Wednesday, October 27, 2010

How did I get here?

How in the world did I get here? Have you ever asked yourself that question? I ask myself that question as an athlete. I remember a year ago I could barely swim 250 yards in a pool. The most I ever road a bike was 30 miles. The farthest continuous run I had under my belt was one 10 mile run and that was almost two years ago. I am now about 4 weeks out from doing an Ironman. And while I know God was present the entire time, I often ask myself, “How did this happen?”

It’s eye opening to look back on the road that has led me here. This is a moment I will NEVER have again. I will NEVER be 4 weeks out from my FIRST Ironman. So I thought it fitting to look at exactly how it happened.
Well, I was always a heavy drinker. I NEVER drank to be social always to get drunk. I never saw the point in having drinks if you weren’t going to get drunk. As my drinking began to escalate in 2007 there was only one thing that helped curb that addiction. RUNNING! Now I was never really good at running. In the Army I was in the back of the pack. The slowest guy there was. I hated it; probably because I was a smoker. Running is to smoking as water is to oil. I stopped smoking the day my son was born in March 14, 2005.

I started running again to lose weight (winter 2006) and when I ran my first 10K, Cooper River Bridge Run in 2007, I got a finishers medal! I think I became more addicted to getting finishers medals than I was the running. In high school I was far from an athlete. I never won athletic trophies or anything like that so finisher medals help kind of fill that void. Most 10ks don’t give finisher medals so I had to increase my distance to the half marathon.

I read an article in the September 2007 Runners World (I actually read the article in November 2007) magazine called “I am not a jogger” (,7120,s6-243-332--12126-0,00.html ). The one line that really stood out was “I AM A RUNNER because I say I am. And no one can tell me I'm not.” Even though I was slow, I considered myself a runner! I was inspired by this article. After reading it I decided to do my first half marathon. So with a 6 mile base, and 6 weeks to get to 13.1 miles, I tackled Thunder Road Half Marathon in Dec. 2007. I was still drinking heavily during this training period but not as much as I was used to.

Ironically, the half marathon was the same year and month (also December 2007) I saw Ironman Kona on NBC for the first time. I remember I couldn’t swim and never thought something like that was possible. I never knew what the Ironman was until I saw it on NBC. I cried with excitement watching these peoples’ stories. And I have cried at every Ironman I have watched since!

I heard of triathlon but didn’t think they were normal people! They were fitness buffs right?! In the 2007 Ironman Kona broadcast, there was a larger guy who completed Kona…he was about 300 lbs. Maybe, something inside of me said if he can do it so can I! (but alcohol was still telling me no!)

After my first half marathon, I did one or two duathlons (run-bike-run) but always fantasized about doing a triathlon. The one thing that was holding me back was I couldn’t swim. It wasn’t long after the completing duathlons that I stopped running all together and not that I was ever any good at it anyway. I did just enough training in between my drinking and running to barely finish the half marathon. I had 15 minutes to spare before the cutoff for my first half marathon and I was last in the duathlons (I finished before one girl and a guy who was 250lbs).

The only time I ever cycled was during the 12 miles of the duathlons. I never trained for the cycling part of the race. I thought all you had to do was pedal and that wasn’t too difficult. Then I stopped running because I no longer wanted a reason to curb my drinking. In April 2008, drinking was the answer to every problem and every success I ever had. Then suddenly, it had turned its back on my. I almost lost everything! My career, relationships, and the ability to support my children were on the line during a drinking rage April 2, 2008. It is only by Grace I can sit here and say I didn’t lose everything.

I remember during my drinking days praying to God (whom I did not believe in I just didn’t have anywhere else to go) to curb my drinking. And when April 2, 2010 happened, I hated God for letting it happen and I lost the very little faith (if you can call it that) in God. It was crazy I was practicing Buddhism at the time but praying to God whom I had no faith. A little lost? You think?!

April 3, 2008 I was sober and I have been sober ever since (wow…getting emotional writing that). Six months of intensive outpatient rehab…getting over the embarrassment of not being able to drink and being called a recovering alcoholic, I wanted to start reclaiming some of the things alcohol took from me. I started running again. Nov. 2008, Thanksgiving Day, I ran my first race sober. It was the Turkey Trot a 5 mile run. I cried during that run (where are these tears coming from now). It was a tough run but I remember thinking “How did I get here?” I was sober, I was enjoying life, I was starting to feel comfortable in my own skin. I didn’t feel like a fake or a fraud. I was accepting who I was and learning not to care what other people thought of me.

The best part…I was running again! I was taking back something alcohol had taken from me. With every step of that race, every mile marker I passed, I was taking something back that belonged to me. I kept reciting in my head… “12 more steps” (fyi-there are 12 steps to the program for Alcoholic Anonymous). So this mantra took on dual meaning.

On May 23, 2009, I was baptized into Christianity. I learned God, whom I had lost faith in, did not lose faith in me. I learned on April 2, 2008, when I thought He left me, He was actually answering my prayers. He had been in control all along. July 2009, I did my first mission trip in Mexico. I developed a love for a people I did not understand. At the end of that trip, I had a vacation in Playa de Carmen, Mexico (ironically it is a 20 minute ferry ride from Cozumel). This trip was an absolute blessing from church members. (Aida and Armando thank you for your blessings! I hope you see what the blessing has grown into!) It was also the reason I took my first swim lessons.

Playa de Carmen was the first time I went to the beach in my adult life. I was in awe at how beautiful the water was. I couldn’t totally enjoy the beautiful ocean because I couldn’t swim. I vowed, after that trip, I would learn how to swim. In August 2009, two weeks later, I took my first swim lesson. After my first week of swim lessons, I ambitiously decided I was going to do a super-sprint triathlon which was just a day before my 30th birthday on October 4, 2009. Somewhere, as I struggled to get through the 300 meter swim (I had to take a break and did 50 meters on my back), biked the 10 mile loops (had hills that I could barely get up because I didn’t know how to climb hills) and the 3.1 mile run ( I walked a little) I decided I was going to do an Ironman! God said perfect! You can do it next year!

I was looking at half Ironman races for the following year because I thought in a year I would be prepared to do a half Ironman. Then I saw Ironman Cozumel and remembered our church sponsors Ciudad De Angeles, a children’s home in Cozumel. This was a new Ironman venue and it was in Cozumel! My burning bush. I asked my coach, Lance Leo, if I could do an Ironman in a year, when he said yes, I signed up for the Ironman.

I thought this journey and the purpose of this Ironman would be to raise money for the children’s home in Cozumel. Sadly, I have not raised as much money as I would have hoped. I pray that changes in the very near future. But what I have learned is something I know God wanted me to learn. I didn’t learn it until the Augusta Half Ironman. What is impossible with God?!

When I told people I was doing a half Ironman just 8 months after my first swim lesson and 4 to 5 months of training, I was getting “looks”; but I completed it! Tell me what is impossible with God? In Augusta Half Ironman, I beat my personal record by over an hour and completed that course 45 minutes faster than I thought I could have imagined. Now you tell me what is impossible with God? And after I have said this, the human in me rears its doubt. Going into Augusta, I was afraid. I prayed but I was afraid. Going into Cozumel, I am afraid, I am praying but I am afraid. In the end this is God’s race and whatever happens, happens because of and for Him.

Just like this is God’s race, my life belongs to God. Even when I think I am in control of things, I am not. And like my races, I am not always the best; I fail, I sin. God, however doesnt keep a timer, doesnt keep score. He just gives grace. Still, I have a tough time accepting that. This Ironman is for my God and it is also to regain the things I have lost to my addiction. It is to confront the demons of my alcoholism. I accept I can never, not be an alcoholic, but at least I have a chance to meet those demons head on in the Ironman.

I was listening to a song my Eminem (the clean version). There were lyrics to his song “Not Afraid” that nearly had me in tears because it touched me! I felt like it told the story of the past few years of my life.

“And I just can't keep living this way
So starting today, I'm breaking out of this cage
I'm standing up, Imma face my demons
I'm manning up, Imma hold my ground
I've had enough, now I'm so fed up
Time to put my life back together right now
It was my decision to get clean, I did it for me
Admittedly I probably did it subliminally for you
So I could come back a brand new me, you helped see me through”

This reminds me so much of when I was actively in my addiction and now I am facing my demons. The You he refers to in these lyrics , in my interpretation, is God! Having said that, this last month of training has been the hardest! It has asked the most and I guess after a year of training the mental toughness is starting to wear a little thin. Perseverance is the key! Except some days it’s just so hard to remember that! Coming up on 30 days out!


  1. I might be more excited to see how great YOUR day goes! :) You're gonna love it - what a pinnacle to years of self transformation.

  2. Wow Hassan! Very powerful stuff! congrats on sobriety and good luck at Cozumel! Hopefully we'll get to meet before the race.

  3. Being nervous is a good thing, just make sure it's good nerves and yes you can control this! :) You're ready, you've done the work, you've busted your butt, you've been through hell and back so an IM is no big deal - no really, it's gonna be a wicked day and so long as you keep your mind in check you'll see what I mean. Now, if I can only practice what I preach!? EEEP! Been reading a wicked book by Terry Orlick, getting really mentally focused....EEEP! hehehe