Ahwatukee Foothills resident Robert Steffen has participated in several triathlons. His goal is to raise awareness and funds for Phoenix Children’s Hospitals pediatric HIV and AIDS clinics. (Photo courtesy of Laura Clarke-Steffen)

They don't call it the Ironman for nothing. Hundreds of athletes converged on Tempe Town Lake April 15 to jump start the annual triathlon that included a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and finished with a 26.2-mile marathon run. One of those athletes included Ahwatukee Foothills' Robert Steffen, who turned 66 the day before the race began. Although Steffan admits that he participates in triathlons like the Ironman in an attempt to make it to the World Championships in Hawaii, he braved the grueling battle of the bulge most recently to raise awareness for a specialized pediatric clinic. "You work very hard and it's a lot of pain," Steffan said last Friday before the race. "But it's nothing like what these kids go through." The kids Steffan is referring to are the more than 200 tiny patients that receive care from Phoenix Children's Hospital's Bill Holt Clinic, the only complete pediatric HIV/AIDS program in Arizona. "We have 65 (HIV) positive kids and another 180 that have been exposed," said Laura Clarke-Steffen, a social worker at the clinic. "We're hopefully ruling out infection." Clarke-Steffen's first-hand stories were the reason her husband chose to represent the clinic at the Ironman competition. Steffen admits the chances he'll make it to the world championships in Hawaii are pretty slim; "I have to win in my age group, which is a lot larger this year than it was last." But, by donating funds to the hospital's clinic and raising awareness, his most recent effort to challenge himself has an even bigger cause. "I've been running for 35 years," Steffen said. "About eight or nine years ago I got burnt out on it, and decided to do something different, so I started doing triathlon." Sunday's race was not the first Ironman competition Steffen competed in, having raced in the California triathlon more than a few times. After moving to Phoenix and seeing that there were only four participants in his age group in the 2006 race, he saw an opportunity to have a real shot at winning and making it to the world championships. "I started focusing on the race about a year ago," he said. "After six months I got pretty serious - I spent about 12 to 14 hours a week training for all three events." The popularity of the Ironman race in Tempe proved a hurdle for Steffen, who soon found out that there were 12 contestants he would have to beat out to have a chance at the championship this year. Realizing his chances of winning his age group were now much smaller, he focused the attention he was getting for participating to the clinic. The Janus Charity Challenge is a unique fundraising effort for those who participate in North American Ironman triathlons. Each race participant is given their own Web page, where donations can be made to their charity of choice. As of race day, Steffen had raised over $1,000 for the Bill Holt Clinic. Making it to Hawaii took a backseat for Steffan this year, and instead he focuses on reminding his well-wishers who the real champions are. "People need to know these kids are suffering," he said. "They need to know they're just babies."

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