Overcoming Adversity: My Story
I have often shared my weight loss story in this blog, online and through my social media channels and it so nice to know it resonates with so many of you. Today I wanted to share a different story with you as I felt it may also help for people to see that resilience and determination are required by everyone of all abilities.
This particular story starts with a broken leg, a bright green cast and a very unsightly dismount from a swiss ball. I had recently broken my foot and had been suffering (not very silently) on my own while my girlfriend was at work. I had decided that I could probably get onto the swiss ball and balance with my good leg while I trying to do chest press with a pair of dumbbells. A very sore hip later and still holding onto all my teeth I decided that wasn’t one of my better ideas (YES! I’m an idiot!).
When my girlfriend came home from swim training she told me that a group of our friends had signed up for Ironman Germany the following year. After a fairly short conversation we had both entered and sat quietly contemplating the magnitude of the challenge we had just signed up for. If you are not familiar with Ironman, it’s a long distance triathlon, that includes a 2.4 miles swim a 112 mile bike ride and a full marathon, all to be completed in 17 hours, and just so you know if your goal doesn’t make you a little nervous then it’s not the right goal. A little nervous would have been an understatement for me.
So with less than 12 months to go, a leg in bright green cast for another six weeks and the biggest physical challenge of my life laid out before me, what could go wrong?
Ironman rolled round faster than you can imagine, the weekends of long runs, longer bike rides and countless laps of the pool and open water had finally culminated in one weekend. My foot had recovered perfectly and I was in the best shape of my life. We all stood on the start line waiting for the Klaxon to sound and the white water melee of several thousand swimmers all heading off simultaneously. Then it happened, the one golden rule I always tell others never to break: “nothing new on race day”. I applied some anti fogging spray to my goggles to help keep them from misting up while swimming in the pack. I hadn’t read the instructions and didn’t know to rinse them out.
I started the swim and part way round I needed to clear some water from my goggles. When I took the googles off I suddenly realized that my vision was incredibly burred and hazy. I put the goggles back on and followed the feet in front of me to navigate the remainder of the swim course. When I exited the swim and headed into transition I rinsed my eyes with some water and headed off to collect my bike. I figured it was a long day and my eyes would improve after while.
After about 10 miles on the bike my eyes started to become very painful and were constantly streaming. I was so determined not to give up on my dream that I carried on for another 50 miles. By this time I was in so much pain that I was likely to have fallen off if I had carried on any further. The paramedics treated me but insisted I needed go to the hospital. I was adamant I needed to get back on my bike but finally succumbed after I was left in the ambulance for 20mins on my own to think about it. After a very long 7 hours in the German A&E having my eyes flushed for chemical burn I was released in my soaking wet cycling clothes and paper scrubs. I had no idea where I was and had to wait for the race organiser to come and collect me.
Luckily, I was able to meet some friends who had come to watch the race and was able to get changed into some warm clothes. I finally got to see Kirsty who had almost finished the run, she had one lap left to go (6miles) and she would be crowned an Ironman. I got to the finish in time to see Kirsty cross the line but had to stand back from the grandstand as the lights were too bright for my still very painful eyes. It was amazing to see Kirsty cross the line and achieve the goal she had worked so hard for. I needed additional treatment and had very sore eyes for a few days following the event.
Now this part of the story is not about making you feel sorry for me or looking for sympathy. I made a mistake and that Ironman was not meant to be. Yes I was very disappointed, upset and angry, but no less determined than when I had entered the race or when I stepped onto the start line. Instead of feeling sorry for myself and with some help from my friends I entered Challenge Henley Ironman six weeks later. As all my friends and Kirsty were unwinding after 12 months of hard training I was faced with more long rides, more long runs and stepping my training back up. Mentally this was very tough, especially as I was doing it all on my own this time round. 5am starts riding past revelers as they fell out the clubs, 18 mile long runs after a full day’s work and plenty more laps of the lake.
The race day came and I was mentally and physically ready for anything the course would throw at me. This was the last chance to finish the race and all my friends had come out to see their last man cross the line. I started the swim and again couldn’t see, at least this time it was due to the morning fog across the Thames. I have no idea where I swam that day but I was pleased to be out the water and onto the bike in one piece.
The bike was a very hilly 112 miles and was much harder than the course I had been training for all year. This made taking on my nutrition much harder as I was always climbing and my stomach was not happy. Seemingly avoiding all the rain I finished the bike in just under 7 hours and set off on the run. My friends had been cheering me on all day with homemade banners and Mr Strong T shirts. Heading back from my first lap I ran past my friends only to see they all had white sticks to check if I could see alright this time round!
The final lap came and it was dark now with only a small beam from my head torch lighting the dusty tow path. A huge bellow from the other side came up “Strongie!” I looked across and my friend Chris had a huge flash light signalling where his was and that I was almost home.
Coming into the finishing funnel I saw all my friends and family and gave them all high fives and huge hugs, their support had been priceless. I walked to the finish line arms in the air in triumph, stopped, bowed in respect to the race and stepped across the line an Ironman.
I wouldn’t change a single thing about that day it was perfect. My friends and family all around to support me and a steely determination that makes you feel unstoppable. The moral of this story is that when you want something badly enough you will make it happen no excuses. We all face adversity but its how you choose to deal with it that will define you.
I often talk to my clients about mantras to say to yourself when the going gets tough, here is mine from Ironman.
In the words of Rocky Balboa: “It’s not about how hard you can hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep pushing forward, that’s how winnings done”
If you refuse to take no for an answer and keep pushing forward you too will achieve all your goals and much, much more.
Andy Strong, Ironman