On overworked legs, I pass a sign that says, “El dolor es temporal pero la gloria es para siempre”–pain is temporary, but glory is forever.
I hold this thought in my mind as I reflect on the past 14 hours over which I’ve endured a 2.4-mile swim with multiple jellyfish stings, a 112-mile bike ride with indigestion, and most of a 26.2-mile run with several stops to puke my guts out.
My legs ache, and I’m pretty certain I’ve sustained stress fractures or worse, but I’m still on my feet, and I’m still moving. I can’t stop. I won’t stop. Hundreds of cheering voices impel me to summon what little strength I have left and run the last quarter mile to the finish.
And then before I know it I’m there. “DANIEL CHIU, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!!!!” the announcer shouts with more enthusiasm than my tired mind can fathom. I hobble, trip, stumble–whatever my leaden muscles can manage–across the finish line where, still in shock, I’m given a medal, and whisked away to recovery. I’m an Ironman. The pain is over. The glory is forever.
This is the end of a very long journey. A little less than 6 months ago I finished my first triathlon, this time last year I finished my first marathon, and this time two years ago I had just finished my first 5k since leaving for college. When I started this I literally had to swallow my pride and walk laps around Lake Lag to get back into shape because my legs, heart, and lungs couldn’t take much more than that.
I set out to do this because at first it seemed impossible and I wanted to prove to myself that the limits were only in my mind. Though my personal power has grown, and my limits have been stretched, I have to admit that crossing the Ironman finish line was underwhelming. At first, I thought this was because of the shock and exhaustion–all I wanted to do right after the race was sit my ass down, never look at a piece of food ever again, and nap somewhere warm for the next several millennia.
What I’ve realized in the two weeks since finishing the race is that the 13 hours, 58 minutes, and 16 seconds it took me to complete an Ironman isn’t actually what made me an Ironman. It’s not as if the final step of that marathon transformed me into a fundamentally different person. Instead, I believe I became an Ironman little by little, step by step, over the course of the past two years.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from this experience–other than that you should always chew your goddamn food–is that personal growth isn’t about medals or accolades, but about journeys. It’s about the little challenges we face everyday, the choices we make, and who we decide to be even when nobody’s looking. I am who I am today–an Ironman–not because I crossed a finish line and earned a medal, but because I decided to put my sneakers on everyday, rain or shine, and train; because I resolved to do so even on those days when I lost sight of the goal and didn’t want to–yes, I have those days, too; and because I chose to push myself to keep going even when parts of me wanted to give up.
Truthfully, this is a journey I strongly believe anyone can take; there’s nothing fundamentally different or special about me. Perhaps the goal doesn’t have to be an Ironman, but we all have the occasional lofty dream we think is impossible. I encourage you to chase it–the limits are so often in our minds. Maybe it doesn’t feel within your power now, but with the courage to dream something crazy and the discipline to pursue it passionately, relentlessly, and consistently, it will be before you know it.
I want to thank everyone who supported me, encouraged me, and cheered me on from afar.
Additionally, there are a few really incredible people in my life who I want to specifically call out. Behind every Ironman is a kick-ass Ironman support crew. Here’s mine:
To my Dad: Thank you for always doing what you can to support me. Thank you for making it to my track meets and cross country races when I was younger. Thank you for being my coach on those days when I needed you there to time my intervals around the track. Thank you for always doing everything medically in your power to keep me happy, healthy, and in the game. Thank you for letting me steal your amazing bike to finish this race. I don’t honestly think I could have done this without you.
To my Mom: Thank you for supporting and encouraging me despite being terrified for my safety and wellness. Thank you for always making sure I’m doing OK and that I’m taking care of myself. Thank you for raising me to believe in myself and that anything is possible. For better or for worse, I don’t think I would have turned out crazy enough to try this without your parenting.
To Rhed: Thank you for being there with me on race day. I can’t imagine having gone to Mexico without you. Thank you for so often being patient with me and for dealing with my ego (he escapes sometimes). Thank you for being an incredible friend, a brother, a comrade. Congratulations to you on your momentous achievement. Nobody can ever take this away from you.
To Yushi: Thank you for believing in me enough to come along for the ride. Thank you for training with me–for the long runs, the long bike rides, and the big meals. I eagerly await your Ironman race day. Don’t you dare give up. There’s no time like the present.
To Josephine: Thank you for being an amazing friend and supporter. I had your emotional support when I finished my first marathon, my first triathlon, my first century bike ride, and my first Ironman. Your being there for me and believing in me has meant more than I can say.
This is the end of my Ironman journey, but it’s just the beginning of what I hope will be a life full of adventures, challenges, and growth. Expect to see me compete in the 2018 Boston Marathon. More and bigger challenges yet to come :).