Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

The Ironman Triathlon

By By Larry Smith BPE DC   

Features Leadership Profession

A chiropractor’s life in a nutshell
The Ironman triathlon has been described as perhaps the most gruelling
and challenging endurance exercise event in the world. It consists of a
2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile
marathon run. Each individual faces extreme challenges in training for,
and completing, this demanding experience. To become an official
“Ironman” and receive an official time, each competitor must cross the
finish line in a maximum of 17 hours. But, why would anybody want to
become an Ironman?

 Dr. Larry Smith holds his Ironman badge after crossing the finish line.

A few days after completing my second Subaru Ironman Canada race, on Aug. 24, 2008, the answer suddenly came to me. During the entire journey, I felt completely connected to my 2,300 fellow competitors and the absolutely magnificent 4,500 volunteers. I feel so fortunate to be a member of the incredible Ironman community!


The Ironman comprises all the experiences in my life condensed into 12 to 15 hours. On the day of the triathalon, I felt every single emotion possible and I felt each emotion very intensely. I had heard from veteran Ironman athletes that you really learn about yourself on race day. At times, I felt peaceful and serene and at other times I hated myself, felt like a loser and questioned my sanity. On this day, I learned that there was no faking it. I had to face myself. On this day I really found who I was and what was important to me.

Here are the five reasons I consider the Ironman as my life – including my life as a chiropractor – in a nutshell.

All memorable experiences are preceded by fear and excitement
I have noticed that the most memorable events in life are marked with tremendous excitement coinciding with tremendous fear. In many cases, I have had much to gain but also much to lose. In 1987, I wrote my board exams to become a chiropractor. My classmates and I had studied and toiled for years to achieve our goal. I can remember in specific detail, the morning I received the letter from the licensing board. The sound of the letter being dropped into the mailbox was followed by the formation of a huge knot in my stomach as I opened the letter – this is the identical feeling I had, as I stood in the water at the start line of the Ironman. As I put my face into the chilly water and began to swim easily, my breathing relaxed and I embraced the beginning of my journey. Taking the first few strokes of the Ironman swim felt exactly the same as opening the letter containing my board exam results more than two decades ago. I did not know what the result would be, but I was determined to find out.

There are many ways to get to the finish line
I have often viewed recovery from a serious injury, or life-threatening illness, much the same as crossing the finish line of a race. As long as you keep moving toward the finish line, you are a winner.
As a chiropractor, I have experienced the joy of patients who have regained their health after suffering tremendous pain and disability.  Each person recovers in mind, body and spirit, but each individual’s path is always a little different. If you are recovering from a severe injury or a life-threatening illness there are many health-care choices. However, even the staunchest proponents of each healing profession would agree that they cannot cure each and every person. Therefore, it is up to each individual to choose the method or methods that will work for them. Medicine, chiropractic, surgery, naturopathy, spiritual healing and a host of other options are available. I have noticed that progressive health professionals encourage a multidisciplinary approach to healing.  They recognize that they are experts in their fields but they may also consider other treatment options. Both doctor and patient must work together and do whatever it takes to recover. In other words, there are many road maps to get you to your destination. It is simply a matter of finding out what works for you.

The same principles apply to an athlete embarking upon an Ironman journey. If you truly desire to get to the finish line, you will do whatever it takes to succeed.

If you are training for the Ironman, you have many choices. Who will be your coach? How many times a week will you train? What type of bike and running shoes will you use? What type of wet suit will work best?  What type of nutrition plan will you use? How will you balance rigorous training with your career and your family?

Similarly, there are countless methods, permutations and combinations involved in healing, and  countless ways to prepare for achieving the finish line – recovery and wellness!  In the final analysis, it just does not matter how you get there!
Life is about overcoming adversity
Life is about adaptation and overcoming adversity. If you have lived long enough on this planet, you, or your loved ones, have probably overcome some type of adversity. On the Ironman application form, there is a very important question for all athletes to answer: “What type of challenges and adversity have you overcome to be able to race in this event?” At the pre-race athletes dinner, I felt privileged to sit with two very remarkable athletes. Each of us had overcome adversity to be at this race. The man sitting across from me and myself had been successfully recovering from alcoholism for the last nine years. The woman next to me had spent three years recuperating from a horrific bicycle
accident. Yet, each of us was very humbled to discover what tremendous adversity the other athletes had overcome. There were several athletes who had been obese and lost more than100 pounds. There was a man doing his 15th Ironman who had successfully recovered from an aortic
aneurysm. There were numerous athletes racing who had recovered from cancer. Finally, there was a man who would make history if he successfully crossed the finish line. He would be the first person ever to complete an Ironman triathlon after receiving a heart transplant.

Now I fully understand one of the signs I saw near the top of one of the nasty hills in the race. It said, “Suck it up, princess.”

Life is about overcoming adversity.

Life is about what is possible
Sister Madonna Buder is, for me, and many of my fellow competitors, the biggest hero. Sister Madonna is a 78-year-old Roman Catholic nun from Spokane, Washington. She is well known in the triathlon world for her achievements in age group races. She began running at age 49, when a priest encouraged her, and the others in her convent, suggesting running would harmonize their mind, body and soul. In 2006 she became the oldest person to ever complete the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii. At an awards banquet, a few years ago, Sister Buder received a five-minute-long standing ovation that left her speechless, overwhelmed and teary-eyed. When the crowd asked for a speech, she said, “I am humbled at your show of enthusiasm, but I don’t really see what the big deal is!”  The loudest and longest applause at this year’s 2008 awards banquet was once again for Sister Madonna.

This race is about “what is possible.” Through her achievements, Sister Madonna has certainly thrown all the rules about limitations out the window.

Never mind about limitations. Life is about what is possible.

Love is the most important thing

As I mentioned earlier, the Ironman triathlon is a day filled with every emotion possible. However, at the end of the day, there is one emotion that trumps all others – love. Life would be a hollow and sterile existence if we did not have loved ones to share our happiness, sadness, joy and grief. In the longest and darkest hours of my life, I had an extreme burning desire to be with my loved ones. At the happiest and most joyful occasions, I always wanted to share with my family. It is no surprise, then, that I felt the support and love of my family and friends on this day and felt they were all with me, in spirit. 
I survived the draining and lonely dark run along Main Street, the last part of the race, with my legs cramping and my gas tank near zero. I could hear the noise and the feel the excitement of the finish line. It was then, with about a mile to go in the race, that I recognized my girlfriend Laurie in a bright orange jacket. We held hands for a split second and my physical pain seemed to vanish. I had passed through the lonely, dark and depressing anguish into a magical kingdom of love and light.
Without a doubt, it was love that kept me moving forward in the deepest and darkest moments of this day.

Without a doubt, I can honestly and adamantly state that through the Ironman triathlon, I found my holy grail.

The inscription read, “Love is the most important thing.” •

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