Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Heart of (Golden) Iron

Seven years ago Brett Blankner was deep in training for his first Ironman triathlon while his wife, Emily, was well along her pregnancy with their first child. When their son, Kai, arrived far earlier than expected Brett's race plans were indefinitely delayed.

After a long stay in the hospital Kai came home and to see him now - a rambunctious, bike riding, trampoline jumping, question asking, sparking blue eyed first grader - you wouldn't suspect his good health was ever in doubt.

With help from a skilled hospital staff, and  benefiting from services of the March of Dimes, Kai received the care he needed. As any parents would be, Brett and Emily were grateful for all the assistance but unlike some parents they were determined to remember Kai's first days in an extraordinary, and uniquely, Blankner way. Brett would compete solo in a self-supported Ironman while fund raising for the March of Dimes.

In a self-supported event there is not an entry fee, no spectators, supporting volunteers, finisher medal or tee shirt. There would be only him and Emily serving as crew chief and cheerleader. Brett's College Station, Texas home would serve as water stop, refuel station, starting line, and finish line all in one. Following all of the established rules of Ironman he swam 2.4 miles in a local pool, biked numerous loops around the city for 112 miles, and ran even more loops through his neighborhood for a 26.2 mile marathon. All of it was recorded, timed, and completed in the dark with only Emily to greet him at the finish.

Even in the tight knit community of triathlon, Blankner's feat would probably gone unnoticed if it weren't for the thousands of listeners who regularly download his "Zen and the Art of Triathlon," podcast.

A couple of times a month Brett's podcast records his training for triathlons, ultra-marathons, and this summer, a 22-mile swim across Lake Tahoe with famed endurance swimmer, Jamie Patrick. He interviews professional triathletes, coaches, and accomplished amateur athletes in a easy going, conversational style that could easily be mistaken as a conversation over a lunch of burritos and beer. Friends and family make appearances too, especially Emily and Kai, while driving in their Honda nicknamed the Rolling ZenTri Studio. Sprinkled in the shows are bits of Zen philosophy, nutrition, and injury prevention.Yearly he holds a triathlon camp attended by athletes from across the nation to learn how to train both body and mind for sport and life.

This past Friday, Brett "produced" the sixth annual IronBaby, this time to benefit a local child, Mikey McHugh. Mikey suffers from Hirschsprung's Disease, a congenital malady affecting the intestinal and bowel muscles. So far in his short life he's endured multiple operations requiring lengthy trips to a hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio specializing in the condition. As a result Mikey's mother has had to miss months of work at a time to care for him adding strained finances on top of his parents' worry.

You can learn more about Mikey and make a donation HERE.

Yearly Blankner invites everyone to participate in the IronBaby triathlon in whatever way or distance you want as either a spectator or athlete. This year his friends Jeff Young and Matthew Bates raced alongside him for part of the race. I joined in for the full 140.6-mile event.

Race conditions were near perfect with the winds picking up near the end of the bike leg and temperatures rising to - a mild by southeast Texas standards - 85 degrees. Brett completed the race in a time of 11 hours and 40 minutes. I finished in a personal best time of 13 hours and 23 minutes.

Brett's story serves as an inspiration for thousands of amateur triathletes who put themselves through such extreme endeavors. It's not for the money because none of them are paid to race as a professional and it's not to draw attention to their own accomplishments. He trains and races for the love of the sport, the love of the healthy lifestyle, and the desire to make another's world a better place.

Stay tuned...


veganrunningmom said...

Listened to the recap today of Iron Baby- very inspiring! Wtg for keepin' on after all the bike woes, very cool!

TriBoomer a.k.a. Brian said...

Hey VeganRunningMom,

Thank you for your kind words.

- Brian