From the Bench: John Wilfong Sees Ironman Event, Graduation, Engagement, New Job in Busy 4 Months

By Jeff Toquinto on September 24, 2023 from Sports Blog via

It is not as if Bridgeport’s John Wilfong has never seen a busy schedule. After all, the 2015 graduate of Bridgeport High School not only managed to excel academically while at the school on Johnson Avenue, but he also managed to play four sports his senior year.
It should probably be noted that the standout former BHS student-athlete was pretty good in those four sports. He was an all-stater in basketball, a state champion in tennis in doubles, and a member of the Indians’ track team and 2014 state championship football team.
Eight years after graduation, Wilfong put together a pretty impressive full plate over the last few months. It started back on May 16. At that time, the 2019 graduate in exercise physiology at West Virginia University graduate became a 2023 graduate of WVU’s dental school.
How did he follow that up?
On June 1, he began his professional career with Bridgeport-based Wilson Martino Dental working two days in their Buckhannon location and two days at the office in Elkins. Oh, and he set up residence back in Bridgeport during the month of June as well.
Those things alone would have been impressive, but he stepped things up a notch this month. On Sept. 16, he was in Cambridge, MD, to compete in his first-ever Ironman Triathlon – the Crabby Challenge. The number of people who complete an Ironman challenge is probably the same ratio as those accepted and completing dental school in Morgantown.
In other words, it is an elite group.
We will get back to the Ironman Marathon, the focus of this blog, in a second. Next, we will quickly focus on what Wilfong did the very next day as he set the stage to become part of a much larger group.
On Sept. 17, Wilfong asked Sydney Bongiorni for her hand in marriage. She said yes. All told, a pretty impressive four-month span for the Bridgeport resident.
Doing most of that takes discipline, dedication, and tenacity. The engagement part, of course, takes a whole lot of courage too. Those items, which will serve Wilfong well in all phases of his life, he said were embedded thanks to the Bridgeport community and competing athletically in the youth and school systems.
“Bridgeport did a good job of preparing me from a young age and that continued through high school,” said Wilfong. “I read a book, Atomic Habits, where you learn you don’t expect immediate success, you have to work for a long time and reading that book pushed that thinking along. If you want to get something worth having, you have to work for it day after day.”
Dental school is no walk in the park and requires the daily grind. Wilfong knew that as his father Byron is in the profession as was his grandfather JB Wilfong. Still, he saw up close his father’s work and decided to get into it.
“I saw how happy he was with what he was doing when I was working (at Wilson Martino) as an undergraduate as an assistant’s assistant. I saw how things were run, how he interacted with and helped people, and decided to give dental school a try,” said Wilfong. “I can say I’m super happy I made that decision.”
It was during dental school that the genesis of endurance sports came into focus. And the focus started due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I was playing a lot of team sports in Morgantown with my friends, but with COVID you couldn’t do those sports anymore and I veered off into endurance sports,” said Wilfong.
Wilfong read another book, The Way of the SEAL, that focused on mental toughness, setting goals, and excelling. Somewhere in those pages was a mix with his endurance training that put the idea of doing an Ironman Triathlon on his mental plate.
While Wilfong has never been in poor shape, doing a triathlon is difficult. Doing an Ironman triathlon is extremely difficult. For those who want to do one, all you need to do is be able to swim 2.4 miles, ride a bike for 112 miles, and then finish it off with a marathon run, which is 26.2 miles.
“I actually did a marathon my third year of dental school and at did a half Ironman on June 16 to prep for the one (Sept. 16),” said Wilfong.
Wilfong was thrilled to complete both. He was even more thrilled his friend and fellow BHS alum Nick Strogen did both of those with him.
“Having your buddy with you made it easier because you have someone to bounce things off of as you’re going along,” said Wilfong.
Of course, Wilfong had been biking to dental school just about every day to help on that front. Swimming, however, was another matter.
“That was tough because outside of grade school and being on the swim team I had no experience,” he said. “I had a friend from dental school who swam for South Charleston, and I told him what I was planning on doing. He took me under his wing, broke down my stroke, and pushed me further than what I thought I could be pushed.”
That proved invaluable. Wilfong recalled doing a couple of 100-meter swims early on and “was miserable.” He said he knew doing the 2.4-mile swim, even with training under his belt, would be daunting.
Ironically, when the event came, it was the one thing he was most comfortable with that proved to be the most challenging – the run. Wilfong, however, almost never made it to the marathon portion of the event.
“I wrecked my bike during the race … It happened around the 40-mile mark, and I was pretty relaxed when it happened,” he said.
The wreck he said came as he traveled the roadway with vehicles. He said he was checking his wrist for his speed and heartrate when a cross wind came courtesy of the reach of Hurricane Lee and slammed him into the concrete.
“I thought, for a few moments, I wouldn’t be able to finish,” he said. “I overcame that and started the run. The run was the hardest.”
Perhaps it was because it was the last stage. Perhaps it was mental. Perhaps it was just the amount of physical pounding he had forced his body into.
Whatever it was, Wilfong was faced with a course that was three laps. At the end of each lap you crossed the finish line and went another eight miles as part of the loop.
“When I crossed the finish line the second time to start the final loop I didn’t know if I could get there,” he said. “That was the toughest.”
As much as he enjoyed seeing the finish line for the final time, it was something else that made him feel even better prior to getting there.
“I saw my parents on the left side, and Nick was there too, along with my fiancé giving me high fives. It was kind of surreal having that support for something you had put so much time into and seeing the hard work pay off that I actually got a little teary eyed,” said Wilfong. “The goal was finally reached, and I was glad it was over.”
What’s next? There will be a marriage. There will be growth in the dental profession. And there will be the ongoing planting of roots back in the Bridgeport community.
What won’t there be? Most likely his Ironman days are over shortly after it began.
“I’m thinking if I do anything else it will be a half Ironman. This was a little much, and I was sore to levels I’ve never experienced after. I can say I proved to myself I can mentally buckle down to complete some very difficult things and check an item off the bucket list at the same time,” he said. “It’s time to put priorities back to spending more time with family and friends and have a little bit of fun.”
The only blemish was the one goal he did not accomplish Sept. 16. It was something most people in West Virginia took part in.
“My goal was to get done in time to watch the kickoff of the WVU game with Pitt. I finished before it happened, but I still missed the first quarter,” Wilfong said. “I heard it wasn’t too exciting.”
Editor's Note: Top photo, by Ben Queen Photography, shows John Wilfong in action in 2014 against Robert C. Byrd. In the second photo, he is shown with his father Byron, right, and grandfather JB Wilfgong at graduation from WVU's dental school. In the third image he is shown getting ready for his swim in the ironman triathlon, while in the next photo he is shown with his long-time friend Nick Strogen after they completed a half Ironman event prior to the most recent event. In the fifth photo, he nears the finish line and is about to get a high five from his fiance Sydney Bongiorni. In the sixth image, he is shown post race with his father Byron and his mother Barb, while Bongiorni shows her freshly planted engagement ring in the bottom photo. All photos beyond the first image are courtesy of John Wilfong. 

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