||Mike's Amazing Journey: From Couch to Ironman Finisher
It seemed practically everything I did was physically exhausting. Aside from climbing a flight of stairs or, heaven forbid, going on a short hike, just playing with my kids on the living room floor or in the backyard was very difficult because of my weight and completely inactive lifestyle. It was so hard to find clothes that fit and at social gatherings I would often notice that I was the largest person there. This was not who I wanted to be. I was retracting myself from life and trying to make myself invisible. My kids deserved a father that could at least keep up with them, but more importantly, could be around for as long as possible.
Throughout the years, I had tried many diets. You name it and I have probably tried it and failed. Although I would lose some weight, it didn’t stay lost for very long. After a long visit with my doctor after I started showing signs of diabetes, hypertension, sleep apnea and heart disease, I finally realized I needed a better tool at getting my weight under control. For my kids’ sake, and for my sake, I made the decision to reach out to the professional staff at the Center for Weight Management to explore weight loss surgery options.
I attended an orientation class presented by Dr. Dally and Dr. Cagle. They were fantastic at outlining the various surgery options available and the unique differences between them. They helped put my mind at ease in making this decision and answered my many questions. I then went through all of the preliminary meetings and appointments to ensure that I was ready to take this step towards improving the quality of my life. Weighing all of my options and my lifetime goals, I chose to have RNY gastric bypass. Dr. Dally performed the surgery and ensured that I was prepared for the big day. This was a huge decision yet it was the beginning of my new life—kind of like a new birthday!
Besides the talented staff of surgeons, nurses, nutritionists and coordinators, the biggest difference in making these changes a success has come from the post-surgery support group. Once a month we meet to discuss important topics related to our surgery and to share ideas on making the best use of this new tool. From this support group an Outdoor Activity Team has been created and it is an avenue for people to get outdoors and do fun stuff together. We have been on hikes, white water rafting trips, group walks in the local area, we had a Portland-to-Coast walking relay team, we have climbed Mt. St. Helens, and several folks even enter walking/running events ranging from 5K’s to full marathons. The support group for me has been one of the biggest keys to my success.
So what about my bold statement of going from the couch to an Ironman finisher? After surgery, my immediate goal was NOT to do an Ironman triathlon. My first goal was to simply be able to walk a mile on a treadmill without stopping. Then it was to be able to run to the end of my street. Then it was to run/walk 3 miles and so on. Once I started exercising, moving and getting out and being active it was my sister who signed me up for my first 5K event. Of course, she told me about it AFTER she had already signed me up and she announced that we were going to run the entire distance. Not wanting to disappoint my sister and determined to grasp hold of this goal, I set my sights on being able to run a full 3 miles. My sister and I ran that event and although we were slow, I felt like I had just won the New York City Marathon!
After the 5K we started looking at other events and tried to always have something on the horizon we were shooting for. I really wanted to do a sprint distance triathlon so I started swimming in addition to running. I didn’t have a bike at the time so I would spend a few minutes on the stationary bike, too.
It was 6 months after my surgery, and I was feeling better than ever, that I decided to shoot for something really big—why not do a marathon? Yes! So I teamed up with a local training clinic and started training to run 26.2 miles.
During this time, with all of the activity, the pounds were melting away. Changes were taking place on a weekly basis and my self-image and self-confidence was improving by leaps and bounds. I was feeling fantastic, had lots of energy and changed my relationship with food. Instead of looking at food as my comfort, I was able to look at it as fuel. Asking myself, “What nutritional benefit would I gain by eating this?”
Just 13 months after surgery and after losing 130 pounds, I attained (at that time) my biggest physical accomplishment by finishing a marathon in 4:27. It was such a moving experience and I was so thrilled to have many of the Weight Loss Surgery Support Group members there to greet me at the finish.
But we aren’t done yet. Because finishing the marathon rekindled a spark inside of me I have had since I was a kid when I was watching ABC’s Wide World of Sports and they were talking about this new event called the Ironman. Touted as the most difficult single-day athletic event, participants are required to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and then run a full 26.2 marathon in 17 hours. What a huge undertaking this must be. This would become my Mt. Everest. This would become the pinnacle of my battle against obesity and declaring that the Mike of old is no more.
So I set out to train for this big event. In doing so, I did some research trying to find other WLS patients who have completed an Ironman distance triathlon. I didn’t find many. I learned of just one woman and a handful of men who have finished this event. This would prove more challenging than I thought.
After 7 months of intense training the day of the event arrived, I was ready. I had put in the training, I had a comprehensive race plan and I had the determination that at the end of today, I was going to be an Ironman! I will admit it wasn’t easy. By no means, was it easy, but I stuck to my plan and executed each aspect of the race one by one. I couldn’t help but reflect on my journey all the way back to when I was in such poor health that I was afraid I might die before I was 50. I thought about when I made the decision to change my life and get weight loss surgery and be committed to a new and healthy lifestyle. I also thought about my kids and how I wanted to serve as a good example and role model to them in making healthy choices and also demonstrating to them that truly anything is possible.
The run down Sherman Avenue into the finish of Ironman Coeur d’Alene was one of the most memorable moments of my life. I felt like a superstar. The lights, the crowds cheering, and the upbeat music blasting in the background all brought tears to my eyes. Then as I crossed the finish line I listened carefully to the announcer call out the words I have been longing to hear, “Mike you are an IRONMAN!”