Becoming a Survivor at Ironman Wisconsin
The most relaxed race morning I have ever experienced was September 13, 2015. The race that I was so calm and prepared for was Ironman Wisconsin. How could I be so calm when I had a crazy mass-start open-water swim ahead of me? How could I be calm with a difficult bike course waiting for me if/when I survived the swim? Calm when I still had a marathon to run after the swim and bike? Yep, I was calm because I was prepared. 2015 was a year that was completely focused on Ironman Wisconsin. I finished a sprint, Olympic and half Ironman this summer to make sure I was race ready. My personal coach, Joe LoPresto, and the other Experience Triathlon coaches provided me workouts, advice and constant support to make sure I was race ready mentally and physically.
This was a day that I could not have envisioned just five years ago. Shortly before my 37th birthday, I suffered a hemorrhagic stroke. High blood pressure, being overweight, leading an unhealthy lifestyle and a brain vessel malformation led to a bleed in my brain that nearly cost me my life. After several years of feeling like a victim of stroke and feeling sorry for myself, I decided it was time to become a survivor of stroke and make a difference in this world. I started walking. Then biking. Then running. Then swimming. Running half a mile at a time led to running a full mile at a time which led to running my first 5K in December of 2012. Treading water in the pool led to putting my face in the water and learning the mechanics of breathing while swimming. The bike was the easy part for me as I had been a cyclist off and on throughout my life.
In 2014 I decided to sign up for the ET Batavia Sprint Triathlon and see if I could finish a sprint distance triathlon. When I finished the race, I realized I was hooked on this sport and, as a bonus, I met some great people who trained with Experience Triathlon. The summer of 2014 led me to finish two sprint triathlons and an Olympic distance and I felt great.
Did I dare sign up for the big one? I couldn’t possibly do a full Iron distance 140.6. That is for crazy people and I’m not crazy…BUT, I am thankful to be alive so let’s grab the bull by the horns. I volunteered at Ironman Wisconsin in 2014 so I could secure my spot for the 2015 race. I started training with Experience Triathlon and Coach Joe in November of 2014 which gave him 10 months to get me ready for the big one. Truth be told, I felt ready physically and mentally about 3 months before the race, but Coach kept me dialed down to make sure I peaked at the right time.
On race morning, as I watched many other athletes running around transition and nervously dreading the swim, wondering how they were going to ride 112 miles of hills and then run a marathon in the dark, I remained calm and embraced the moment. The moment Coach Joe assured me during many of our conversations would happen. The training was done. The hard part was over. The race was a celebration of the blood, sweat and tears I had given to this sport for the past 10 months. So what was this sport, and this race, going to give back to me? The Ironman journey gave me a long list of lessons learned that I can use in sport and in life along with experiences and new friends that I’ll cherish forever.
13 hours, 22 minutes and 42 seconds after the starting cannon rang in Madison on September 13, 2015, Mike Reilly, the Voice of Ironman, proclaimed:
“Ryan Flanagan from St. Charles, Illinois, another first timer…YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”
Enjoy all the photos from our epic weekend at Ironman Wisconsin 2015 on the ET Photo Gallery!