John Collins, a retired Navy Seal was sitting around having a few beers with his friends and they pondered the ultimate question, “Who is the world’s greatest athlete?” That question ultimately leads John to declare his famous saying, “Swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, run 26.2 miles. Brag the rest of your life. ™ ” The Ironman Triathlon was born.
I declare to you today that you have an Ironman inside of you!
I admit that not many people ever believe my declaration. The Ironman Triathlon is the definitive test of endurance for any athlete.
You may have conjured up thoughts of swimming or should I say “thrashing” in the water when you heard, “swim 2.4 miles.” “Oh sure, I’d drown in the first 5 minutes. Doesn’t he know I sink?” Maybe you thought “bike 112 miles, my butt would be so sore I’d never be able to sit down again! Is he nuts? Run 26.2 miles. I’m not a Kenyon and I get tired walking from my car to the store. There is no way I could do that!”
When I say to others that there is an Ironman in them, they always focus their mind to the actual event and the fitness needed to conquer the 140.6 miles and compares it to where their fitness is currently at. The gap frightens them and fear wins out over courage.
I looked at it differently when I made the decision to do my first. I didn’t care what my current fitness level was; I only focused on what I needed to do to “acquire” the fitness I’d need to finish. Desire, faith and massive action are what closes the gap and allows God to bless our lives.
For all my Ironman triathlons I’ve finished I started training the first day I ran as a child. The first day my dad let goes of my bike and I rode on my own. The first day I jumped into the swimming pool with a great big grin on my face. We’ve all been preparing our entire lives to do an Ironman!
But this is not at all what I mean when I say, “Everyone has an Ironman inside of them.”
Please let me share a part of my first Ironman to illustrate my declaration and what I really mean.
When I made the decision to attempt my first Ironman in Arizona in 2007 I was trying to strengthen my faith in God. I wanted to have a closer relationship to Him. In order to do that I knew I needed to let go of my dependence on me and let God work miracles in my life. He led me to Ironman as a way to learn about Him.
I started my journey with that thought and I was opening myself up to follow what He wanted me to do. I had many wonderful experiences along the way that are too numerous to mention here. Please let me share a few of those experiences with you and you see if God was trying to teach me something.
In my preparation for my first Ironman I had never swam in open water with a lot of other people before. For the first time I did a practice swim on the Friday before the Sunday event with many other athletes. I had the worse swim ever. I now had self doubt that I knew would rob me of my complete focus on the race. After that swim I said a prayer and asked God to help me be calm. During this Ironman journey to learn of God I knew that I needed to give of myself to others. God gave me the answer to my prayer. I needed to dedicate my Saturday practice swim to someone in need. I had a friend who was really sick at the time and I wrote her name on my swim cap and the next day would swim for her. My thoughts were on serving her and not on my selfish personal needs that were creating my own self doubt and anxiety. I called her and told her I was going to do that and it warmed her soul and made her feel better. That evening I was up most of the night saying positive affirmations about her and my ability to swim in open water with others.
The practice swim on Saturday went great! Again, God provided the means; all I had to do was serve others.
On race Sunday I was really nervous as you can imagine. That morning as I sit quietly waiting for the race to start I was sitting next to a female competitor who are more nervous than I was. I wanted to calm her down so I began a conversation with her which started to relieve a lot of anxiety for both of us. I then asked her if she would pray with me. Sitting together I offered a prayer. At the conclusion of that prayer she had tears in her eyes and she hugged me. She acknowledged, “Before that prayer Michael, I was going to quit because I didn’t think I could do it. But now, I’m ready to rock it!” The second spiritual manifestation of God’s grace and mercy had testified to me that God is in control and I was at the right place and at the right time in my life. I was jacked out of my mind with excitement!
The gun went off and I was doing my first triathlon!
I completed the swim and bike legs in pretty good fashion and I was now out of the final gate for the marathon. About a mile into the run the Lord gave me one more opportunity to become close to Him. I puked all over the ground and my stomach was nuked. I had to start walking. It was during this walk that changed my life forever.
I started to walk with a big Latino young man from California named Dominique who was limping pretty badly but he was moving it at a good pace. We got to know each other pretty well. I was walking a little faster than him so I would get ahead of him about 50 yards and yell back at him to run and catch up. He would do that.
After we walked together about an hour I felt much better and knew I could start to run again. I looked in his eyes and told him I was going to run. He said, “Go Mike, you need to have a great Ironman. Don’t worry about me.” I asked him, “Will you be alright?” He said yes but the look on his face said no. The spirit whispered to me to stay with him and continue to walk. Do you think God was giving me a chance to allow Him to bless my life? I really wanted to run but God really wanted me to walk with Dominque.
I wanted to honor God on this Ironman and my service to Dominique was more important than my finish time. I stayed and walked with him for another 8 miles.
With 8 miles to go after he and I had walked 16 miles together he encouraged me to run. We both felt he would be able to finish without me. I took off with the best feeling in my heart. I didn’t know if I would ever see Dominique again.
I did finish the race! I was an Ironman.
The next morning at the awards breakfast I looked for Dominque but did not see him. When all of a sudden he approached me and gave me a big hug with tears streaming down his face. Others around us were wondering what was going on but at that moment all that mattered was the respect two human beings had for God and each other.
As he looked in my eyes, he said, “I barely finished with 5 min before the cut off time. How did you know to continue to walk with me? If you had started running the first time I was going to quit because I was depending upon your encouraging words and strength to keep me going. Because you walked me with another 8 miles, I’m an Ironman finisher!”
So you see there is an Ironman in all of you. Our service to others takes a great deal of courage and sacrifice. But that selfless sacrifice is needed for God to unlock the Ironman in each of you. He can make way more out of your life than you can make out of it yourself. With God, no gap is wide to conquer. If your gaps are self doubts or fear, turn them over to God and allow Him to close them. He will for you as he has done for me so many times.
For me when people ask “Why do you do Ironman?” they are almost always taken back when I tell them, “I have a secret weapon that keeps me doing them, I do Ironman for others!”