If Sydney River’s Corey Deveaux never competes in another Ironman triathlon he’s got a memory to last a lifetime.

The 31-year-old school teacher joined more than 2,800 athletes, including a handful of friends from Cape Breton, for the Lake Placid (N.Y.) Ironman last Sunday.

Mountainous terrain and sweltering conditions aside, it was a celebration of fun and fitness in the water, on the bike and on the roads.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the finish line. He was the first one to get there.

“Big time,” he said this week when asked if the victory was a shocker, even to himself. “I was thinking I might be able to come in the top 10 if I had a great race. But to win was definitely a major surprise and one of the highlights of my life.”

The 3.8-kilometre swim across Mirror Lake began at 6:30 a.m.

Next came a 180-kilometre ride through the Adirondack Mountains. The 42.2-kilometre marathon took the runners back through the mountains, ending at the Olympic speedskating oval in the village of Lake Placid.

Deveaux finished the swim in just under 59 minutes and spent five hours and 14 minutes on the bike. After all that, he was able to churn out at 3:09:38 marathon.

Eight Americans placed right behind him with Daniel Moore of Rochester, N.Y., three minutes behind.

“There are 2,800 people in the race, so it’s very difficult to know how many good guys are going to be there,” he said.

“So you go knowing what kind of time you are capable of doing and you can look at previous results and get an idea how you might place. But mostly you show up on race day and see what happens.”

He knew he was doing well in the race. He wasn’t certain how well.

“I got off the bike in fourth place and you still have a marathon to run. I passed the first-place guy with eight miles to go. So I was in the lead for the last eight miles and the thought crossed my mind I might win, but when you are that far into a nine-hour race anything can happen.

“I never believed I could win until there was a half a mile to go. The second-place guy was three minutes behind me, but it felt like three seconds I was hurting so much. It was really painful. I dug deep to get it done.”

He’s not a rookie, but not a greybeard either. Lake Placid marked his fifth triathlon in a career that only began five years ago.

He twice competed in Ironman competitions in Mont-Tremblant, Que., both leading to the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.

His time on Sunday was his best.

“I trained really, really hard for the last year in preparation for this race,” he said. “It’s such a difficult course, that even though my time may have been only six minutes faster than my previous personal best, I think overall it’s a significantly better race than I’ve ever done.

“The course is very challenging. You’re right in the mountains. And it was a pretty hot day. We haven’t had a lot of hot weather in Nova Scotia and to be faced with that heat on the run, it really made things difficult.”

Never a huge sports guy, Deveaux signed up for a half marathon five years ago. It was little more than a whim.

But, in the course of his running pursuits, he came into contact with Cape Breton triathlon mentor Chris Milburn.

“He has done some Ironmans and just running into people like that inspired me to get into the sport and try one myself. Instantly I loved it and I kept going from there.”

Deveaux qualified to return to the world championship in Hawaii, but immediately turned down the spot. He’s been there twice and the cost is steep.

What’s next? He has no idea.

“I’m sure within a couple of years I’ll sign up for another Ironman, but other than that I’ll keep doing more triathlons in the local area and help promote the sport. Hopefully, maybe I can inspire someone around Cape Breton to try a triathlon for the first time one day.”