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Man of iron

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  • | 11:14 a.m. January 8, 2016
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Executive: Joe Bonness, owner and operator of highway construction, quarry, trucking and electrical businesses in Naples, including Better Roads, Southern Sand & Stone, Advantage Transportation and iTran Partners.

Diversion: Leading more than 300 cyclists in the Iron Joe Turkey Ride on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Ironman legend: In January, Bonness will be inducted into the USA Triathlon Florida Hall of Fame. There's a good reason why he earned the nickname Iron Joe: Bonness regularly broke his age-group record for Ironman competitions, grueling contests that combine a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile marathon footrace. He qualified for the Ironman championships in Kona, Hawaii, an astounding 17 times. In 2000, he completed what's now dubbed the Bonness Triple: three Ironman races in 21 days, for a total of 421.8 miles.

How the ride started: Bonness started the Iron Joe Turkey Ride 15 years ago as a way to work off the extra calories consumed over Thanksgiving. Fewer than 20 people showed up the first few years. “It wasn't a fundraiser to begin with,” he says. Then, starting 10 years ago, the ride grew big enough to make it an annual event to raise funds for the Naples Pathways Coalition.

Bike awareness: Bonness, who runs and bikes as much as 18,000 miles a year, was one of the founders of the Naples Pathways Coalition. The organization advocates for sidewalks, bike lanes and paths for pedestrians and cyclists in the Naples area. “He is the most well-informed bicycle advocate in Collier County,” says Beth Brainard, the organization's executive director. “Everyone in the cycling community knows who Joe Bonness is.”

Hundreds ride: In the most recent Iron Joe Turkey Ride this fall, there were more than 300 cyclists of all levels. Starting and ending at the Fit & Fuel Cafe in Naples, there are three distances: 14 miles, 32 miles and 62 miles. There's beer, a band, a raffle and lunch from Moe's Southwest Grill waiting for all finishers. Cost is $35 to $55 depending on how far in advance you registered. “The cause is very dear to my heart,” he says.

Soft spoken: Bonness attacks any course with all-out effort, but you wouldn't know he's such a fierce competitor if you met him outside a race. “He is so soft-spoken and so humble he draws no attention to himself,” says Brainard. You won't see him grabbing the microphone to fire up the crowd, for example. “They don't flock to him like groupies and he doesn't ask for that,” Brainard says.

Collision course: Bonness has had his own challenges on the road, including being hit by a car from behind while riding his bike. “It's part of being an Ironman,” Bonness says. “You have to get past the adversities.”

Work calls: Bonness has backed off the Ironman circuit in the last five years as the economic downturn required him to be fully focused on managing his businesses. “It was becoming too time consuming,” he says. However, he recently completed the Ironman distance of the Great Floridian Triathlon in Clermont in 11 hours and 12 minutes, placing fifth overall. Is he preparing for a comeback? “I'm done with Kona for a while,” he chuckles.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss


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