Anything is Possible is IRONMAN’s mantra and on October 12, 2013 I watched that mantra materialize before my eyes in Minda Dentler. Minda became the first woman in World Championship Ironman Kona history to complete the course in a wheelchair.
Have you heared about Ironman? A lot of my male friends know about this race. Certainly more than a few of my clients do as well. For those that compete in marathons and triathlons regularly they speak about Ironman almost reverently and for years I didn’t understand what the big deal was. But now I understand.
I was very fortunate to be at the finish line rooting for Minda amid a very excited crowd that included her husband, parents and best friend. She came in at 9:30 pm having started the race at 7 am that morning. At the end of that race she had swum 2.4 miles, biked with her arms on a special bike 112 miles, and then wheeled herself through the 26.2 mile run. If that doesn’t qualify as ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE, I don’t know what does.
It was one of the more inspiring experiences I’ve had in my life. To be there to witness the courage, energy and determination of so many athletes is one thing but to be able to watch my new friend as she approached the finish line with a roaring crowd cheering her on through that last stretch of race is something that I will never forget.
I’m on the Big Island of Hawai’i working on my book and a mutual friend and fellow New Yorker introduced us by email about a week before the race when he realized we would both be here at the same time. Minda and I decided we would meet up the day before the race.
Minda & Kim meet prior to Ironman 2013
For over 35 years Ironman has been going strong, having started in Waikiki on the island of Oahu. It has been happening on The Big Island of Hawai’i since 1981. It was conceptualized in 1977 as a way to challenge athletes who had seen success at endurance swimming, running and biathlon. Over 2000 athletes participated this year. It is a 140.6 rigorous mile journey that includes a sizable portion of the Kona Coastline where the participants experience an endless strip of black lava rock surrounding them beyond the road as far as the eye can see. It also can often host up to 45 mph winds when the trades are up as well as 95 degree temperatures. Riding that stretch alone never mind the rest of it truly is, as their website says, a test of body, mind and spirit.
The people who participate in these races are a pretty unstoppable group, but here was a woman that was not only prepared to take on this race, the mother of all races, but to do so without the use of her legs! Talk about chutzpah! Wow. That’s my kind of hero.
The timing for me personally to witness and experience this sort of stamina and perseverance couldn’t have come at a better time. I had been sinking in my own swamp for a number of weeks around the writing of my book. I was struggling! What had I gotten myself into was a question I was repeatedly asking myself! I felt in over my head and began to understand why it was that so many of the great writers were known for heavy drinking! Writing, if it asks anything of you, it asks or rather demands, discipline and perseverance! Frustrated with my own writing pace I was sorely in need of inspiration. Enter Minda.
Minda asked for support in a few hot spots on the racecourse that were notoriously challenging. I committed to meet her and root her on around 2 pm the day of the race at the half way mark of her bike run. When I arrived, her amazing husband Shawn said she had done well with the morning swim. But up in Hawi, the half way mark, he said she would have to arrive by a certain time to qualify for the final phase of the race. The clock was ticking away. Standing there waiting for her to arrive was emotional! Would she make it?! Knowing the incline of the hill that she was in the midst of climbing all to well, I couldn’t help but think “Even if she does get to the top she very well might be too tired to keep going!” Minda amazingly made it with time to spare and went right back out after the turnaround. It was clear she was still going strong! Whew. I could feel her enthusiasm in the air as she flew past us! Surely she was going to make it!
Hours later at the other cross over from biking to running , Minda struggled up another hill, but this one was not going as well. My friend Jordan, whom she had met the day before with me, was at that spot now. He could see she was struggling. And he spoke to her calmly yet firmly. “You can do this Minda. You know you can. Keep going. You said this was your dream. It’s so close. You’ve got this. Keep going.” And she did.
Waiting near the finish line for Minda.
Waiting at the finish line to see her come in I noticed that the finish line included a ramp incline. I thought to myself, “What the hell?!” That’s the last thing she needs after using her arms for 140 miles! Why in heaven’s name is that even there?! But it was and all I could do was continue to hold my breath. And then I saw her. She was about a 1/4 of a mile away making her way down the last stretch fast. What a sight! I watched her carefully as she approached that finish line and what I saw still blows me away. She actually ramped up her speed before the incline with so much force that every part of her body, mind and spirit seemed to yell aloud, “Fuck yea!” And I watched her fly through that finish line and then pump her fist up in the air with an unstoppable spirit of power and determination. I burst into tears. The power of her spirit was a sight to behold.
I asked Minda before the race, “What do you hope to encourage in others?” Her answer, “I want people to believe they can do anything they set their minds to.”
What is it that you want or need to set your mind to? Where do you need encouragement? Is it to find the career that will make you happy? To officially end a painful relationship? To begin one? Is it to stand up for yourself? Say no to a family member? Ask for a raise? Take off the mask your wearing? To trust one more time? To finish writing a book, or perhaps start writing one? To compete in your own Ironman? Where are you stopped? What will it take to encourage you? What will it take to push you through your finish line? Ramp or no ramp.
If you can’t make it to the sidelines of next year’s Ironman then find yourself another competition to be inspired by. Look in the eyes of those who compete – they compete not against others but really against themselves and their own lizard brain. Watch the movies, read the books or meet the people that are up to big things. Find the folks that are up against great odds and study them. Let them inspire you to be more brave and more determined. Watch their spirits break through incredible odds. Their energy and perseverance is contagious. As you watch them let it sink in that you are capable of it too. Minda proved it to herself and to me that night. Anything truly is possible. Isn’t it time to find out for yourself?
10/28/13 This just in: Minda on CNN: