Tuesday, February 19, 2013

My Journey

I figure it would be good to give some background on how I got to where I am so that where I am going might make a little more sense!

I grew up in Dublin, Ohio and graduated from Dublin Coffman High School.  In the seventh grade I began playing lacrosse.  Prior to that, I was like most Dublin kids and played a myriad of sports, but I never got too serious about any of them.  Lacrosse was different.  It was a newer sport in this area, so no one was super good at it and I wouldn't stand out as the kid that just bought my first stick last night.  Our team needed a goalie and I quickly volunteered because I figured it wouldn't require too much running - funny now, huh?  It turned out that I was a pretty good goalie!  To be honest, I think the reason I enjoyed playing lacrosse so much, besides being decent and getting a lot of playing time, was my middle school coach, Mike Kinney.  He was the perfect balance of tough and caring, intimidator and cheer leader

Once I reached high school, I continued playing and dressed for several varsity games as a freshman, but it just wasn't as much fun without Coach Kinney.  During my Sophomore year, I was hit by a drunk driver.  The result was a broken right ankle and a destroyed left foot.  This was the end of my lacrosse playing and the beginning of many unhealthy lifestyle habits.  From that time until I was nearly 23 years old, I payed little attention to dietary choices and exercise was never a priority.  I do not know how much I weighed at my heaviest, but I do remember being weighed at one point (not by choice) and the scale reading 280 lbs.  At 6-4, I probably wore it better than most, but I was overweight and very unhealthy.

 A little bike porn for your viewing enjoyment during this boring stuff.  
I'm not sure what spurred my decision to make some serious life changes, but one day I knew that something had to give.  I began with small changes; Subway instead of Wendy's, trying to ride my old bicycle around my apartment complex (which was brutal in the beginning), and picking the low calorie versions of foods I commonly ate at home.  After a few weeks of this I wanted more.  I bought and read Body For Life by Bill Phillips and immediately began a 12 week challenge.  At the end of those 12 weeks I had brought my weight down to under 200 lbs and was immensely more healthy both mentally and physically.  It was at that point the prospect of military boot camp no longer looked so intimidating, so I began my pursuit of enlisting in the United States Navy.

After spending time in Great Lakes, Illinois, Whidbey Island, Washington, and deploying to the Western Pacific aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln during my enlistment, I wound up near Memphis, Tennessee in Horn Lake, Mississippi.  I wanted to use my GI Bill to go to college, but needed to figure out how to maximize my benefits.  After going to community college for 2 years, I made the transfer to the University of Mississippi in Oxford.  This is where I found my love for multisport.  Ole Miss hosts an annual sprint triathlon called the Rebel Man.  It was my second year there that I finally committed to doing the event despite having never swam a single stroke of freestyle (or any other competitive stroke for that matter) or never riding a skinny tire bicycle.  Being me, I went out and bought a tri bike and figured out how to survive a 400 meter pool swim.  The week in advance of the Rebel Man, I went up to the Natchez Trace State Park and competed in a triathlon that was turned into a duathlon due to weather.  I won the Clydesdale division and I was hooked!  That first season I competed in nearly 50 running, cycling, and multisport events.  Definitely a race junkie!  Egged on by my best friend, Sean, we went to Wilmington, NC that fall to complete our first iron distance race at the 2010 Beach2Battleship Triathlon.  It was my first marathon, my first century ride, and my first swim over 2000 meters.  Hell of a day!

The following season, I focused heavily on ultra distances.  It began with the 2011 Sunset to Sunrise running relay across Florida where I found three other morons to run it as a four man team, the Fantastic Four Lokos.  After that I went on to complete three iron distance tri's (Ironman Texas, Rev3 Cedar Point, and Ironman Florida) and the Newton 24 Hours of Triathlon where I was the Solo Male 24 Hour Champion.  Despite having some good results and logging some major race miles, it took its toll on my body and wound up with a femoral neck stress fracture at the end of the season.

After letting my injury heal over the winter, I knew it was time to find some guidance for my training and racing.  With the advice of my friend and competitor, Ivan O'Gorman, I hooked up with Rich Laidlow as my triathlon coach in January 2012.  This is one of the best decisions I have ever made.  I told him that I wanted to go shorter and get much faster!  He never once told me that my goals were out of reach and we went to work almost immediately. With his help, I qualified to race as an elite amateur at the 5150 National Chamionship and earned a slot on the starting line of the 2012 Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Las Vegas, NV.  This was huge for me.... and then tragedy struck.

On August 5, 2012 at the end of a rainy 80 mile training ride, I lost control of my bike and went down on a left hand turn.  My left hip took nearly all the impact and I knew nearly immediately that something wasn't right.  I think denial took over for a little while and I rode the three miles home from the crash site, but on my way up the two flights of stairs with my bike on my shoulder I conceded that I needed help.  I was diagnosed with an intertrochanteric fracture in my left femur and was told I would have surgery the next day to stabilize the break.  I was devastated.  I had worked so hard and had so many things go right and now it was all taken away from me. 

I came out of surgery with this interoperative image laying on the table next to my hospital bed

Since my trip to Vegas had been fully paid for the week prior to the wreck, I figured I would make the flight out and sit poolside instead of sitting on my couch.  I arrived to Lake Las Vegas and was overwhelmed by emotion.  I was so happy to know that I had earned the privledge to race against these people and so destroyed to know that I couldn't.  The Friday before the race, I took a van tour of the bike course through the Lake Mead Recreation Area.  I knew at that moment that I wanted to attempt completion of the event.  Before I left home, I had been cleared to swim because my incision had healed, I could finally make a full pedal stroke and had been doing very light cycling on the the exercise bike, and I had been encouraged to walk ever since the surgery.  So that became my plan: I would swim, pedal the bike, and walk.  I had serious doubts if I would make it 70.3 miles in the crazy desert heat, but I knew I couldn't stand the thought of not trying.  I went to a local bike shop on Saturday to rent a bike, helmet, and pedals, and I bought some cheap cycling shoes.  I checked my things into T1 and T2 and tried to rest.  On race morning I was luckily having a good day, pain wise.  I swam in the hot, dark water very slowly, but made it out.  I then got on my rental road bike and began the climb out of Lake Las Vegas.  I felt good and was thrilled to be participating.  At a little past mile 40 on the climb out of the Lake Mead Recreation Area, I slammed the wall.  My body told me that I had no business being out there and I definitely weighed my options of pulling over and waiting to be picked up or to just keep riding.  I kept riding figuring that it would probably be the faster route to shade, calories, and an IV.  When I finally got to T2 in Henderson, I was so thrilled and pumped full of adrenaline that I told myself that I would put on my running shoes and begin walking.  As humbling as it would be, that was my only option as running was never a thought.  So walk is what I did... for the next four hours up and down the hills of Henderson.  I crossed the finish line just a hair short of 8 hours.  It was the best and worst race of my life.  I knew I had taken a gamble by participating and I had been fully prepared to pull the ejection handle if the leg pain was too much or I thought I was risking further injury, but I had made it. It was certainly the passionate decision, not the logical one.

Following Vegas, I began some sport specific training with Rich and he was very gentle and patient with me.  Very, very proportionately heavy on swim and bike and virtually no running except in the pool for a long time.  We set a goal of racing the Bone Island Iron Distance Tri in Key West on January 12, 2013 since I had registered for that event nearly a year earlier.  I had many days of doubt and discouragement, but Rich never gave up.  Between his workouts, ongoing physical therapy, a return to work, and trying to not rely so heavily on prescriptions to get me through the day, I thought it might be hopeless.  With the company of my friend, Colleen, and her family, I headed down to Florida and stayed optimistic.  During race week, I performed my longest solid training run (no walk breaks) of 45 minutes - what a joke, right!?  In a Skype call the day before the race, Rich laid out the race plan and gave me the confidence to give it hell.

Along with the daunting task of racing an Ironman five months post dynamic hip screw surgery, Mother Nature decided we needed sustained winds of 20+ mph and gusts well over 30 mph.  This made for nasty surf and frustrating bike conditions.  I stuck to my race plan, trusted my training, and listened to my body.  This resulted in an iron distance PR and a 4th place overall finish.  I was overjoyed!

That basically brings you up to date!  As of right now, I have my sights set on Ironman San Juan 70.3 on March 17, 2013 and hope to come home with a qualifying certificate for Vegas 2013.  Updates will certainly follow!

For all of you still reading, thank you!  Blue skies and tailwinds!



  1. Very inspiring, Ryan. Good luck in March!

  2. Awesome story. Mentioning Coach Kinney is very meaningful. In my daily life I try to acknowledge those in my past who have made an impact on my life. Every Tuesday (I call it Grati-Tuesday) I try to write a handwritten note to someone who I want to acknowledge or thank for things in my past. It makes me happy and in most cases makes the recipient happy as well. I am sure you have made Michael Kinney's day too!

    i am inspired and motivated by your story. Today I will start on my new life and my goal is to lose 40 pounds! I will let you know when i get there.

    Congratulations on your successes and thank you for your motivation.

    Richard Deagazio

    1. I appreciate your kind words, Richard! That is a great habit that you have. I used to keep a daily encouragment journal and made a goal to encourage two people every day. It could be as simple as asking how they're doing or a quick message to tell someone that I'm thinking of them. It is amazing how much you get in return when you put that out there on a regular basis!

      Best of luck on your weight loss journey. It will come with sacrifices, but I guarantee that they will be worth it. Remember that it takes small, sustainable changes. Diets don't work, lifestyle modification does. It takes time to get unhealthy and it will take some time to reverse that.


  3. Awesome read Ryan! I'm proud to say that I know you and really glad to hear that you are back on track again!


    1. Thanks, Solomon! A year ago we were living the good life there in Cincy... I still miss the sushi buffet! I hope all is well with you!