What do an Ironman race and your dream or big hairy audacious goal (BHAG) have in common?
My sister Eileen is in Louisville, Kentucky today competing in her 12th Ironman. 12th!!! At 58 years old! What a rock star! Her commitment, discipline, and passion for a healthy lifestyle that has spanned over 20 years continues to inspire me to stay the course in my life when I want to drop out.
I had the privilege of cheering Eileen on during her first Ironman in Kona Hawaii in 1990 (this photo of us is just after Eileen finished that race – note the incredible “glow” coming through her). Going through that experience with her (I was definitely an armchair athlete at the time) changed my life in so many incredible and healthy ways including daily exercise and learning to racewalk and love it.
In honor of Eileen, I’m posting a story from my book, Living with Enthusiasm: How the 21-Day Smile Diet Can Change Your Life about how she prepared to qualify for her first Ironman. Her story, especially now, a quarter century after she started training for her first Ironman, is inspiration for anyone who has a dream and wonders if they’ll ever be able to make it come true.
My sister Eileen wanted to be a nurse from the time she was a little girl. When she reached college and discovered running, she also decided she wanted to compete in an Ironman Triathlon – a 2.5-mile swim in Hawaii’s ocean, 112-mile bike ride, and 26-mile marathon completed within 17 hours – by the time she reached age 40.
Eileen became a nurse at age 22 and competed in her first Ironman Triathlon at age 35. Receiving a nursing degree is a feat in itself (God bless our nurses; I opted out of nursing school when I heard bedpans and catheters were part of the program). Getting to that first Ironman is also a huge triumph.
To qualify for the Ironman, participants must either be selected in a lottery from thousands of entrants or prequalify in a prior triathlon and come in first in their age group. Eileen trained daily with a friend for the year prior to the race and received coaching from an exercise physiologist.
Because she didn’t win the lottery, she competed in the prequalifying race. During the five-hour drive to the race’s starting point, she listened to the positive goal audiotape she made for herself a month earlier. In fact, she had listened to it every day to keep herself motivated. The tape included her favorite music and a script she had written and read into a tape recorder. She wrote the script in first person as if she were running the race and doing it perfectly – “I am running at my best, I overcome all obstacles, I finish first in my age group…”
She did it! Eileen qualified for the Ironman! The evening after the race I called her to ask how she did and she said, “Mary, the most incredible thing happened. During that entire race, whenever I felt myself slowing down, I heard the tape in the back of my mind saying, ‘You can do it. Keep going just another ten feet.’ So I did and I came in first! I can’t believe it! And more amazing is that generally there are about 15 to 20 seconds between each person at the finish line. But the person who finished second in my age group was 18 minutes behind me!”
Fast-forward 12 years. Eileen has accomplished these two goals and gone on to expand them. She is now a nurse practitioner at Children’sHospital in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She is also a volunteer women’s running coach for Special Olympics and an accomplished triathlete, having completed eight annual Ironman triathlons and five World Championship triathlons.
Like Eileen, you have the capacity to accomplish whatever you set out to do. Make a commitment to your goal and recommit to it on a daily basis. Not easy, but definitely worth it.
Fast forward another 11 years to today, August 25, 2014 and count 12 Ironmans, 5 (or is it 6? 7 now?) World Championship Triathlons, annual multiple summer marathons and the Birkebeiner X-Country ski race, a “Race Across America” bicycle race, Tough Mudder, 50K Extreme Race, and 8,760 days of swimming, running, and/or biking. And working on a Ph.D. in nursing while continuing as a Nurse Practitioner at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee.
Whatever your dreams, the path to manifesting them, while often not easy, is clear and simple: every day, one step at a time, even – or especially when – you don’t feel like it, continuing to say Yes, I can. Yes, I will. Yes, I am. One day you will saying “Yes, I did!
|“What I’ve learned in my years as a competitive wheelchair athlete is this– what separates a winner from the rest of the pack is not raw talent or physical ability; instead, it is the drive and dedication to work hard every single day, and the heart to go after your dream, no matter how unattainable others think it is.”
~ Linda Mastandrea, Special Olympics athlete ~