Great big THANKS to all who supported me (George Gallego) on this journey. It was certainly an awesome experience despite (as my friend Ronnie says) “the effort, the physical strain, the pain” that it took to do this. Next to “re-inventing myself” after my injury and the very dark years that followed, this was by far the hardest challenge I have embarked on thus far.
Just to keep perspective, my main reason for participating in the 2012 Ironman US Championship was not to win first place but to raise awareness and funds to help free young people with physical disabilities from institutional living. That being said, our goal was accomplished.
There are lots of Ironman stories to tell, but I’d like to offer a brief overview. I woke-up at 1AM to prepare to catch a ferry at the 39th Street Pier at 3:45AM, which would ultimately take me to the transition zone in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
Once at the Transition Zone, I was formally introduced to my official handlers: Kathleen Mernin. James Mernin and Brian Gatens. The three of them have done a total of 8 Ironman races! I knew I was in good hands.
At 6AM, I boarded another ferry (along with all the Pro Men and Women) that took me to the swim start 2.4 miles north from the Ross Dock Picnic Area in New Jersey. The ferry ride seemed very, very long! I began to search for landmarks that would help me gauge where I was on the course once I began my swim. I slowly realized that there were only trees and quickly decided to start counting the massive buoys which lined the swim course, but there were too many to count! It was then that I decided that my only other option during the race was to count every stroke… I knew from my training that for every 12 strokes, I was able to swim a distance of 25 meters—I did the math and realized that I needed to stroke 1860 times to cover 2.4 miles. I decided to count every other stroke—so 930 became the magic number. That’s how I began my race—strategizing. That’s where all the fun began. I took my plunge 10 minutes after the Pro men dived into the Hudson River. Contrary to what most people believe, the swim was actually very peaceful: it was just my 930 and I!
I was out of the water 44 minutes after I entered it! At stroke #719, I clearly heard the first male Pro being announced as he exited the water and thought “Oh my God! I am almost there!” Ten minutes later, I was being fished out of the Hudson water at the swim exit!
Once in the transition zone, after only 7 minutes and 15 seconds of prep-time, my handlers made sure that I had everything I needed to begin the 112-mile bike journey ahead of me. James accompanied me on the bike course for the full time and Brian for the first 56 miles. The bike portion was VERY challenging—although manageable. My strategy was to complete a minimum of 27 miles every 2-2:20 hours. As far as nutrition was concerned, my plan was to consume a Rapid Energy Gel and 4-6 ounces of Accelerade fluids every 20 minutes. By the end of the 112 miles I consumed 32 energy gels and drank 6 liters of Accelerade fluids.
A good friend always says to me "Life is what happens while we are making other plans." Well, I had mechanical issues with my hand-cycle, and I certainly didn't factor that into my plans. On mile 20, my brake cable severed. It took 15 minutes for the official "mobile bike repair technician" to arrive and another 5-10 minutes to replace the cables! That wasn't the end of it! Around mile 40 my brake cable failed again! So it took another 15-20 minutes to make the repairs! Don’t get me wrong; the mechanics did a fantastic job given the circumstances! So, in the end, I completed the 112-mile bike course in 10 hours. The problem was that I had a maximum of 9.5 hours to complete the course; I missed the bike "cut-off" by 30 minutes. I was not allowed to continue to the run course. Therefore, I never made it to the race finish line.
At the end of the bike course, as I was cycling towards the Transition Zone at about 18-20 mph, I was treated to a sweet surprise! On the ramp leading into the zone were my two favorite people: Julia and Ro!!! They were as surprised as I was to see them! It really was a sweet welcome to my unofficial finish line! Once I arrived at the “bike-in” entrance, my timing chip was removed from my ankle and I was officially out of the race.
In the transition zone, as I was transferring out of my hand cycle, I decided to sit on the grass and do a little regrouping. Again I was surprised to see two more people from the Wheels of Progress family: Jose Hernandez and his close friend Anthony who had made a terrific effort to get to the Transition Zone to greet me. Life is wonderful at times—my family and friends appeared when I needed them the most….
I thought I would be hugely disappointed if I didn’t complete the race, but I wasn't. I know that I gave it my all…the mechanical issues were totally out of my control, and most importantly, I raced for a reason--that mission was accomplished. I am not bitter at all. That's part of life. The better person is the one who can adapt to the circumstances and move on to the next thing. As a person living with a disability, I've learned to master the art of re-inventing oneself. This was another great learning experience for me I never doubted that I could do the distance; my only question was whether I could do that particular course within the time constraints—and I now know that I can. In addition, at the end of the day, it was a TEAM effort, and I ended the day with the people I care most about.
Oh, a reporter from Fios1 News did a 5-minute piece on my preparation for the Ironman. You can see her TV news report at:
Finally, after reflection, I realize that the Ironman race was training for the toughest challenge that’s yet to come: the creation our first affordable, accessible, supportive building for the folks we serve. I hope you will continue to be with us for the rest of the journey.