Mother of two and dentist Sandy Brito could hear the crowd a half-mile out as she ran to the finish line of the Memorial Hermann Ironman triathlon in The Woodlands, Texas on the evening of April 23. 

She felt goosebumps. Her eyes teared up a bit. She caught a glimpse of her family and friends — the loudest supporters in the crowd. She gave high fives to spectators as she approached the end to a full day of swimming, cycling and running. 

Bright lights shined down upon Brito as she reached the finish line. Then, the public address announcer said the words that let it all sink in for the competitor. 

“Sandy Brito, you’re an ironman.”

“It felt like victory,” Brito said. “Everything you worked hard for in that moment … it felt great. I had so much adrenaline pumping through me. I did a whole little dance and was just super excited.” 

Brito, 35, grew up in Miami before moving to the Keys with family during her freshman year in high school. Brito said dance took over her life during those years. 

From there, she went on to attend Florida International University where she graduated in three years. Brito said she knew she wanted to be a dentist, so she moved to Fort Lauderdale to attend Nova Southeastern School from 2007-11. She finished dental school, worked out of Homestead for a while and eventually joined Dr. Travis Bennett’s team at Everyone Loves a Gentle Dentist in 2014. 

While going to school and working,  Brito stayed active and took up running. What began with small races evolved into long-distance events. In 2010, she participated in her first half marathon. 

“Then and there is when I caught the bug,” Brito said. “Right away I said I have to do more. This is freaking awesome.”

In 2011, she competed in a full marathon in Miami. Brito said she absolutely loved the experience but wasn’t sure if she wanted to do more. She promised herself, however, to do a half marathon until she couldn’t do it any more. 

Brito participated in everything from the Dopey challenge, which entails four days of running with a 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon at Walt Disney World Resort, to 100 miles of biking from Key Largo to Key West with a friend and a woman who was training for an ironman competition in Florida at the time. 

One evening, Brito was in bed scrolling through Facebook when she saw a video of the woman she trained with and other ironman participants reaching the finish line. 

“It was all types of people. It just struck me. I said I needed to do this,” she said. “It was at that moment I just saw it.”

She never swam competitively and wasn’t big into cycling. But she couldn’t shake the thought of competing in and completing an ironman. Thus, the training began. She started with a small distance triathlon. She hired a swimming coach in Sue Marchetti to hone her swimming technique. She also hired a coach in Mike Estevez who put a training plan together – six mornings a week. She completed a half ironman in December 2021 to get her ready for a full ironman triathlon in April. 

“It was something I heard in a podcast that all the best things in life are on the other side of fear. When something scares the crap out of you, chase it more,” she said.

Brito arrived at The Woodlands, Texas for the ironman a few days before her family. She admits the experience was a bit nerve-wracking in the lead-up to the event. She was anxious the day of the competition, which started with a 2.4-mile swim and followed with 100-plus miles of biking and 26 miles of running. 

“I got into the water and my heart rate shot up a bit. I was expecting that, though,” she said. “I was back in the pack and everyone was frantic in the water. I told myself you’re a shark now. I started passing people left and right. I ended up getting out of the water 10 minutes faster than I expected.”

Brito then went on to what she called the scariest portion of the competition — biking. She experienced some strong headwinds for half the ride. She also dealt with a bike chain jam.

“Anything can happen on the bike. I was very anxious on the bike and it took me a while to relax,” she said. “Most people mess up the ironman because of nutrition alone. That wasn’t me. I had an alarm on my bike computer every 13 minutes to drink. I was refueling quite a bit too. I was a robot on the bike.”

With the biking complete, Brito was on to the running. 

“My body got me here. I felt really strong. I just felt alive,” she said. “I was thanking God for getting me to this point. The people around me were walking and head down looking defeated. I felt and looked strong and I just felt like I kept a positive mind set.”

Strenuous training and positivity were the keys to success for Brito. 

“I think the key is just to keep moving in some way, shape or form. I think that’s what keeps us physically and mentally right,” she said.

As to what the future holds, Brito said she’s not ruling out another ironman competition once her kids are older. But she’d like to travel and compete in more races.

“I would like to do a marathon in a city and spend some time with my family and explore. That’s my vision,” she said. 

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Jim McCarthy is a northerner who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since his graduation from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3 years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. Behind every community is resiliency and resolve in difficult times. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim serves as President of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. “It’s a group that lives by the motto ‘Service Above Self,’” he says. “We’ve done service projects at the Tavernier nursing home, sitting down and socializing with residents. “We’ve also supplied cameras to young students exploring the Keys ecosystem.” Jim loves sports, family and time exploring underneath the water depths.