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Triumph through adversity – 6 inspirational success stories from everyday athletes

Polar athlete and IRONMAN world record holder Tim Don is a living example how dreaming big and working hard can lead to success at the highest level.

But after exploring dreaming and goal-setting with the legend himself, we decided to take it one step further. Sure, hearing from one of the world’s best triathletes is motivating, but why not highlight some of the inspirational feats of the everyday athlete?

We asked dreamers (and doers) who subscribed to the four-part video series on dreams and goals with Tim Don to share their own inspirational triumph. 

And let’s just say — we asked, you delivered. From a cancer-surviving, 72-year-old half marathoner, to a new mom who overcame a tumultuous relationship with running, here are a handful of our favorite dreams and goals from our community.

A Myriad of Health Problems Can’t Stop This Resilient Triathlete

I’m blessed that I have found a passion in life — triathlon. My goal and dream for 2019 is to race the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship.

I told myself that if I finished the three-kilometer swim in the cold, dark Atlantic waters (between jellyfish), then I could complete anything in life.

My first triathlon was the CELTMAN Extreme Scottish Triathlon in 2016 (yes, I know, nobody starts with that kind of race). Most of all, this triathlon helped me overcome my fear of open water swimming. I told myself that if I finished the three-kilometer swim in the cold, dark Atlantic waters (between jellyfish), then I could complete anything in life. And I did! But in that moment I didn’t know that my biggest challenge was yet to come.

In 2017, I was training for my first IRONMAN and started to feel very sick. I then suffered from a stroke on Oct. 2, 2017 as a result of Lyme disease. I received treatment for the disease and got back to my triathlon training relatively soon — which I believe helped me recover quickly from my stroke.

At the beginning of 2018, I was fully recovered and started to plan my race season for 2018. I knew my health journey wasn’t over yet — doctors had found a brain aneurysm and I underwent brain surgery in August 2018.

Today, I’m fully recovered and I feel better than ever. I’m healthy, strong, and ready to train and race again. There’s no better way to recover than from dreaming big and setting a goal as lofty as completing the 2019 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship.

Karina Gansone, triathlete

After Battling Cancer and Type 2 Diabetes, This Runner Finished his First Half Marathon at 72

I started running at the end of 2015 after being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes at age 69. In 2007, I also underwent a 13-hour operation for cancer in two separate places. Long story short, I had not done any physical exercise since my 20s.

I started off with the Couch to 5K app and found it very difficult, since it was a one-size-fits-all running program. I did, however, complete it and then started doing Parkrun every Saturday, and found that I enjoyed it.

Towards the end of 2017, I was on the bench for four months with an injury. I started running again in January 2018 and started breaking my Parkrun personal best on a regular basis, so I was encouraged to run my local half marathon.

My goal was to finish in under three hours and I trained for a time of 2:45:30. But five to six weeks out from race day, I ended up with a calf injury and was unable to train for three weeks.

I arrived at the starting line at the tender age of 72.

I arrived at the starting line at the tender age of 72. We eventually got underway, and to my great surprise, I finished in a time of 2:54:18 — only nine minutes outside what I had trained for.

This year, I set myself a target of running a trail half marathon and have entered the Orwell Challenge, which takes place in June. Looking further ahead, I would like to complete a 30- to 50-mile ultra before my 75th birthday, so perhaps I’ll tackle a 30-mile race in 2020.

Paul Bloomfield, runner

Pregnancy Was No Match for This Aspiring Marathon Runner

When I became pregnant in 2017, and gave birth that October, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get back into training and, above all, back to my previous form.

During pregnancy I gained almost 35 kilos, and my water retention made sports activities nearly impossible at the end. Sport was a big and important part of my life right before pregnancy. After I gave birth, the postpartum phase (which is the most beautiful for many women) was the worst time for me. Even though I enjoyed every minute of it, I just wasn’t myself. Before the pregnancy, I simply put my running shoes on and off I went. That was no longer possible with the baby.

It’s very different to run with a jogger than by yourself.

Easy walking was just not enough for me, so I decided to buy a jogger. When the jogger arrived I could not wait to try it out and do the first tour with my daughter. I put my running shoes on, packed up my child and off we went. At first I was happy, but after the first 500 meters, reality caught up with me. It’s very different to run with a jogger than by yourself. You have the extra weight, your arms can’t swing freely, and above all, the child is always in front of you.

I really wanted to run again, and most of all, I wanted to run a marathon!

I faced the truth that my fitness level was simply no longer what it used to be. After two kilometers, the first run for two was over and I was deeply disappointed. Despite this, I really wanted to run again, and most of all, I wanted to run a marathon!

My goal is to complete the 2019 Haspa Marathon in Hamburg, which will be here before we know it. I don’t want to finish in six or seven hours — if possible I’d like to finish in under four hours. I’ve had to kick myself every day to motivate myself not to give up. Now, I feel like an absolute runner — I am a runner again! I’m more confident, and my daughter and I are now a well-rehearsed running team.

Running is freedom for me again.

In the meantime, running is freedom for me again — it has become a kind of meditation. It’s not quite three months until the marathon, and my desired finish time is no longer just a wishful thought.

Because of my daughter, I am again a runner. And thanks to her, I am stronger, faster, more conscious and a better me!

Kathrin Almeida, marathon runner

Read How One Man Lost Almost Half His Bodyweight Through Running

I’m 31 years old and four years ago, at the end of 2014, I weighed 140 kilos. I was often looked at from the side, insulted and laughed at on the street. After one too many comments, I decided it’s time for a change, so I signed up at the local gym.

Initially, I was told to start with light strength training and swimming, and to gradually increase the training over time. However, my ambition developed so much that I soon started to walk, too. I lost 12 kilos in a very short time, but that was not enough for me.

My Polar watch became my companion, and through my efforts I managed to reduce my weight to 82 kilos in 2016.

Gradually, I increased the running portion of my training until I managed my first 10K run without a break. My Polar watch became my companion, and through my efforts I managed to reduce my weight to 82 kilos in 2016.

I also completed my first trail half marathon (in 2:15) and followed it up with more in the same year. In 2017, I rode an AlpenX from Garmisch-Partenkirchen to Riva del Garda with five friends — that was a highlight for me.

In June 2018, I fulfilled one of my greatest desires by running a half marathon under two hours (1: 54).

In June 2018, I fulfilled one of my greatest desires by running a half marathon under two hours (1: 54). Now, I feel better, I’m surrounded by healthy people and I’ve found a new passion in running.

Holger Bihr, half marathoner

This Philanthropist Cyclist Pedals for Intellectual Disability

Since the age of 15, cycling has been a dear hobby of mine and in 2017 I decided to use it to do some good. 

I work with people with intellectual disabilities in the Polish Association for People with Intellectual Disability in a building that had no elevator to move less efficient residents between floors. The association didn’t have the means to cover the costs of an elevator so I decided to find donors to help us.

Real disability is a lack of heart.

I came up with the idea that I would pedal alone from Tarnów to Gdańsk and on July 29, 2017, I set out on a bicycle with panniers and full of enthusiasm. I wanted to prove that nothing is impossible, and I rode with a slogan on my chest that stated “real disability is a lack of heart”.

My trip was documented on the National Geographic Facebook page and advertised on Anna Kamińska’s blog and on our association’s Facebook page and my private profile. We also shared information among friends, so the information about the expedition went around the whole world.

On August 4, 2017, I arrived on the pier in Brzeźno, happy and fulfilled. I finished with tears in my eyes and a sense of undaunted pride that I managed to complete such a feat!

All in all, dreams do come true. The elevator in our house was installed three months later and is used today. 

Magdalena Drożdż, cyclist, runner, gym-goer

How One Marathon Runner Doesn’t Let His Visual Impairment Define Him

This is the dream of my running partner: Eduardo. He’s a marathon runner with a visual impairment who needs help to train and to compete. We have been training together since December 2018 and our goal is to complete the Rock ‘n’ Roll Madrid Marathon on April 28, 2019.

Eduardo has been running longer than me, has run more marathons than me, is younger and has more desire than any person I know. Despite this, he has always trained the same, and didn’t enjoy training for a marathon. He ran with anxiety, without a clear goal, got bored training and didn’t train with many people.

The enthusiasm we share for running is what unites us.

This has now changed — he has an 18-week training plan where he runs six days a week, and he has realized he enjoys running more because he has a goal every day. He runs with me and with the training group at La Tapia de Madrid. Anyone can join and you don’t have to pay dues. The enthusiasm we share for running is what unites us.

Eduardo and I run together by a rope — I have to announce obstacles, turns and different terrain. It’s stressful, but I have never admitted this out loud. The main thing we focus on is to run confidently and enjoy running as a whole.

Now, Eduardo goes running in different places and with different people. He also trains alone some days, but with a set goal of rhythm and distance. Finally, after five weeks of training, he has understood consistency is the way to improve his fitness.

Eduardo wants to run sub-3:30 in Madrid, and he will do it. Obviously, it’s not written in stone, but I’m confident that he’s going to achieve his goal.

What’s my dream? I shared Eduardo’s dream, because the road to the marathon in Madrid is what enriches me, what motivates me and what stresses me in a positive and constructive way.

Miguel Coloma Visedo, marathon runner

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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.

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