Gerdau Employee Triumphs in Ironman Louisville Triathlon a Year After Stroke

Brock Watkins, a roll shop employee at the Gerdau steel mill in Calvert City, has always loved a challenge. Throughout his life, he has spent much of his spare time participating in various races and athletic competitions. One of his greatest challenges, however, was preparing for the Ironman Louisville Triathlon after experiencing a serious health scare at the age of 44.

On July 19, 2010, Watkins was enjoying a routine bicycle ride with his pastor, when he noticed that he was not feeling well. Despite his discomfort, he went ahead and reported for his afternoon shift in the roll shop. Within six hours, he began feeling worse with a tingly sensation in both his face and right arm.  “The whole side of my face went numb and I was done,” he said. The diagnosis was shocking considering his young age: he had suffered a stroke.

Shortly thereafter, doctors discovered a hole in Watkins’ heart. On September 14, 2010, he had surgery to repair the problem.  For the next six months, he endured intense occupational therapy to relearn how to do even the simplest of things, including eating and tying his shoes.

According to Watkins, the diagnosis of a stroke was the ultimate inspiration to compete in the Ironman competition. “I had planned on doing the race anyways, so what better time than to get over this (stroke),” he said. Once Watkins was released from his doctors’ care, he began five and a half months of intense training for the event, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run through the Louisville area.

During his training period, from Jan. 1, 2011 thru Aug. 27, 2011, Watkins swam 60,580 yards, biked 2,099 miles and ran 394 miles.  His total training during this time equaled 2,527 miles, which is roughly equivalent to the driving distance between Tampa, Fla., and Los Angeles, Calif.

Less than a year after his heart surgery, Watkins lined up with 2,800 other athletes to achieve his goal. “The body takes a beating during an Ironman, but it is all worth it,” he said. His time of 14:25:44 for the 140.6 mile triathlon put him well within the 16-hour cutoff.  “Nothing I’ve ever done in sports has ever replaced the feelings I had of crossing the finish line,” he said.

Watkins admits that he is in the best shape of his life and is ready to take on life’s challenges.  When asked if he will compete in another Ironman competition, he smiled and said, “I’m not really sure . . . not for a while anyway.”

Several Gerdau employees honored Watkins’ resilience by participating in the McCracken County American Heart Association Heart Walk in September and raising $5,000 for the cause. Gerdau is a major supporter of the organization nationwide, with hundreds of employees from the other steel mills and production facilities participating in fundraising events in their communities.

The American Heart Association is devoted to saving people from heart disease and stroke – America’s No. 1 and No. 3 killers. They team with millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, fight for stronger public health policies, and provide lifesaving tools and information to prevent and treat these diseases.

About Gerdau

Gerdau is the leading producer of long steel in the Americas and one of the largest suppliers of special long steel in the world. It has over 45,000 employees and industrial operations in 14 countries with operations in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, which together represent an installed capacity of over 25 million metric tons of steel per year. It is the largest recycler in Latin America and around the world it transforms millions of metric tons of scrap into steel every year. Gerdau is listed on the stock exchanges of São Paulo, New York, and Madrid and has approximately 140,000 shareholders.