A Look in the Mirror – my reflection on Becoming an Ironman

A Look in the Mirror – my reflection on Becoming an Ironman

by Todd H.

It was the summer of 1982 when the thought of trying to be something like a triathlete first came up.  A friend at the time, Cam W.and I, were hanging out at his parent’s farm checking out his brother’s El Camino and riding their 3-wheeler, in Woodstock, IL.  Cam said he wanted to become a triathlete, I said what does that mean? Low and behold Cameron Widoff went on to become a pro triathlete Ironman with multiple attributes and wins to his name.  That was the first memory I have of any interest in becoming a triathlete.

Looking in the Mirror back then was much different than it is today. 1982 had a larger reflection, which made it a lot harder to imagine running any distances, let alone swim, bike, run.  As life evolved, so did looking in the mirror become much harder.  With work, marriage, kids and normal stresses that come with all that good stuff, I let excuse after excuse crawl into my life that lead to a really dark place. The reflection became much larger than the mirror itself.

Fast forward to 2015…  I was a pilot and in for my annual FAA medical checkup with the flight surgeon who happened to be a very highly recognized cardiologist. During the checkup he politely said… “you are getting unhealthy to the point of not being able to certify you to fly”.  He also said he did not want to see me at his day job as an interventional cardiologist.

That was the moment I Looked in the Mirror and decided to change my reflection and my lifestyle. I started with help from my doctor and a personal trainer.  FITT-RX and Danny Skelly first helped with this task that felt unreal, and impossible in my mind.  Danny had to help get my feet into a rowing machine to get this change started, considering at my peak I was 298lbs.

Relentless one-on-one work outs, 3 days a week, led me to a Spartan sprint race, a Battle Frog race and the Oceanside, CA turkey trot in 2015.  The following year brought more change in my reflection and bam… the Chicago Sprint Triathlon here I come. That was cool.  I remember barely being able to run the 5K, almost falling over after that 17 mile ride on my mountain bike.  And the first part of the half mile swim felt like I just swam to Canada and back.

In 2017, back at it with my first half Ironman race at Racine, Wi,  where I first saw the world famous  Experience Triathlon (ET) Cheer Crew and that distinct voice of Coach Joe, at which time I thought again, “I think I am going to fall over from the run”.   In training, I had only ran about 4 miles or so coming into that race.  Hmmm, I Thought that was a good amount of training, right?  I knew I had to change my reflection again and I did just that with contacting Coach Joe.  I decided to move from a personal trainer to the amazing Coach Laura Cabage of ET Personal Coaching Services.  This is where I began the metamorphosis of “thinking” I was a highly trained triathlete to becoming one!

Today, I can-not begin to express my gratitude to Coach Laura and the many fellow ET peeps that supported me, encouraged me, on a regular basis and continue to help me thru the ups and downs of consistently making sure my reflection of becoming and being an IRONMAN is realized .

I have talked a lot about Looking in the Mirror and the reflection. There is a book named “Zen and the art of Archery” which has absolutely nothing to do with being a triathlete or an aerobatic pilot which is where I first read it.  It was recommended by my Aerobatic flight instructor and friends Gregg Morris and Vess Velikov.  These two amazing teachers also helped me change my reflection. That book has everything to do with focusing on the individualization, extreme self-discipline and profound effects a positive mental attitude that are a part of both aerobatics and triathlon.

While watching my ET teammates complete the 2018 Ironman Wisconsin race, I decided with the great support from Team ET, it’s awesome coaches and especially my family, that I would start down the path of Becoming an Ironman in 2019.

Well, 2019 took almost everything I had in the mental attitude dept… with one medical issue after another, starting with anemia caused from low iron that created extremely severe cramping during every training session in the pool, on the bike and with the run.  Hernia surgery in the fall of 2018 and 6 past knee surgeries all worked against me.  But, I did not let any of these issues stand in my way.  Somehow, I pushed through it all in pursuit of changing my reflection once again.

And now, it’s September 8, 2019 and my reflection has become something that my coach would agree is much larger than the mirror itself, but with a much smaller image and a lot more self confidence.  I finally get to hear those special words from Mike Reilly, the Voice of Ironman, that I dreamed about during my training… “Todd Harr, you are an IRONMAN”.

This day is summed up by one word “AMAZING”, truly in every aspect.

First, I want to start by saying I was blessed with the true passion seen and heard from each volunteer I encountered.

The start of the race, I really thought my heart was trying to escape my chest, so I calmed it down and had a very respectable swim given the water seemed like you were in a washing machine. Following into T-1, I was cold getting out of the water, but those volunteers helped solve that issue.  Onto the Bike looking for a well-practiced day to pay off, two stops later due to mechanical issues with my seat post, my pace was set back a bit, but I was still smiling and laughing remembering others telling me, you cannot control race day, deal with it, so that is exactly what I was trained to do and did just that.

The run brought a different challenge that day by coming.  I came into the race with either severely strained or slightly torn ligaments in the top of my right foot and a tendon issue on the right side of that same foot.  The first 13.1 miles of the 26.2 marathon was not bad.  I held a consistent pace.  Then just at the turn around point to go out for the second half of the run it starts pouring rain and I mean pouring. Glad I brought those arm warmers, so I pulled them up, put my visor down a little further, laughed, smiled at onlookers and headed out for round two.  I must say that staring at the finish line as you turn to go back out is really challenging.

Mile 16 is when I started really having a lot of foot pain and by mile 19 it was almost time to throw that white towel up and call it quits.  But, I was not about to let that happen, so a little chicken broth, part of a coke and a lot of will power, I kept going.  The volunteers were incredible!

Mile 23 changed me forever.  A guy passed me, stops, backed up, looked at me, put his hand on my shoulder and asked if this was my first Ironman race.  I said, yep, and then that gentleman slowed down and stayed with me until mile 25.  At mile 25, with only one mile to go, he said “I expect to see you at the finish line” and then picked up his pace for his personal strong finish.  It was the extra strength I needed to endure a lot of pain and be determined to hear those famous words from Mike Reilly as I passed through the finish line.

In closing, I hope that my journey will provide encouragement and determination for others to look in the mirror and change their reflection.  To achieve their dreams.  To realize that Anything is Possible. That as the saying goes with Team ET, that even when it’s really raining, clouding and cold, that if you want it to be, that “It’s Always Sunny and 80”.

I can for certain say my new reflection is glowing.  I realize now, that this sport takes a lot of looking in the mirror and saying…. “Hey ,the struggles of training today make tomorrow easier.”

This one is for my beautiful family!!!


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