His initial interest peaked in the summer of 2004 by Richard Veres, the Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Springfield College. After joining the Cyclonauts, regarded as New England’s premier multisport club, McCloskey began the rigors of training.
For most people, completing one segment of an Ironman would be the achievement of a lifetime. The event consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and concludes with a marathon run, 26.2 miles. McCloskey’s first taste of an Ironman came from the sidelines as he watched the 2007 Lake Placid event, and knew from that moment , that he wanted to be a part of what he describes as “an amazing sporting event.”
While finishing an Ironman is a remarkable feat in itself, that was far from McCloskey’s overall goal. "The ultimate plan was to find a way to compete in the world championships in Kona, Hawaii," explained McCloskey. "That was always the goal.”
McCloskey’s first bid at attempting to qualify for Kona came in November of 2010 when he raced in the Panama City Ironman. Despite finishing the event in 9:34:03, he fell just short, missing out on qualification by nine minutes. And he’s not shy on why it happened either.
“Looking back, I can say I slacked on my training. I was in the process of planning my wedding, building a new house, and moving.” Certainly acceptable excuses as he was beginning a new chapter of his life with his wife, Kara.
For a while, that’s as close as he thought he’d get to reaching his Hawaiian dream. That all changed after a discussion with his father-in-law on July 4th, 2011.
“We were all hanging out on Cape Cod, and the topic of Kona came up, and how it was a lifetime goal. Kara and I had been bouncing around the idea of starting a family, and knew once that happened, Kona would take a backseat. They all pretty much convinced me that I had to take one last shot at it.”
And so that was that. McCloskey had one more chance to qualify for the Ironman World Championship.
Beginning on December 26, 2011, his preparation kicked off with 15-20 hours a week spent biking, running, or in the pool – often times in the Art Linkletter Natatorium that he became all too familiar with during his undergraduate days.
A former standout for swimming head coach John Taffe, the Brookfield, Conn. native competed all four years for the Pride. McCloskey capped off his career by competing at the 2007 NCAA Division III Championships in Houston, Texas, swimming in the 200, 500, and 1650 freestyle events.
“In high school, I was by no means a standout athlete. I truly think that swimming at Springfield built my foundation,” describes McCloskey. “Coach Taffe prepared me and taught me what it means to be committed. I was used to training 20 hours a week and I learned how to manage my time in college. Now I just had to substitute the time I had spent on class and homework for my work schedule.”
After graduating from Springfield with a degree in physical therapy, McCloskey currently works as the therapy program manager for SunDance Rehab at Keystone Woods Senior Living in Springfield.
McCloskey would compete in the Lake Placid Ironman on July 22nd, and went in knowing that based on the size of his division, he would have to finish in the top two or three among males age 25 to 29. And to add even more pressure? Just two weeks before the race, Kara told Paul that she was pregnant – it was now or never.
And he responded, crossing the finish line in 9:58.14. He was 28th out of 2,277 competitors, but the official results would not be announced until the next morning, setting up a pins and needles moment.
The following day, McCloskey learned at the awards ceremony that he has finished second in his age group and had officially qualified for the Ironman World Championships. All that was standing in his way was swiping his credit card to pay the $775 entry fee.
After a week off, he got back to training as Kona loomed from 10 weeks away. He had reached his goal and would compete against some of the best athletes in the world across the Hawaiian terrain.
McCloskey completed the race in 10:20.16, finishing 540th of out 1943. Among 102 competitors in his age group, the current Belchertown, Mass. resident was the 58th to cross the finish line.
“I wanted to really enjoy my time out there and be able to appreciate all the work it took me to get to that level. I had enough fitness to carry me through the swim and bike, but the conditions and mental fatigue caught up to me on the run. Just being able to compete on that stage was a lifetime dream.”
“It’s been really overwhelming all the support I’ve gotten through the process. I feel like the majority of the correspondences, whether it was phone calls, texts, emails, Facebook posts or tweets, have been from the friends and family that I gained at Springfield College. It’s been an incredible journey for sure.”
It's fair to say the real journey begins when Paul and Kara welcome a baby boy into their life this upcoming March.