Behind every wetsuit, bike, and running shoes there is a story to be told about each person who dips their toes into the water of doing an Ironman. Like every story, each is unique and has it’s share of high’s and low’s. I wish to share my story with all of you. I am born and raised native of the Seattle, WA area. I grew up in the Juanita/Kirkland area for much of my young adult life. I played sports throughout most of my life starting when I was 8 years old playing little league football, baseball, and track. I played baseball only for a couple seasons and football was my go to sport for the next 10 years. I played on football teams where a winning season would be a miracle and then I played on other teams where winning became a weekly occurrence. Little did I know, playing sports in my childhood, and early adult life, would prepare me for something far more challenging than football, baseball, and short distance track events. I ran track in junior high and a little bit in high school. I ran shorter distances comprising of 100, 200, and 800 meter races. I thought those that were the distance milers were the crazy people. I had no interest in cross country as it seemed too tiring to run all those miles. Running in High school wasn’t considered as a popular sport. Yes, I went with the crowd and what was popular at the time. Hindsight is always 20/20 when you look back on what you should have played relative to what you played but I wouldn’t trade my coaches and the experiences I had growing up for anything.
I just couldn’t grasp the long distance running thing. Why on earth would I or someone else ever want to run a mile or 3.1 miles for fun! I started on first string squads on football teams I played on until I got into high school. Our Juanita football team in Kirkland was one of the best in the state and there were a lot of great football players on the team that could do the positions way better than I could. It was very competitive, somewhat political, and hence during my high school time I became a 2nd and 3rd string player. It was a bitter sweet moment for me in that I never felt that I would ever be good enough to become a 1st string starter again playing football. So during my high school years, I spent a lot of time standing on the sidelines during football games watching the game being played out. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th string squads were always on the practice teams and helped prepare the starters for the games. If the game was unreachable for the opponent, we would be put in for a couple series towards the end of the games. On one hand, I didn’t see much playing time, but on the other, I played for one of the top 5 high school teams in the state at the time.
As football season came to an end my senior year, I continued to lift weights and strength train but didn’t have anything to do with cardiovascular activity of any kind. Perhaps having all that added weight in football pads while running up and down the field was enough for me during that time. So I justified in taking a long break. I actually thought cardio work wasn’t very fun and just thought pumping iron would be my go to thing for staying in shape. However, I knew at some point down the road of life I would need to do some kind of cardio work. Almost losing my Father to cardiac arrest at the age of 10 years old and again a year later, there was a deep concern for cardio issues potentially for me and other family members in later years.
Cardio work wouldn’t cross my mind again until 23 years later while I was attending a Monday night Seahawks game with a friend at Centurylink field on December 1, 2011. The Seahawks were playing the Eagles and they won by a score of 31-14. My friend was a very avid runner and had run 5K fun runs all the way up to Marathon distances, he would go on to eventually qualify for the Boston Marathon the following year. A spark came into my mind of how fun would that be to return some day to run a Boston Marathon myself. It was a place where I had served as a missionary for my Mormon Faith back in 1992-1994. This was either the start of something really quite interesting or the mid-life crises of a 40 something year old.
If there was anyone I could learn from about running it would be him. I asked him some questions about how I could get back into running again after all these years. I had felt my prime days of glory and being in shape had been over long ago and that it was worth a shot to give running a chance. Discussions continued and my friend talked to me about a program called couch to 5K. The title itself sounded so funny that I think I almost spit out my hot dog at the football game. I didn’t take him very seriously. As I researched into it a little more, I was very surprised about the program. Little by little, I trained for my first 5K in March of 2012. On a snow cold morning in Snoqualmie in March along with my Daughter Julene, I ran my first ever 5K St. Patty’s day fun run. I didn’t think that fun runs would be all that great especially running all that time and they say it’s supposed to be fun? Say what!? But it was the complete opposite. There was a ton of energy, smiling people, and people helping others. I found that the running and endurance crowds weren’t crazy after all but I began questioning myself on why didn’t I figure this out earlier in my life? Football was fun and all but there comes a time in your life where you have to hang up the cleats, pig skin and call it good. However, running is something you can keep your shoes on and keep doing for the rest of your life depending on how long other body parts last.
Over the next couple years, my 5K’s went into 10k’s. My 10K’s lead me to my first Half Marathon on my Birthday on March 9, 2013. My Half Marathon’s came to a full Marathon. Long distance running was something that brought the best out in me. It made me hit the trails and see all the beauty of my area with the lakes, rivers, streams, and mountains. I found a happy place that I could turn to that seemed to connect my soul with the outdoors and yet begin a new chapter of my life. There was a whole other world just outside the front door of our home in North Bend to explore.
Running has been fun but it has had some challenges for me along the way. I fought off a bunch of subtle injuries from plantar fasciitis, strained hamstring, and tight hips. As I encountered some of these setbacks, I had to do something less impactful such as cycling and swimming. I didn’t come across triathlon until May of 2013 when I helped put on a local 5K fun run/walk in my community. I got to talking with one of the runners in the 5K and as we were talking he was training for what he called an Ironman event. I had heard of Ironman events before in the past and believed those to be something so far out of reach for someone of my age. I also felt that those events were only for professional athletes to do. Here I was a 42 year old putting on a 5K event and here I was talking to a guy who would be doing an Ironman which consisted of 2.4 mile swim, 110 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile marathon. All combined of 140.6 miles in 17 hours or less. That type of distance seemed so far out of reach for me at the time but the challenge seemed to be calling me to give it some more thought and research. The fact that this person was the same age as I helped me to think that if he could do it so could I. This was the start of a special dream. It was something new, different, and that focused on the entire body of exercise physiology.
In August 2014, I did my first Olympic distance triathlon at Lake Tye in Monroe, WA. An Olympic distance is a .98/mile swim, 28 mile bike ride, and a 10K (6.2 miles) run. I had borrowed a friend’s road bike as I didn’t have one and needed something decent for the bike portion. After doing my first triathlon, I was hooked on the sport. It was total fun to swim, bike, and run. I thought the big huge breakfast at the end with pancakes, eggs, and sausage was one of the big highlights. I think what I have enjoyed most about triathlon is the variety of cardio sports that it involves. When you break the sports down individually the swim is very low impact but great on cardio, the bike is also low impact and you have some speed combined with the cardio. The run, which is more impact, but when combined with all the other two works the entire muscle groups.
Triathlon training presented me with something new and challenging for training that took stress off other muscles each day. However, nothing would have prepared me for what was to come in May of 2015. I had a goal in 2015 to complete a half iron distance triathlon in Black Diamond, WA in September of that year. I was about 3 weeks into my training when on a mild, overcast morning, on Friday, May 22, 2015 around a little after 8am I settled out for a routine bike training ride on my Cervelo P2 tri bike. This was the start of the Memorial holiday weekend. While I was riding on Cedar Falls road close to the Riverbend Café, I remember getting into my aero bars and something went very, very wrong. As I got into aero going at a speed of 22 MPH, in seconds my bike got into an uncontrollable wobble and I lost control of my bike. I remember losing control and flying off of my bike and landing on my left side. I recall hitting the ground with my left shoulder first, followed by my elbow, then the front part of my helmet hitting and cracking. I heard immediately by the impact that I had broken something. I don’t remember what immediately happened after that as I believe I had a partial black out. While I was laying on the road, I could hear some people approaching me and asking if I was ok. I remember that I couldn’t believe that I had crashed. I kept saying this over and over again. It just couldn’t have happened. How did I crash? What happened? How could I have lost control? I was in a state of delirium and was denying the crash. I remember feeling a huge surge of energy going through my body that I felt I could get up. I remember how much my left arm hurt. It felt like someone took a blow torch to my arm which burned more than anything from the road rash. But all I could do was hold my left wrist while supporting my arm. A bystander asked if I needed an ambulance and I just exclaimed that I wanted him to take me back home as my wife was in the medical field and should could help me. I then asked where my bike was and it turned up into a grassy ditch with hardly a scratch on it. We loaded my bike in the back of his old pickup truck and he brought me home. I remember seeing my wife in the driveway in getting things ready to take me to the urgent care. There was little that the urgent care could do for me so they transferred me to the main hospital Swedish in Issaquah where I had a MRI, and extensive X-rays taken. Our Memorial weekend trip was ruined, my running and triathlon season was ruined. In literally a matter of seconds my goal to complete a half iron distance triathlon or any other future Ironman shot came crashing down, both literally and figuratively. I would spend the next few days at home before surgery requesting for pain pills, blessings, and ice packs. I remember laying on the bed and thinking all I can do is look up at the ceiling at this point. But just the thought of looking up was a little bit of a positive that I needed at that time.
On May 27 at about 7pm at Overlake Hospital I went in for a 4 hour surgery to repair the fractures in my shoulder and elbow. I had two surgeon’s work on both of them at the same time, Dr. Trumble treated the elbow and Dr. Boone worked on my shoulder. I had a total of 8 fractures, 4 in the elbow, and 4 in the shoulder. I had plates put into both along with screws, too many to count. Up to this point in my life, I had never broken anything, the worse thing I was ever treated for at the doctors was getting a physical and some foot x-rays. I felt pretty well screwed at this point but luckily none of the screws were loose in the brain. As I came out of surgery, I remember awakening to my wife being by my side while I was trying to come out of sleep. My body felt like it had the best night sleep ever but yet I felt very heavy when I would try and get up to use the restroom. I was so thankful to have my wife there.
The following morning I got to meet with my surgeon Dr. Trumble, at first I had thought his name was Dr. Tumble which would have been an appropriate Doctor name for my situation. I remember him standing at the foot of my bed and what looked like he had suffered a bit of a lack of sleep with a Starbucks Grande sized coffee in one hand. He said, “How does it feel to be hit by a Mac truck!” we both smiled over that comment and he said that the surgery went well and that I had a good prognosis for recovery. He said to try and move the shoulder and elbow as much as I could but the feeling was very restricted and it felt like my whole left arm was completely wrapped in some kind of tight packaging tape. This would be the start of my long two year recovery.
During the first year of recovery there was intensive physical therapy. The staff at Bellevue Bone and Joint were the best. I would see them 3x’s a week for about an hour. It was all about returning my range of motion on the elbow and the shoulder. I went through two procedures; one to help with stiffness and another to remove a plate and screws out of my elbow. My training had to completely start over from scratch. The best thing I could do early on was to walk and I did a lot of that. When the time came to get into the pool, I was limited to kicking my feet or do some version of a gentle dog paddle. As for the Bike, we were as I would call legally separated during this time. It stayed in the back room where I wouldn’t see it again for the next year following surgery. Up to the accident, I had been able to face a lot of different fears over the years but the fear of getting back on my bike again after the accident was really scary for me. I just couldn’t get back on the bike again and think about going through what I went through all over again or putting my family through all of this again.
Over the year of recovery my dog paddles turned into side strokes, then turned into crawl strokes. Walks turned back into jogs, and jogs back into some running. I just focused in on the things that I could do and think about the bike last. It was a slow process but every day seemed to build on the other. One week became better than the last week. I kept thinking to myself that each and every time I’m doing something of a cardio nature is making me better than I was the day before. I held onto the mantra of “make this day better than the last.”
In January of 2016 I finally was able to reunite myself again with the bike and put it on a trainer. I would spend the rest of the winter months training on the trainer with my bike until I felt comfortable about riding it on the road again. I also signed up with a tri team in Covington called Raise the Bar. On a nice spring day in May, I took my bike out at Centennial fields in Snoqualmie and road my bike around a short trail around the fields. It was an amazing boost to my confidence again that I can ride my bike again. Was I scared? Yes, absolutely, I knew I was taking a huge leap of Faith to do what I was doing. One bike ride built on another and within a couple months, I would complete my first sprint triathlon following my accident. In the middle of September, I would go onto doing my first half Iron distance triathlon which would be a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike ride, and a Half Marathon of 13.1 miles. I felt that if I could make it through a half iron distance triathlon that I could look into doing a full Iron distance the following year.
It was within a few weeks of that event, that I received an email from the triathlon team that there were limited spots open for Ironman Arizona for November 19, 2017. This race sells out very quickly and unless you have a connection with a tri team or charitable event of some kind your odds of getting in are like winning the 1 million dollar lottery ticket. It didn’t take too long to think about it and I registered for it. I knew that this wasn’t only a huge monetary investment but also a lot of training. Training would peek around doing 15 hours a week. The thing I find so motivating about events like these or fun runs is once you sign up, you are committed and locked in to the training. It’s like there is some kind of psychological signal that goes into your brain that says, you better do this or else!
I don’t think I could get into the water for an Ironman and be able to do what I’m looking to do in the days ahead without my loving wife, children, family, and friends. Yes, it will be the greatest cardio workout of all time for me on November 19th but I will also be thinking about all the countless people who have made this dream possible. They have all shared in this journey and I have developed a special bond with all of them. I am convinced that it’s through the support of a loving God, family, and friends that forms the glue that dreams are made of. Together we can do great things. I have chosen to do an Ironman to finish what I started and to do it for my family. I want them to see, feel, and have some understanding what you can overcome by taking on big challenges. Even if you have to pick up all the shattered pieces and completely start over from scratch whatever that may be. Through all the hard work, grit, sweat, tears, and a strong determined mind there isn’t much that can stand in your way. I have come to learn that it’s ok to have fear and to confront those fears head on. It’s putting into our minds the thought of possible from impossible. It’s the result of a wish being played out in real time. I am reminded of a quote by Henry Ford who said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” I think so many, including myself, are challenged with an inner fear of failure or fear of trying something that they never thought they could. It’s by overcoming those fears and trials that we grow beyond what we thought we could endure. I am reminded of the lyrics to a famous song by OneRepublic, “With every broken bone I swear I lived.”
On November 19, 2017, I will attempt to accomplish a goal and a dream of becoming an Ironman finisher.
Raise the Bar
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