 2016. It was her first 70.3 race. She won her age group.

In the meantime, Tiffany Blair focuses on training, her family and the move.

"They say it takes a village to raise kids, but it's even more than that when you're doing triathlons and are a military family."

Jason Blair was a standout athlete at The McCallie School. He was all-county and all-state in soccer while playing for the Blue Tornado before playing semi-professionally.

Tiffany Blair was a two-sport athlete at Concordia University in Portland, Ore., where she played soccer and ran track. In her short time as a triathlete, she's already made a name for herself as a top U.S. racer for her age group.

In July, she raced in the Spudman Triathlon in Idaho. There were more than 600 women.

She won.

She even beat several relay teams and was the top woman to finish in a field that featured other elite women racers. It wasn't the first win of the season.

In her first 70.3-mile race, she won.

Tiffany Blair hasn't been competing in triathlons long — this is her third year in the sport. But after devoting herself to her family for more than a decade, she decided it was time to start doing something for herself.

"Being a mom for the last 11 years, I've poured myself into my kids. So now having a piece for me and getting to have time for myself."

The key to any successful age-group athlete is balance.

They have to balance hours, weeks and months of training with their regular lives. For Tiffany Blair, it started with her family.

"Everyone has agree to be supportive of each other and all the activities each of us are doing," she said. "It's about finding what works for your family, and that helps give me balance.

"I make it work."

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From left, Johnny O'brien, Molly Wiygul and John Wiygul pose for a photo during a training ride for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships.

Johnny O'Brien, John and Molly Wiygul

John and Molly Wiygul have the sport of triathlon — and Molly's father — to thank for their first meeting.

In 2005 at the Cohutta Springs Triathlon, John Wiygul first met Johnny O'Brien and they connected over their love of the sport. Then he met O'Brien's daughter Molly, which led to a wedding, a new business venture, and many more triathlons.

The three athletes will be back in action this weekend in their hometown at the Ironman 70.3, which is just down the street from their business, High Point Climbing and Fitness. Molly Wiygul will compete in the women's race Saturday, with O'Brien and John Wiygul taking part in the men's race Sunday.

"It is always an honor to compete in a world championship, and it makes it even better to have my dad and husband by my side," Molly Wiygul said by email this week. "It is fun to give each other high-fives or cheer for each other while in the course. I love traveling, so it is fun to be able to go to different destinations around the world that you may not of ever gone to, but it's hard to beat a hometown race."

O'Brien and the Wiyguls are no strangers to the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, with each having competed in the event several times over the years. In fact, if not for the responsibilities of a Ph.D. program at Yale University, O'Brien's other child, Patrick O'Brien — also an accomplished triathlete — would likely make it a foursome for the family this weekend.

Molly Wiygul has been recovering from ankle surgery for the past 16 months, so just making it to the start on Saturday will be an accomplishment.

"I took some time off after qualifying and have been back at it for a month or so," she said. "We shall see how it goes on race day. I'm nervous because I know I am not back to where I was prior to surgery, and that has been frustrating."

While all three athletes are driven to be at the top of their sport, John Wiygul said he has seen a little father-daughter competition over the years, and he expects that to be present this weekend, as well.

"Molly and her father are a little closer in their times, and they're a little more competitive than I am," he said. "I'm not sure they'll admit it, but I think they're competitive with each other."

The separate men's and women's races for this year's world championships will change the routine for O'Brien and the Wigyuls, as they will spend Saturday cheering for Molly Wiygul before John Wiygul and Johnny O'Brien hit the course Sunday.

"It will be nice to have the race on separate days so you can really cheer the others on, but it will be weird to not see them out in the course," Molly Wiygul said. "It will also be weird having pasta dinners on separate nights and not being able to celebrate together after my race because they are racing the next day. I guess I will just get to celebrate two nights now."

After racing all over the world and in several world championships, the family is excited to be competing in such a premier event on their home streets where so many other family and friends can watch and cheer this weekend.

"It's really exciting to be in our hometown," Johnny O'Brien said. "Any time you get to race in your home city it's great because you know so many people. There are so many volunteers that are involved in this race, and it's really fun to be a part of this city and see so many volunteers that you know out on the course.

"It really motivates you, and it puts more pressure on you to perform better."

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at mpace@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6361. Follow him on Twitter @themarkpace and on Facebook at ChattanoogaOutdoors.

Contact Jim Tanner at sports@timesfreepress.com.

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