Bam! 2017 is here and 2016 is relegated to history, a ghost of the past.
I’ve been thinking a lot about 2016, reflecting on the year before the highlights dim in my memory. It was a remarkable year for many reasons, especially in sporting terms. 2016 has been called the year of the underdog, but I think that undermines or disguises what I believe is a subtle change transpiring across the globe.
Before I explain further, let's review some of the remarkable professional sporting achievements of 2016:
Leicester City won the English Premier League. They began the year with the bookies at 5000 - 1 outsiders for the title and finished with one of the greatest achievements in sporting history.
The All Blacks, the world's most successful sporting team, were beaten by Ireland for the first time in history, ending a record 18 straight wins.
The Chicago Cubs won the American baseball World Series title in the final game - 108 years since their last title win in 1908.
And an honorary mention of another event (even though it happened in Nov 2015) just because I actually find it hard to believe. In Tokyo, Japan at the Komazawa Olympic Park Athletic Field, Kenichi Ito became the fastest person to ‘run’ 100m on all fours. His time was 15.71 seconds. How crazy is that? Take a look: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=24&v=F3h0AkNNP70
The new impossible
Back to 2017. As I reflected on the year just gone, the realisation dawned on me that I have some pretty remarkable people in my life, for the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on those related to sport. What became clear to me as I thought about their achievements in 2016, and the achievements of others outside my immediate circle is this: what we once thought was impossible is in fact possible - simply by overcoming our own individual limitations. It’s about time we quit being our own naysayers and start being our own cheerleaders.
For further insight to my proposition, here are a few people I have the good fortune to call friends. Each one has made the impossible possible recently and each one has been a huge influence on my own direction. These three athletes are just like you and me and every other non-pro athlete on the planet, but they are also different because they refuse to see the limits that others see.
I first met Greg McDermott on a phone call. I had discovered his story via twitter and contacted him to find out more about this guy who wanted to spend 78 consecutive days on a bike, riding around Australia. For me, five or six days in a row is quite enough and my butt agrees. I wondered if it was even possible to circumnavigate Australia in that time. Greg had been redefining what’s possible for a couple of years before I met him. As he puts it ‘I was the fat funny guy at every function’. Greg, I discovered is someone who doesn’t just step in, he jumps in with both feet. In 2013, over a period of five months, he lost more than 30kgs by dropping alcohol and changing his diet. The effect on him was profound, he changed almost his entire life, job, health and attitude. He also met his partner, April.
Greg then went on to discover triathlon, and didn’t stop at Ironman distance, Greg is one of only a small group of people to ever finish an Ultraman event - a punishing two-day event requiring a 10km ocean swim, a 421km bike ride, and an 84km run.
When I met Greg in 2016, he was focussed on taking the knowledge he had personally discovered and using those insights to motivate others to become better versions of themselves. He just needed a vehicle. That vehicle became a solo, supported cycle ride around Australia. A remarkable total distance of 14,284km which is an average of 180km per day, with no rest days. Physically, this was an incredible effort but there is much more to Greg’s event than throwing a leg over a bike saddle each day. Before they could get to the start line, Greg and April had to make the crazy idea come to life. They needed to raise funds, and family and friends were very generous with the bulk of the money coming from the Ride around OZ crowdfunding campaign. Together they coordinated all the sponsorship of vehicles, bike, apparel and nutrition. And they were also developing a new normal within their relationship, I remember Greg and April telling me about how April went to work one day, and left the house chores for Greg to sort out. Greg left the house just after April, and headed out for a ride. Nine hours later they both arrived home … needless to say, the chores still needed doing!
Greg set off from Sydney on 3rd September and 78 days later, on the 19th November, a group of us met up with him to ride the final leg together. An astounding achievement.
There was one more element to this endeavour which has the most profound and long-lasting effect on many people. Thanks to Greg and April’s efforts and many generous donations, Ride around Oz raised over $35,000 for local Sydney charity, Fr. Chris Riley’s Youth Off The Streets.
Angeline Tan and I met when we worked together in Singapore a few years ago. At the time Angie was an avid runner … running gave her a time and place for quiet thinking, often in pre-dawn hours. We raced a few triathlons together, where Angie’s massive amount of determination was her greatest asset. During this time we also co-hosted a podcast called Triathlon Sherpa, and listening to the incredible stories from ordinary people sparked Angie’s search for a new challenge. The challenge she set herself seemed impossible at the time and still does today - to ride across America in 39 days.
Angie joined a group of ‘other crazies’ in an event that had a start line and finish line and the rest … well that was up to the individual. All your accommodation, food, water, bike parts and conversation is self supported. Imagine that. Just you, your bike, what you can carry, and the reliance on the kindness of strangers if things go wrong. Oh, and Angie was a foreigner in a new land, she had recently moved to the US from Asia.
Angie found the line between impossible and possible very early in her adventure including nasty weather with out-of-season snow, and plenty of rain. Self doubt, exhaustion and loneliness became almost debilitating and the notion of quitting was suddenly very real. It was through the chance meetings of strangers along the way, who shared food, shelter and their own stories of struggle that Angie reignited her determination to get to the finish line. And she did ... a day earlier than she had planned, completing a total of 6,437km.
In 2016, Angie got back in the saddle, this time taking on the TransAtlanticWay - a race around Ireland. The course covers the western coast of Ireland, a distance of 2500kms. The distance was no problem for Angie, but a timeframe of 10 days meant that she had to cycle 250km each day. She wrote a nice piece about it here: 10 things no-one told you about long distance cycling.
Angie has recently published a her story from riding across America with the catchy title Crazy Cycling Chick … those of us who know Angie know she is anything but crazy.
And finally, the guy who decided to create an ultra-endurance event by throwing a dart at a map of the world.
For Luke Tyburski, those darts set him the challenge of a self-styled triathlon from Morocco at the northern tip of the African continent to the tiny principality of Monaco on France’s Mediterranean coastline - a total distance of 2,000km. To add some spice to the adventure, Luke set himself just 12 days to complete his Ultimate Triathlon.
Luke has a history of making the impossible possible, he signed up for the famous Marathon des Sables in the Sahara desert as his first long distance race (250km), an event that most other competitors build up to over many races. He finished it, running in the top 50 alongside elite runners until dehydration forced him to take an IV drip, and a time penalty.
But the Ultimate Triathlon was personal, a self designed test of endurance and mental toughness. Luke had nowhere to hide and no one else to blame if things turned bad. It was all his. To get from Morocco to Monaco, Luke had to churn through some serious distances each day and across multiple disciplines - swim, bike and run. Day 1 was a 25km swim across the Gibraltar Strait, one of the busiest shipping channels in the world, then ride more than 300km a day along the east coast of Spain. After four days of cycling, a total of 1300km, he had to run a double marathon every day for seven days to get the finish line.
That was the plan. It didn’t work out that way. By day three, Luke was in a world of trouble.
“My crew found me hunched over my bike’s handlebars, weaving erratically along the road I was on. I woke up in a hotel room with no memory of how I got there, or the final few hours on the bike.”
Forget mental toughness, Luke had to re-evaluate all he believed - that the mind is stronger than the body and could always keep the body going. He couldn’t comprehend his body shutting down.
Over the next 9 days, Luke re-learnt pathways to achievement, redefined his ability to endure and despite an injury that could have permanently debilitated him, shuffled, crawled and sucked it up to get to Monaco in 12 days. One of the most memorable takeaways from the recently released documentary, is the insight into how his crew were so critical during the whole 12 days. In turn, Luke’s determination forced them to re-evaluate their own perspectives of making the impossible, possible. Often as athletes we are looking from inside these events, this fly-on-the-wall account of Luke’s struggle is so raw you could almost be out there with him.
Admittedly, Luke, Angie and Greg are three remarkable human beings, but they’re not super-human. All three have a few things in common, including focus, commitment and tenacity. They’re pretty good with their own company and they have the mental resilience to endure pain and suffering. But most importantly, they don’t believe in impossible, they only believe in possible.
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