Perseverance in the Face of Adversity: Becoming an Ironman Triathlete
My three year quest to complete an Ironman triathlon was a process of personal transformation through perseverance in the face of adversity. My experience is filled with lessons that you can use in the service of achieving your own goals.
I have been an active triathlete for the past eleven years. The attraction of the sport for me is primarily the lifestyle of being active outdoors, in nature. For the first eight years, I competed in a number of events annually, including Olympic Distance and Half Ironman length races (1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run). Three years ago, I felt a spontaneous, intense desire to “go long:” to compete at an Ironman triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run). The motivation to achieve this goal felt like a calling: to complete an initiatory ordeal; to realize my full potential mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
In 2007, I joined the San Francisco Bay Area Ironteam, sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I was drawn to the power of the group, as a medium for transformation. As well, it was very meaningful to me to raise funds for the Society, as a larger context for my individual mission.
Have you ever noticed that the higher you set your sights, the greater the obstacles you encounter? This most definitely was the nature of my experience. Over the three years that it took me to achieve my goal, I had to overcome myriad physical, psychological and spiritual challenges.
Early in my training with Ironteam, I became hypothermic (cold) following a swim in San Francisco Bay. I required resuscitation in a heated car. This experience occurred three times. I would become delirious, requiring active rescue and support. Each such occurrence caused increasing consternation for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. I started training individually with an open water swimming coach, on a weekly basis. He taught me a number of strategies for creating and maintaining body heat.
In March, 2007, following an intensive day of 11 hours of training, I became hyponatremic (low salt level in the blood). This event felt like a near death experience. I became acutely delirious, requiring hospitalization. The following day, after being discharged from the hospital with persistent low sodium levels, I fell at night, sustaining an ugly head laceration and transient loss of consciousness. At this point, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society both kicked me off their Ironteam, and withdrew my name as a participant at our target event, Ironman Canada. I elected to complete the arduous “race phase” training on my own. I contested my right to compete at Ironman Canada, eventually traveling to the event, fully prepared to race. I was not permitted to compete. The race organizers were loath to complicate their strained relationship with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, by allowing me to race that year.
The following year, I trained once again for the same event, on my own, with the individual support of a triathlon coach, and my open water swimming coach. I made it to the event, completed the swim and the bike, but elected to drop out of the race at mile 15 of the run, due to dehydration.
Last year, once again training alone, but older and wiser, I finally completed the race. It was a thrilling day, a true “peak experience.”
The primary psychological barrier that I had to overcome was my unconscious belief that I needed to be rescued (reenacted repeatedly, as described above). A more subtle version of this belief was manifested in my tendency towards dependence on my Ironteam teammates. I would look to them for continual support and reassurance, rather than taking full responsibility for my own performance.
The magnitude of the challenge that I took on forced me to dig deep, in order to persevere. Contemplating the rigors of such a grueling day requires the development of an “Iron will,” both to overcome all self-doubt, as well as to prevail undaunted despite the potential negative influence of other people. There were those who questioned my ability to achieve my goal, and others who actively obstructed my progress towards this end.
Spirit is both deeper and greater than “will.” I developed an experience of oneness with an invincible spirit, a spirit that could not be broken by adversity. We are all imbued with this spirit, this force beyond ourselves. We are not, however, always aware of it, or able to draw strength from this invisible means of support.
My hope in sharing this story is that my experience might offer you some techniques for achieving your own goals:
- Listen to your intuition in setting meaningful goals for yourself.
- Make an unshakeable commitment to doing whatever it takes to persevere.
- Use every setback as an opportunity for learning and for self-development.
- Take total responsibility for your own performance.
- Recruit able helpers.
- Develop self-reliance.
- Identify your own self-defeating beliefs. Work tirelessly to overcome them.
- Use positive self-talk to generate self-confidence.
- Insulate yourself from the negative influence of those who would wish to oppose or to undermine you.
- Visualize your successful achievement of your goals.
- Believe in yourself.
- Trust and draw strength from a spirit larger than yourself.