This is the third and latest post in my series all about 'Inspiring Individuals.' In this particular post, I will be focusing on one of my good friends, from my University days. Through the years, we shared some great times. Playing in the same successful football team and enjoying some similar past times, as well as being part of a wider friendship group.
A mad keen sportsman and someone who will never shy away from a challenge, Graham serves as the perfect example of a committed individual, who continually leads by example. In the hope of not only making himself a better person, but also helping others around him to aspire to great things too.
Hi, Graham, Would you like to introduce yourself to our readers?
I’m from Ireland, 41, married to Lorna with 2 gorgeous children – Éabha is 6 and Noah is almost 4 - and a 3rd on the way in a few months, work full time as a Health Club Manager in the biggest club in Ireland with a commute of about 10hrs/wk.
I started training for a triathlon in January 2010 with the view of completing a sprint triathlon that May. Why?? I’d played football at different levels for about 25yrs and after a change of location and not being able to keep up with the younger guys I needed a new challenge! Plus the benefit of being able to train on my own time around home and work life sounded appealing.
Training is fitted in around early starts and late finishes at work and pre-school / school drop off’s and bedtime stories! I don’t belong to a tri club or have a coach – just pick up most of my training info from online articles, free training plans, reading other blogs & any related books etc. It has both positives and negatives but you have to make the most of what hand you're dealt!!
Since taking up triathlon in 2010 I’ve completed 2 Ironman distance events, 4 half ironman distance, an ultra-marathon, a few trail races and a couple of shorter adventure races.
I really just an “Average Joe” but – I just love seeing how much further I can go and I really think that everyone could do this. The one thing that differs is the desire to do so – to make that change and to push your limits.
Can you tell the readers 5 People, Places or Things that have helped inspire you?
1. My Mam and Dad continue to inspire me – they’ve always been role models for me & even more so as the years go on. Dad has always been my biggest fan and my biggest critic at the same time. I probably didn’t always appreciate it when I was younger and we probably rowed over it more than once but looking back it’s definitely shaped who I am & how I approached things. His support gave me that confidence in my own ability while the critic in him always pushed me to do better. He rarely missed a match or a training session when I was younger and it’s probably only now that I have my own kids that I really appreciate the sacrifice in his time that he gave up for us.
Mam was never really into sport or fitness – outside of a few walks. That was until she retired a few years ago. Since then she has gone onto completing half marathons, regularly competes at her local Park Run 5km – more often than not winning her age category, 50km cycle challenges, completed her first duathlon last year and is signed up for a 100km cycle this summer. She’s also the first one to encourage me to push my limits and while everyone is telling me I’m mad for lining up the latest race she gets more excited and interested in it than anyone else! She continues to inspire and put us all to shame!
2. The story of Dick and Rick Hoyt is incredible and constantly shows that anything is possible once you put your mind to it
3. My Kids – a simple one – they keep me going – they make me want to be a role model for them. I love nothing more than see them having cycle races around the kitchen, doing their triathlons in the sitting room – swimming on the floor, cycling & running around the sitting room table. It give’s Lorna heart attacks but I love it! I walked in earlier this week and Eabha was on Noah’s trike with stabilisers propped up on books using it as a turbo trainer! They both told me yesterday that they wanted to be healthier for lent, so we're going to eat more fruit and go for a run around the estate 2 or 3 times a week! To me, that makes it worthwhile!
4. There are lots of other individuals that I admire for what they do and that show what can be achieved by setting your mind to it. A couple to look up are:
Gerry Duffy – endurance athlete, author and motivational speaker, ran 32 marathons in 32 days and winner of a deca-ironman race in the New Forest in England
Shane Finn – recently ran 24 marathons in 24days around Ireland for charity, and is planning to race across the USA next year.
Mark Pollock - is a Northern Irish adventurer, athlete, rower, author and international motivational speaker who became the first blind man to race to the South Pole. Mark broke his back and the damage to his spinal cord left him paralysed. Now he is trying to fast-track a cure for paralysis.
What does the word inspirational mean to you?
That’s a tough one. I think it’s seeing someone do something outside their comfort zone or overcoming some sort of adversity. That could be giving a public talk for the first time, going to the gym for the first time – it might not be a big deal to someone else but if that person has taken that step to be then I’ve huge respect for them.
One example from the triathlon world recently that springs to mind is Alistair Brownlee stopping to help his brother cross the finish line of a World Series race in Mexico (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CS0GkCfljqk). Alistair is an Olympic champion, World Series winner yet he sacrificed his race to help his brother – to me this is much more inspirational than all his other achievements. This is why these guys are such great role models for the sport of triathlon.
Do you have any words, quotes or sayings that help motivate you?
One of my favourite quotes is “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”
The serenity that comes from accepting things outside your control is what a lot of society is missing today & I find a lot of needless stress is generated from this.
Not sure I’ve got the courage bit down yet – certainly not the wisdom bit!!
A quote from Gerry Duffy (see above) that always stays with me especially when training is tough or I don’t want to get out of bed to go for a run – “We don’t have to do this – we get to do it”. It’s is so true, is easily forgotten and has gotten me through more than a few tough sessions.
What inspiring moments are you most proud of?
I think I’ll always be proud of completing my first triathlon – it was a huge deal to me then, now it’s not even a long training day! Just shows how goals and perceptions change.
I’m also pretty proud of training myself to complete my first Iron distance race – it was a big undertaking and way outside my comfort zone. Right up to the start I’d no idea if I could do it. Interestingly once I started swimming a real sense of calm came over me & I think I smiled throughout the swim thinking about how far I’d come and thinking back to my first race when I struggled to swim 750m down a river – I knew then that barring accidents or mechanicals I would finish it.
The toughest race I’ve done so far has been the Wicklow Way Ultra Marathon. I’m just proud to have finished that one – there is a picture of me at the halfway point that really sums up my thoughts on that day!
It might sound a little bit cheesy but my proudest moments will always be my wedding day and the birth of my kids. Nothing else compares to that.
How do find and maintain your motivation?
For me it’s quite straightforward – it’s the challenge and self-improvement.
After I completed my first duathlon I said: “never again”! Then once the initial pain and fatigue dies off I found myself thinking “what if….” What if I trained a bit harder? What if I trained smarter? What if I got the proper kit? What if I researched training plans? This pattern was consistent over the first few years – after my first sprint tri, my first Olympic tri, first half Ironman, my first trail race. The only “first” race that was different was the first Iron distance race – I couldn’t wait to do it again! That then led to an ultra-marathon and eventually to this year’s goal! I think Lorna’s getting a bit scared of where it’s all going to end up!
The challenge of something fresh drives me on and helps push myself. I think you need to have a goal and commit to it. I’ve just recently publically published my goal for this year – that’s one tool I use to keep my motivation going – a lot of people know about it now so I’m not going to fail for the lack of trying. Other things out of my control may stop me but one of them isn’t going to be myself.
Measurable ways to see improvement help too. This isn’t always in times or distance as. I often use placing % to see how I do in relation to everyone else. That then can direct my training and give me renewed focus to improve a certain area. That was the main focus around last year when I went back to sprint tri’s specifically for the year – it was all about improving different elements of my race – that focus made it easier to get through training session or to push myself that bit harder when it would have been easier to take it easy or stop entirely.
Have you inspired others? How have you done this?
I’d like to think so but I think only others can answer that. I try to treat everyone with the same respect, try to have the same amount of time for everyone no matter what the circumstances. Yes, I could do better but I try! I also try to practice what I preach & would like to think that people see that. If one other person see’s what I’ve done and it encourages them to go and get a bit fitter or challenge themselves to a new goal then it’s worth it. That’s part of the reason I keep my blog but it’s mainly for my own memories!
Do you have any exciting goals for 2018?
My big goal for 2018 is the 313km Ireland Coast to Coast race in May. It starts on the west coast of Ireland in Enniscrone, Co Sligo and finishes on the east coast in Newcastle, Co Down. The breakdown of the event is: 5km beach run, 107km cycle, 26km kayak, 139km bike, 35km mountain run. The average finish time for the last couple of years has been around the 21.5-22hr mark but it's been up to 29hrs! That’s almost twice as long time wise and about 100km longer than anything I've done before so my main aim is just to finish in one piece!
Finally, to round up…
What great advice would you give to others?
Get out there and try it – you don’t know if you’ll like it, enjoy it, can do it until you do.
Everyone has to start somewhere – for me on this journey it was 2 or 3km runs, 10-12km bike rides and fighting to complete 50m in the pool. For you it might be a walk to the top of the road, it might be a local 5km or Park Run (these are amazing events run in many towns around the world, completely free and open to anyone – walkers, joggers, runners and the atmosphere is so friendly). It could be something completely not related to sport or fitness but no matter what it is if you don’t try it you’ll never know.
From a sporting/fitness perspective, I think you’ll find that the vast majority of runners/ cyclists/triathletes are very friendly and welcoming to newcomers and are defiantly willing to share any advice they have. Very few are “elite” athletes and will remember what it’s like starting off and be very encouraging to anyone new to their sport.
I also couldn’t do what I do with the support of Lorna behind be. Endurance events tend to be quite selfish pursuits so having Lorna put up with me is something that I really appreciate. When I’m thinking about a new goal it’s always discussed out as to the impact on us all and at the end of the day, a lot definitely falls back on Lorna while I’m in the depths of training. We try to plan our week out in advance and then I fit training in around whatever else is going on – I really try to minimise the impact on family time – often that means starting training at 6 am in order to be back for breakfast or going on the turbo trainer at 8.30pm for a couple of hours. It’s tough at times but that’s a sacrifice an Average Joe has to make if you want to participate in these events.
Many thanks Graham for this wonderful personal insight and some fabulous words that ultimately tell your story really very well. On a personal level, it has been great and a real privilege to know you for all these years and really humbling that we are still in touch with each other, still active with our sporting ventures and pushing ourselves further to achieve even greater things in life.
It is fair to suggest that life is definitely there for us to all enjoy and you are certainly a true inspiring individual, still pushing yourself to be the best you can be and doing something worthwhile in life, in your own humble way.
During the year ahead you have many great adventures still to unfold and many challenges to still overcome.
I fully appreciate your poignant words and despite being a person many will look up to and admire, it is also important you take credit for all the hard work and commitment you have shown throughout. Completing such endeavors is never easy and therefore you deserve all the support and accolades you can get.