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Triathlon Is My Road to Better Health

By Kris Dornan

krisI was always the “big boned” or “husky” kid growing up. I can remember shopping with my father, when I should be buying children’s sizes, but having to buy adult “husky” size jeans. I needed adult size around my stomach and kid size for the length; so we would buy the cheapest pair of adult jeans and have them hemmed; this did not win me any girlfriends! Going into high school I had grown into my body and was on the bigger side, but not severely overweight. At soccer practice we would do a mile warm up and continue to run for the next several hours chasing a little white ball; however I was the goalie so I only watched them run all practice. Then I broke my thumb and “retired” from soccer. I gained about 50 pounds that year. I started playing football my sophomore year and really fell in love with it. A few weeks before graduation a buddy and I were standing around talking about how much we weighed. We were both “fat and happy”; we were the funny kids, so it didn’t matter what we looked like. I walked into the training room after everyone left and stepped on the scale. 302 pounds… but I wasn’t upset. I was happy. I was excited I broke 300 pounds. It could’ve just been my way of dealing with it, but I walked out of the training room with a smile on my face and hands above my head like I just won the Super Bowl!

August of 2004 I reported to football camp at Pittsburg State University as a preferred walk on. I took off my shirt and shoes and stepped on the scale — 308. Then I got my body fat checked — 33 percent. A third of my body was fat. All I could think about was the running test I had to do the next day, and the 2-a-days starting the next day. The season ended and I stopped working out for a few weeks and really got into the college life: wings, beer, fried foods, buffets, beer. I not only put on the freshman 15, I put on my roommate’s freshman 15 as well. When we returned for the spring semester I stepped on the scale again. I pushed the weight all the way up to 320, the most I had ever weighed on a scale, and laughed out loud.

Spring ball came and went and my weight problem was holding me back. I was oblivious to it until my coach sat me down and said, “Kris, your weight is a problem. You will not travel for this football team nor will you be good enough to play. As long as your weight is still as high as it is, you will not play for Pittsburg State University.” I worked my tail off that summer, losing about 30 pounds, and became a 3-year starter after that. I was named an All American by my senior year. But I still weighed about 290-300 pounds and measured about 23 percent body fat.

I got married two weeks after college graduation, and two weeks after playing in the D-II national championship game. I lost about 40 pounds the first six months as I was going to the gym everyday and either lifting weights or running. It wasn’t till a few years later that I got into the sport that molded who I am today.

krisI ran my first half marathon in 2008; and 2009 was going to be a year of big fitness goals. But life had other plans. I got a call on Jan. 31, 2009, as I was getting ready to go out for a run. I will never forget my brother’s words: “Dad had a massive heart attack and is on the way to the hospital.” We made it halfway home when I received another call saying he didn’t make it. The next six months of my life was on hold; life just spit in my face and there was nothing I could do about it. So I turned to the one activity that I loved the most: working out. Later that year, I entered my first sprint triathlon and did fairly well for a big boned newbie. I was instantly hooked from waking up early and getting my spot in transition to walking around afterwards talking with the other athletes. I started to take the sport a little more seriously, but I still weighed 250 pounds.

In 2010 I completed my first half Ironman in 6:10. Chrissie Wellington and Chris Lieto ran away with wins seemingly effortlessly, and I was struggling to just finish. At that point I was about 230 pounds and 20-21 percent body fat. I raced a local sprint tri that year, and just missed the podium for my age group. In 2011, I raced in a Kansas half Ironman. The one thing I kept saying was, “Life comes first,” meaning if my daughter wanted to go to the pool or my son wasn’t feeling well, they came before training. This didn’t make for an outstanding race, but I wasn’t racing to put food on my table. I was racing to make strides in my overall fitness. I was down about 15 pounds, and took about 28 minutes off my overall time from my previous race.

Still on a high from the last race, and filled with adrenaline, I signed up for Ironman Lake Placid. If Ironman was going to be a onetime thing for me, or an item crossed off my bucket list, I wanted it to be Lake Placid. After I hit submit, all I could think was “What did I just do? I only have a year to train for 140.6 miles of mountain terrain in the flat lands of Kansas!” I posted it on Facebook so it was public and I couldn’t back out.

That November I hired Aleck Alleckson with Summit Performance Coaching in Oregon to coach me through my journey. From that point on I really made an effort to focus on nutrition and understand what I was putting in my body. How would the burger, fries and beer on Friday night affect my entire weekend of training? I really tried to eat clean; but when you have a 5 and 2 year old running around the house, eating clean can be tough. I made a pact with my kids: I wouldn’t eat anything fried or drink any soda or beer until after the race. It went very well; at times my daughter even turned down her fries saying, “Daddy can’t eat that, neither will I”.

krisRacing an Ironman is the easiest part of the journey. Sure it hurts more than the entire nine months leading up to it, and it still hurts a full week later. But on that day it is only about putting one foot in front of the other and not giving up. You train your mind so that when you hate everything around you, you find that one thing that brings a smile to your face. That day was a blur and still is.

Everything we do as parents and adults molds our kids. This is another reason why I wanted to lose the weight before my kids really started to grow up. A couple of days leading up to the race I went on a bike ride and little run with a couple of friends I met through this wonderful sport, Amanda and Vinny, to help ease the stress level a bit. My family stayed at the house waiting for me like they have been doing for the last nine months. They were coming in from playing outside, and as my son got in the house, he yelled, “I’m going on a run.” He shut the door behind him and went on a “run” around the yard. I have set an example for my kids, and I toed the starting line at Lake Placid weighing 205 pounds with 15 percent body fat. I was in the best shape of my life and it came way after my glory days of college football.

Doing an Ironman is more than crossing that finish line. It is a journey that will stay with you forever. It’s not all smooth sailing and you wouldn’t want it to be. You don’t learn what you are made of unless you push yourself beyond your breaking point. I have a quote on my desk at work that says, “Live your dreams”and I believe I am!