Ironmans, Dreams, and Big Hairy Audacious Goals


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 ~

Thanks for sharing!

Inspired Action: Holy Flowing Gratitude

Thanksgiving Day, 2012

Smile. Feel the softness of your heart. It changes everything.

In those moments when you forget it’s always a Day of Thanksgiving,
and you feel the burnt edges of life’s disappointments
crusting over the softness of your heart,
when you forget how amazing you and your life
and the people you love and this earth really are,

Choose, as hard as it may be, as soon as you notice,
to go to your grateful space and breathe.
Breathe in thank you. Breathe out thank you. Smile. Over and over.
Eventually, this holy flowing gratitude will wash over you
like waves cresting in the ocean. And you will feel blessed.

Really. It will. You will. I promise. If you will try.
Just try. Right now.

See. It worked didn’t it?
Feels good, doesn’t it?

What, no luck?
Well, not to sound like that overly-critical, annoying know-it-all
you’re trying to be grateful for,
which is why you’re even trying this in the first place,
but you know you didn’t do it long enough.
Must have some heavy lifting in there. Sorry.

Go back and do it again. And relax. It will work.

I know, you’re right, it may take longer than you like,
but if you keep trying, gratitude will arrive
and the relief you feel when it washes over you
will land you in such a deep state of grace
that tears of joy might even join your party.
Long forgotten memories, people you love,
happy places, recaptured dreams
will begin to flow back into you.

Smile. Feel the softness of your heart. It changes everything.

Happy Thanksgiving.
Love, Mary

Thanks for sharing!

Inspired Action: Happy 101st Birthday Chula Vista!

One of the great experiences of my career has been helping the City of Chula Vista celebrate their 100th birthday in 2011 and implement a Centennial Year of Service community-wide. As the Centennial Manager, I had the privilege of working with the local community group Chula Vista 100 Board of Directors, Mayor Cheryl Cox, City of Chula Vista staff, volunteers, residents, and businesses to create a year of events and projects culminating in the publication of an award-winning book “Chula Vista Centennial: A Century of People and Progress,” a community concert and DVD showcasing more than 300 local professionals and students in the performance arts, and a 100th birthday party free to the community at the Olympic Training Center that drew 25,000 people.

Looking back on this community-wide project a year later, here are two of the most powerful things I’ve learned:

1) I am still in awe of what amazing things can happen when people come together for a greater purpose and are willing to do whatever it takes to create a place that all people can call “Home.” Motivating and inspiring a city to celebrate how far people have traveled, not just physically or time-wise to get somewhere, but emotionally, socially, and spiritually is daunting. Everyone has a story to tell and it’s not always positive. Everyone want to be heard, and it’s not always easy to listen.  But always, there is the potential for growth and change and homecoming. For me, Chula Vista went from being a city South of San Diego in my mind, to the most vibrant, alive, creative group of family and friends in my heart who continues to challenge me to stretch, grow, and love more deeply into the person I want to be for myself and others.

2) Teaching our children about their city’s history, reaching out to them in classrooms, and bringing them to local City Council meetings is critical to building future community leaders who are as compassionate as they are strong and understand what it takes to run a city, especially when there are so many different perspectives and ways of doing things. I will be forever grateful to Mayor Cheryl Cox and Councilmember Pamela Bensoussan for their leadership, insight, encouragement and the mountains they move/d in the City to make it a great place for everyone to call Home.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead sum up this experience so well: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Thanks for sharing!