Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ironman thoughts through a volunteers eyes

Ironman: 140.6 miles of determination, dedication, and inspiration. Athletes age 18 to 74, pros, age-groupers, blind, disabled, all shapes and sizes, all walks of life, all with one thing on their mind, the finish line. Each athlete dedicated hours to training, sacrificing time with family and friends. Each athlete full of determination as they approach the swim start, waiting for the canon to go off. Each athlete was inspired in some way to even think of doing an Ironman and now they get to be an inspiration to those spectating on the sideline and to those volunteering. I am one of those volunteers that was inspired.

September 2008 is the first time I ever volunteered at Ironman Wisconsin. I was 300 pounds and already knew that I wanted to do an Ironman in 2013, but really never thought, at that point, that it would ever really happen. The day before the race I worked in Gear Check in. This is where the athletes bring bags with everything they will need for their transition. A transition is the time between each leg. Transition 1 is between the swim and the bike and transition 2 is between the bike and the run.

I got to meet so many athletes that day, hear their stories, and help them get set up for race day. It was amazing. I had two friends doing the race. We had met online, but not in person, so that day I got to meet them both when they brought their gear bags in. It was amazing to finally meet them and be part of their first Ironman experience.

The day of the race I started the morning off body marking the athletes. Body marking is when you mark an athletes arms and legs with their racing number. Here I was 300 pounds marking some of the most fit bodies I had ever seen. I even got to mark a couple pros that day. I was self-conscience, but getting inspired every second, getting more excited about the possibility of being an Ironman someday.

I also volunteered at the finish line and that is what changed my life. I was giving out the medals. As the athlete approaches the finish line they get to hear this,
“Larry Schultz, You Are An Ironman.” I cannot even begin to imagine what that feels like to hear, but I know that hearing that, the first time live, at the finish line, made me so inspired to hear it for myself one day. I got to give medals out to every type of athlete out there. I got to give a medal to my friend Chris on completion of his first Ironman. At that moment I forgot that I was a morbidly obese person, I forgot that I got out of breath walking down a street, and I forgot that I could barely bend over to tie my shoes.

At that moment I pictured myself as an Ironman. I knew that this would be me. It would be a lot of hard work. Instead of thinking that this was impossible, I started believing that I’m possible. That night I worked the finish line until midnight. That is the cutoff for the race. If you are not done by midnight, you get a DNF (did not finish). There was about 30 seconds left and the announcer was saying there was one lady very close and we needed to all cheer her in. It is amazing at the finish line towards the end of the race, so we were all cheering, holding our breath, hoping she would make it. Guess what? She did with 4 seconds to spare. I had the privilege of putting her medal around her neck. I had someone take a picture of me medaling her. That is a moment I will never forget. She crossed the finish line and just laid down. She had spent 17 hours dedicated to, and determined to becoming an Ironman and she did it.

I contacted her after the race, so I could email her the medal picture and we talked a long time. She is a mom and had been on her own weight loss journey and doing and Ironman was what she wanted to do after she hit her goals. She encouraged me so much in my own journey. I knew after talking to her that I was meant to do this. Before it had been that I was going to do an Ironman in 2013. I really meant it, but deep down, I would start self-doubting myself and then start putting myself down.

Now I knew that this dream would become my reality. I knew I had to start getting serious about my workout regime and my eating was a joke. It was time to do something about it. I hired a coach, got back to Weight Watchers and started seeing the results. November 8, 2008 I met with my coach, Matt Petersen of The Fitness Pursuit. Those were some hard sessions. He would knock down my excuses one after another. It was tough. I didn’t like him very much at the time, but I credit him with my turn around. While having Matt as my coach I lost 40 pounds.

In one of our first conversations Matt had asked me what my goals were and at that point I still wanted to do my Ironman in 2013. He asked me why I had it so far off. I remember wanting to laugh when he asked me this. At this point I was 297 pounds. I had lost weight before going to meet with my new coach. (Kind of like when you clean before the cleaning lady comes.) I remember thinking, “Um, yeah, can’t you tell why I’m putting it off so far.” I just never thought I could do it sooner. So, after talking, we moved it up to 2012. I could probably do it sooner, but I really wanted to be the most fit I could be and work up to the distance. I was doing sprint tris at that point (1/2 mile swim, 15 mile bike, 5k run).

Now it is 2010. I just spent this past Sunday, September 12, volunteering for my third time at Ironman Wisconsin. I am 97 ½ pounds lighter and could just tell the difference in my volunteering experience. I was not self- conscience at all, and I could get around town a lot easier.

Once again I was cheering on friends. My first coach Matt Petersen that I mentioned above was competing, doing his 5th Ironman. My friend Chris who did his first Ironman in 2008 was back again to do his second race. I also had 7 other people I knew doing the race all with amazing stories. It was so amazing and inspiring to see each and every one of them on the course.

Again I worked the finish line. I got to medal a lot of the friends I knew doing the race. I got to medal a blind athlete. I medaled old athletes, young athletes, and everything in between. Everyone out there has a story, everyone out there has a reason they need to do an Ironman, me included.

I was 306.2 pounds. I was a doormat that everyone just wiped their feet on. I guess, based on my past results, I was ok with those things because I was not willing to change. Now I am the most confident (but not in a cocky way) I have ever been. I am ok with saying no to people. I am pushing myself a lot harder than I ever have. I love having my picture taken now. I help others in their journeys and am just a very happy person and it feels great.

I am on my Ironman journey. Just like working to get the weight off I am working my way up to the Ironman distance. I have several sprints under my belt, did my first Olympic distance tri under my belt, and will do my first ½ Ironman in 2011. I am very proud of what I have accomplished, but my journey will not be complete without finishing an Ironman.

I have had to dig deep in my life to get through a lot, but during Ironman Wisconsin I will have to dig deeper than ever before. I will go to places I have never gone before mentally and I will have to dig deep to get through. With each step I will become a stronger person physically, mentally, and spiritually. I want to do an Ironman to show myself just how far I have come and just how far I will be able to go. Yes, I cannot wait to become an Ironman, but it is far more than that. When I cross that finish line this is what I will hear, “Melissa Black, you are an Ironman,” but this is what I will know as I cross that finish line. Not only will I have become an Ironman, I will have become a better person, wife, mom, and friend along the way. I will be a different person because of everything I had to overcome to cross that finish line.

All the volunteers at Ironman events have the opportunity to sign up for the race on Monday morning for the following year. Next year, next year (wow, I had to repeat that because it’s finally getting here) when I volunteer I will be in line on Monday morning to sign up for Ironman Wisconsin 2012. I can hardly wait, but know that I have a lot of work still left to do to get there. I respect every single mile of the 140.6 distance and will do everything I need to between now and the starting line to get ready.

Ironman: 140.6 miles of determination, dedication, and inspiration. I will be determined to do whatever my coach (Bob Mitera of Kokua Multisports) tells me to do and will be determined for the next two years to get to that start and finish line. I am dedicated to my training and whatever sacrifices I have to make to get that start and finish line. I have been inspired by so many who have gone before me on their own journeys of weight loss, illnesses to overcome, triathlons, and Ironman and I hope to inspire people to do whatever it is they want to do. I am living proof that there is hope and that you can change.


Justine said...

Melissa, it was a pleasure to meet you at Cracker Barrel on Monday. Thank you for introducing yourself to my husband, and making his day. I look forward to following your blog and watching you reach your goal of IM Moo 2012. Congratulations on your many great accomplishments so far. Godspeed in your journey!

Shelley Moore said...

I really hope I get the chance to volunteer at an IM event next season - everyone I've talked to describes it as a life changing experience! here's to IM 2012 - we can do it!

Melissa Brown said...