Friday FITspiration: American Hero Crushes Kona
Here at runladylike.com, Fridays are all about sharing the inspiring stories of fit people who motivate all of us to be better tomorrow than we were yesterday. My Friday FITspiration series profiles runners, triathletes and casual exercisers who are making choices every day to be as healthy as they can be – in both huge ways and through simple, small victories. Their stories are about the journey of transforming from ordinary to extraordinary each and every day.
“One of my biggest accomplishments was finishing my first triathlon 8 months after losing my leg. Nothing was going to hold me back. This physical disability is more of a physical inconvenience and there is nothing I can’t do.” ~Eric McElvenny
Today, I’m incredibly honored to share Eric McElvenny’s story with you. Inspirational is an understatement when it comes to Eric. Last weekend, Eric finished his first IRONMAN at the highly coveted IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, and he did it in less than 12 hours!
He swam a speedy time of 1:09 in the 2.4-mile swim, averaged nearly 19 mph for 112 miles on the bike and finished the marathon in an impressive 4:37. If his race statistics aren’t remarkable enough, consider this: Eric is a former U.S. Marine Corps member who lost his right leg below the knee 3 years ago in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. Eric didn’t just crush Kona. He did it missing part of his right leg.
Last month, I featured Eric’s Team REFUEL training partner and Become One teammate Chrisaan Dalton, who also became an IRONMAN last weekend, too. You can watch what race week was like for them and their other 2 teammates, including former NFL MVP Hines Ward.
I will be thinking about Eric during my Beach2Battleship Half Ironman next weekend. When things start to get tough, I’m going to channel his strength, courage and inspiration to help get me through. See what he had to say and what we can all learn from this American hero and incredible athlete.
Chatting with Eric McElvenny
Within one year of losing your right leg while serving our country in Afghanistan, you completed 3 triathlons. Most of us can’t begin to comprehend what you must have gone through; let alone how you found the strength and courage to become a triathlete. How did you stay positive during that experience and what motivated you to keep going?
Eric: After becoming a below-the-knee amputee from a wound suffered during combat operations in Afghanistan, a positive attitude became the key to my success. I drew from my family in times of need. My wife and daughter remained very supportive throughout my recovery process and understood that this newfound enjoyment with triathlons had actually turned into a form of rehabilitation for me.
What has been the best part of training for triathlons and racing? What has been the most challenging?
Eric: The best part of training for a triathlon has been learning and developing my new normal. I had to quickly learn and adapt and become comfortable with the new me. It afforded me an accelerated timeline on getting used to my disability. The most challenging aspect was remaining patient. From the first day of my injury, I’ve wanted to walk before I could stand and run before I could walk. Time couldn’t pass quick enough. Learning to be patient and understanding the big picture of the proper steps I needed to take to successfully become active again helped me out.
As a Pittsburgh native, I understand you are a huge Steelers fan. You got to train and race with the legendary Hines Ward as part of the Become One team. What was that like?
Eric: I don’t think I could ask for anything more exciting than completing my goal of finishing an IRONMAN at the world championships in Kona on a team with Hines Ward. Hines has been one of my role models and favorite athletes for years, and I got the opportunity to get to know him as an athlete, a person and a friend. Hines is a true leader and his extraordinary character and work ethic has helped me continue down this journey.
What athletic accomplishment are you most proud of?
Eric: One of my biggest accomplishments was finishing my first triathlon 8 months after losing my leg. The hard work and courage it took to put myself on that start line built my confidence significantly. It showed me that nothing was going to hold me back. This physical disability is more of a physical inconvenience and there is nothing I can’t do.
What is your next (fitness-related) goal?
Eric: I plan to continue training for triathlons. In the future, I want to get on the podium of an IRONMAN 70.3 race in my age group. I also want to begin competing in Para triathlon and determine if there is a spot for me in the 2016 Paralympic games.
What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out or is taking on their first triathlon this year?
Eric: I would like to start by congratulating new triathletes for putting themselves out there and having the courage to toe that start line. My biggest advice to beginners would be to concentrate on the basics. It is so important to work on good form in the water. Develop a good running technique early. Get comfortable and efficient on the bike. Building a great base will minimize injury and allow you to begin to progress quickly. While training, each lap in the pool and mile on the legs should have a clear focus and intent. Putting in too many miles could feel like the right solution, but you’re just exposing yourself to injury and wasting time. Form is the focus.
What are your running/racing mantra(s)? What do you tell yourself when you feel like quitting?
Eric: I like to remind myself that I can do anything for one more minute. It’s funny how that time reference changes depending on where I am in a race, but having a clear understanding that the pain doesn’t last forever and will soon be overcome by pride helps me continue to push.
What gear do you never run/train without?
Eric: I make sure that I always have the ability to track myself. I like looking back on a workout to see how I did, where I was strong and what I can improve on. Even if my workout is an hour run, I like to know my pace and time. I use a great app called Map My Fitness. It’s an easy way for me to click a button and have all of the data waiting for me when I’m done.
What keeps you hydrated and fueled the best?
Eric: My go-to hydration is water. No matter what the case, I haven’t found a time that I couldn’t stomach water. Late in a race – especially a hotter race – I find it hard to take down electrolyte drinks, particularly when I know they’re going to be slightly warm.
When you go out and train day after day – or even twice a day – how have you recovered to go out and give it your all again?
Eric: I refuel my body with low-fat chocolate milk. It effectively replenishes my body and it tastes great. There is always chocolate milk in my refrigerator. I drink a glass after every workout, and it’s routine for my daughter Lupe and I to have a glass together at dinner.
What is one thing most people would be surprised to know about you?
Eric: I’ve found that a lot of people are surprised when they find out my wife Rachel is a naval officer. We met at the U.S. Naval Academy while studying mechanical engineering, and she has been my rock since the day we met. Our combined number of deployments is at 5, adding up to about 35 months of being apart in our first 4 years of marriage. My 2 most difficult deployments were the 2 that she was on. It took a long time to get into a good routine raising our daughter and running the household. I found out the laundry doesn’t do itself.
If you or someone you know has an inspiring fitness story and should be considered for Friday FITspiration, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What inspires you most about Eric’s story?