MANILA, Philippines – There was pain everywhere as I struggled to fight for my life.
I could hardly breathe and blood was rushing out from all over me like water coming out of a faucet. I had to drive and navigate solely by myself to the nearest hospital before I passed out from the endeavor.
From physical pain, I resolved to mental alertness.
The internal struggle to keep alive was stronger when I thought of the giggles of my baby girl Isabella, the hugs of my eldest boy Matteo, and the love and affection of my wife Marzia.
They kept me alive and away from death after getting shot on that fateful day of August 10, 2011.
This is my story.
Early in May 2011, I was scheduled to race my first Ironman event in Beijing, China.
I had been a triathlete for almost two years by then and I decided to move up to the next level of long distance triathlon racing.
I thought, what better introduction than China, as we had a big Filipino contingent registered for the event?
My preparations were good. I had just raced the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon two months earlier to get a feel for long distance triathlon.
Although I did fairly well, I knew I still had to work on my nutrition. The preparation weeks leading to Ironman China were better and my fitness had grown as I was hitting time targets.
Unfortunately, the organizers decided to cancel the event just 3 weeks before race day due to lack of permit to operate an international event like an Ironman brand. Having an irrepressible character, this did not put my hopes down about competing in my first full Ironman event, so I set it aside and decided to focus on the local half-Ironman race and shelf the full Ironman distance for some time.
The good news though was that the local 70.3 Camsur Cobra Philippine Ironman race was given 25 slots to qualify for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii – this from the spill-over of Ironman China slots.
So racing in local territory and a higher chance to qualify for Kona was up for grabs. I could hardly contain my excitement.
I had four days to go before the Kona qualifications in Camsur 70.3 Cobra Philippines. I had built my body in such a short time to peak and race fitness.
August 10, 2011 was a Wednesday and my schedule for the day was a last track workout in the nearby track oval. As I finished my short sessions, I went into my car and drove home to ready my battle gear for the race — I was leaving the next day for Camsur.
Barely 5 minutes into the road, as I was turning left onto the street leading to Fort Bonifacio, a white car veered into my lane and almost hit my front bumper and the jeepney in front of me.
The jeepney driver was furious and decided to chase the car down. When we reached another stoplight, he asked me to come down and help talk to the driver in the car.
I thought it was just formalities to “educate” this person so I gladly put my flip-flops on and walked towards the heavily tinted white car. As I approached the driver’s side, the windows rolled down and I heard a loud bang.
I was stunned. It took a while until my body realized that I had been shot.
The pain seeped in only after some time. I had to drive myself to the nearest hospital as no one bothered to assist me.
While driving, I called my wife. I wanted to let her know quickly what had happened and what route I was taking to the hospital in case I passed out.
I finally reached the emergency room and it was not until two hours after my arrival that I was operated on.
The operation started around 10am, and I did not get out of the operating table until 4:30pm. All was fine with my vital organs, as the metal bullet narrowly missed my lungs and major arteries.
I was diagnosed with a chest wound and a broken humerus bone on my right arm.
Four days after the accident, August 14, 2011, was race day at Camsur 70.3 Ironman.
I was recovering on the hospital bed and following the results of the athletes in the race. I was elated for those that qualified for Kona, and felt good that many of my countrymen and teammates had qualified.
After the race, friends and teammates visited me in the hospital to cheer me up. It was nice to hear their stories of the race, as the fire in me to race again was building up.
I was lucky to be alive.
I decided to get myself fit again as soon as I was able. At night on the hospital bed, and when family and friends had gone home, I would pick up a heavy bottle and start doing arm exercises on the non-injured side.
There is no telling how many miles one has to run while chasing a dream, but I needed to start somewhere.
A week on the hospital bed, I was doing sit-ups and leg exercises. I read and researched on nutrition online and asked the many doctors about human physiology. It was then that I started being meticulous about nutrition for recovery.
Three weeks out of the hospital, my family and I took a short breather vacation in Cebu. I went to the gym and used the bike trainer almost daily. It was during these times and in the hospital bed that I challenged myself to stand up once more and compete.
So for the first birthday of my daughter, I decided to set a goal: to race for her in the full Ironman Nice, France on June 24, 2012. Mind and body had come together once again, and setting realistic goals I thought was worth the wait.
The rest of 2011 was just getting fit to prepare myself for the training I was set to conduct in the coming year for the full Ironman in June.
During our winter vacation in Italy, I joined my first run race — 21 km held near Lake Como, Italy. Although I had slower than usual times, I enjoyed the feeling of racing again, a feat I achieved through the support of my family.
Racing the Ironman
I arrived in Nice, France a few days before my family.
The tension had built up and I had mixed emotions about racing. To keep me laser-focused, I had the names of my family members on my bike and the date “August 10, 2011” written across my cycling computer to remind me who and what I was racing for – my daughter’s first birthday, my family, and my aspirations.
I came prepared as best I could, after 5 months of training following a long absence from full training. I was ready, I was confident, and I was jubilated to be able to race in one of the toughest Ironman courses in the Ironman list of races worldwide.
I was there on a mission, and wanted to come out the best that I could.
The race was harder than I had imagined.
First, the swim. It was hard to get into a good groove with 2,500 flailing arms fighting for position. With several racers, I swam slightly off course. The support kayakers veered our “lost pod” back into the course too late but we missed the main field of our swim pack.
Bike next. I got on my bike, felt back at home, and started the second leg of the course. Feeling good, I quickly made time and when the climbs started I gained more ground to at least 50 other athletes. But it turned out differently towards the mid- section of the bike course… a series of uphills and downhills. Wow, these Europeans surely know how to handle their bikes on the downhill!
Got into the run and felt my fifth wind come in with the cheers of the crowd. I tried to push it in the beginning to gain more ground but the body would not give more. At an early 5km into the start of the marathon I just thought to just take it home.
After a 3:38 marathon and 11:24 hours of racing a tough course, I heard the famous phrase “Martin, you are an Ironman!”
One side was frustrated with my performance, but another was elated for finishing.
Racing an Ironman distance is a different animal. I finished in a respectable top 20% of the total athlete count and also top 20% in my age group.
I feel I could have done better but given the situation, it was all my body could give.
From metal to metal
It is amazing to look back now and recall that I just started and finished the run on mental fumes. People can find ways to distract themselves from the pain and zone-in on their mental capacity to finish the goal at hand.
For me, this is what Ironman racing is about – shifting gear from your physical abilities to your mental capacities. It’s not the most-gifted nor the fastest that will survive, but those that have the mental clarity and perseverance to be strong and to be able to finish the race.
Just like the day of my accident.
This one-day Ironman race is a replica of one’s entire life in bits and pieces. There are valleys and peaks that you must overcome, and it gets harder as one gets older in life. But it is not through your accomplishments that you are judged but the process that you undertook to get there — winning is just a bonus.
I may not be there yet, but I’m closer than I was yesterday. From my metal wound 10 months back, I finished and earned the Ironman gold metal.
From metal to metal, I am now Ironman finisher. – Rappler.com