I Completed An Ironman With Cerebral Palsy. Here's How I Found The Strength
People often ask me about perseverance, how to push yourself through the physical and mental challenges that life puts in front of you. They ask me about this because I've climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and because I've completed the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. To me though, the real reason I understand perseverance is because every morning, I get out of bed.
When you live with cerebral palsy, the idea of perseverance is a little different from because it's a condition that impacts my most basic motor skills, and in my case makes the act of simply walking quite a painful experience.
Try holding your hand tight in a fist for as long as possible. Really concentrate and push yourself. Feel that burn start in your fingers, moving down your wrist into your forearm. That's how my feet, calves, hamstrings, quads, glutes, and lower back feel all the time. There's no loosening, no release. Every morning it feels as if I hit the gym the night before for the first time ever, really pushing it to the limit and now my body is mad at me ... really mad.
Despite living with this pain, I was able to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and complete Ironman Kona to become the first person with CP to do both. Both of these defied the "rules" for what someone with cerebral palsy could do and tested my physical limits more than I thought possible. A lot of people have asked me how I did this, but I think that "how" is the wrong question. The right question is "what": What do you do when everything inside you says to stop? What do you do when the challenges of life push you to your limits?
It all starts with getting out of bed.
Most people competing in an Ironman might need a year of training. I needed two. All that time presents a lot of opportunities to give up. Two years offer a lot of mornings to be too tired for an hourlong swim, a lot of nights when skipping a post-work bike ride is all too tempting, a lot of weekends that would be better spent in a backyard with friends and burgers than holed up in my garage on a stationary bike.
But in that time, I kept going, kept pushing. I thought about the goal: to finish the Ironman. I thought about why I was doing this: to raise awareness about cerebral palsy and support the nonprofit foundation I'd started, the OM Foundation. But more than anything, I thought about how each day perseverance for me began the same way it would have even if I hadn't been training for the race of my life: by getting out of bed and telling the pain that today wasn't going to be the day it would stop me.
The art of not giving up is just that, an art. It's a personal creation, as individual as anything that hangs in a museum. For some people
One of the great things about any challenge is what you can learn about yourself from the experience. It's when things get hard that you learn about who you really are as a person.running two miles is a hard challenge, for others it's ten miles and for some people, the distance from the bed to the bathroom is the hardest walk of all.
For me, a big part of what I learned was that in order to persevere, I needed to focus on myself and the race. Before Kona, I'd spent years of my life trying to push through challenges by holding myself up to other people. I didn't want to feel limited my cerebral palsy, so I tried to pretend it wasn't there. If they can do it so I can.
But during Ironman, I learned that in order to tackle life's hardest challenges, you need to focus on yourself, your own struggles and your weaknesses. I couldn't think about what the other competitors were doing or what place I was in — if I'd done that I would have been far too demoralized to finish, and simply finishing was my goal.
Focusing on other people might get me over the next hill but it wasn't going to get me across the finish line. Instead I had to run MY race. It was mine and it didn't belong to anyone else. My pace, my goal, my challenge.
What do you when life forces you to persevere? Focus on your race, take one more step and get out of bed.
Photos courtesy of the author
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