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Olympian Apolo Ohno reflects on Ironman World Championship experience

Mission Apolo Episode 7: The Big Island

As NBC prepares to air its 2014 Ironman World Championship special today at 1:30 p.m., eight-time Olympic speed skating medalist Apolo Ohno recalls what it's like to compete in the world's most difficult, single-day sporting event.

"It was amazing," said Ohno, who completed last month’s grueling feat in less than 10 hours.

"That was my goal, but I never told anyone going into the race,” Ohno said.

“I had no idea how fast I was going on the course, but I knew that goal was something I really wanted to push myself toward. I didn’t understand fully what I needed to go through to break that sub-10 mark, but I made it happen," he said.

Describing what it felt like to endure the 140.6-mile journey, Ohno said that he often felt like a car running on fumes. He credited his adrenaline with helping to push him through fatigue and exhaustion, adding that after crossing the finish line, “you are in nirvana because you’ve just completed something you thought was impossible just an hour before."

When asked how he would rate preparing for and competing in the Ironman World Championship, as compared to the Winter Olympics, Ohno said it's difficult to weigh the two.

“It’s very hard to categorize because this is an event I prepared six months for while I spent 15 years of my life dedicated toward Olympic pursuits," said Ohno, who competed in the world championship as part of the Built With Chocolate Milk Crew.

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"This is so much more than I could have ever imagined given the emotional and spiritual roller coaster that happened on the racecourse. Surviving those ups and downs has made me feel stronger than ever before," Ohno said.

Ohno also believes that drinking chocolate milk helped his body battle the Ironman's wrath.

"My tool was chocolate milk because it gave me the right protein and carb blend, and also essential electrolytes," he said.

In preparation for the race, Ohno trained alongside fellow team member and Women's Health magazine fitness director Jen Ator. (This also was Ator's first time competing in the world championship and noted that she was "incredibly humbled" to be Apolo's teammate).

"To watch the level of focus, skill and athleticism that he brought into Ironman was nothing short of inspiring," Ator said of Ohno.

"But more than learning from his athleticism and talent, what made this experience so unforgettable was getting to share the journey with such a kind, genuine person. In the times I found myself intimidated, overwhelmed or facing self-doubt, I was so grateful to have had a supportive friend who believed in me and encouraged me," Ator said.

Moving forward, Ohno hopes his Ironman experience will provide motivation and inspiration for people to lead positive and healthy lifestyles.

"I want people to watch my journey and become inspired to take on their own goal, be it [an] Ironman, a 5K or playing in a weekend soccer league," Ohno said. "I want people to see my struggles, trials and tribulations leading up to the race, and the incredible mental and physical transformation they too can achieve once they put their minds to it. Anything is possible."


Brian T. Dessart is a nationally accredited Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, a New York State Critical Care Emergency Medical Technician and an FDNY firefighter. He can be reached at bdessart@strengthusa.com or on Twitter: @briandessart.

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