Think you’re too out of shape to try a triathlon? Meet 25-year-old Brian Boyle of Welcome, Md. Seven years ago, a car crash left him with massive injuries — collapsed lungs; shattered ribs and pelvis; kidney failure; and a completely destroyed gall bladder and spleen. He was pronounced clinically dead eight times.
But this Sunday, the same day as the Nation’s Triathlon, Boyle will be taking on a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run when he competes at the Ironman World Championship 70.3 in Las Vegas.
The distance from the hospital bed to the finish line would have seemed impossible right after the accident. For two months, Boyle hovered in a coma. “I was in God’s hands,” he says. “The thought of me living seemed impossible, and the thought of ever leaving the hospital was nonexistent.” When he finally awoke, he was paralyzed and unable to talk.
His first goals were just to relearn regular bodily movements, such as blinking and smiling. Then he focused on moving out of his wheelchair, first with a walker and then a cane. In a few months, he reached the point where he could run again. “That made me realize I could make a full recovery,” he says.
But he wanted to do more than that. After watching a TV show about the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii, he became determined to take part in the race. Although he hadn’t achieved a qualifying time, organizers allowed Boyle to participate based on his against-the-odds story. So in 2007, just three years after the crash, he shared the course in Kona with the world’s top triathletes. “I knew I was finally healed,” he says. “It was a breath of life that made me want to go further.”
And he has — Boyle has continued training, racing and beating the odds. In 2009, he ran five marathons in a little over five weeks to mark the fifth anniversary of his accident. He wrote a book, “Iron Heart,” and was recognized as the American Red Cross spokesperson of the year. Unbelievably, he suffers minimal aftereffects today. “My body is back and stronger than ever,” he says. “Though I do pay special attention to my immune system, since my spleen was removed.”
His approach is one he recommends to anyone competing in endurance events. “The most difficult step is setting your mind on the goal and not allowing yourself to underestimate what you can do,” he says.
This spring, Boyle hit a goal of his own when he won the Subaru Ironman 70.3 EagleMan on the Eastern Shore in his age bracket. The top slot meant he’d qualified for the Ironman World Championship 70.3. Instead of being allowed to race because of his story, he captured this berth because of his time.
He’s only looking for a personal record at the Sin City event, but Boyle’s not ruling out another win. “Luck is on my side,” he says.
Written by Express contributor Nevin Martell
Photo courtesy Brian Boyle