When Inspiration Needs Support

DNF (Did Not Finish), an abbreviation that I never have seen before after my name on a race results page. It didn’t look right.

This past Sunday I was in Lake Tahoe racing in my 9th Ironman Triathlon. I decided to become a triathlete and race in Ironman shortly after I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2005. Since that time I have crossed the finish line in over 30 triathlons, 8 of them the Ironman distance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and a full marathon of 26.2 miles.). My mission has been to inspire people with diabetes and others with a simple message: with a positive attitude, there is nothing you can’t accomplish.

But sometimes a positive attitude can only get you so far, and you need friends and family supporting you along the way. That is true in all facets of life, whether it be managing diabetes or competing in an Ironman.

This year’s inaugural Lake Tahoe Ironman was being touted as an extremely difficult one, as if 140.6 miles of swimming, biking and running isn’t hard enough. This event, although absolutely beautiful, was a “beast”, boasting 7,000 feet of elevation and nearly 8,000 feet of climbing on the bike course. To make things even more interesting, the air temperature at the swim start was 30 degrees, making for a chilly transition from swim to bike.

On this particular day, I never got that far. I couldn’t make it past T1, the transition from the swim to biking. It was the kind of swim I could normally do in my sleep, but this time the 7,000 feet of altitude got to me and I couldn’t breathe. Generally, the mentality of an Ironman is to keep moving forward, to push through pain, but this was different. Being unable to breathe trumps biking with sore legs or running on an upset stomach. After three attempts to hang onto volunteer boats to catch my breath, I made the decision to stop.

Usually, my biggest obstacle in a race is my blood sugar, but not this time. All the planning and preparation and training to try to dial in my nutrition to keep my blood sugar in a stable range was never an issue. When diabetes couldn’t stop me, altitude did, at least for this round.

Although I know I made the right decision, both for my health and for my family, to stop, I’m still beating myself up somewhat for quitting. But the support and kind words I’ve received from friends and family have really pulled me through these past few days.

A good friend, who did cross the finish line in Tahoe for his second Ironman, posted this note on Facebook the morning after the race – “What Andy did was bigger than Ironman. He stayed positive and cheered on me, Matt, and the other athletes all day. He even went out and ran the final eight mile loop with Matt to help him to the finish line. He actually inspired me by not finishing…he’s a true Ironman.”

Being the one who is usually inspiring others to stay positive, it’s support like this that has kept me positive and let me come to terms with a difficult decision. I guess it’s true that you should surround yourself with good people, because you never know when you’ll need to lean on them.

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Andy Holder was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 36. Despite never having competed a triathlon before and not knowing how to swim, he took on the grueling 2.4 swim - 112 mile bike - 26.2 mile run that is the Ironman Triathlon. He is now a 8-time Ironman finisher, inspirational speaker, diabetes spokesperson, and founder of the "Iron Andy Foundation". Andy is responsible for audience development and building collaborations with organizations who empower people to live beyond diabetes.

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