Since my childhood in Caracas, Venezuela, I have always been an athlete. Team sports like soccer, roller hockey, speed skating, and especially baseball were all a big part of my early life. I always assumed that I would be involved in sports my entire life and, so far, that hasn’t changed. What has changed, is the type of sport I’m involved in.
I moved to the US when I was 19 to attend college at the University of Tampa. I stayed active during college and while building my career in the medical imaging equipment field, but it wasn’t until I was 28 that something changed in me. Team sports fell by the wayside as I shifted my focus to running, cycling and, eventually, triathlon.
Six years later, in 2015, after dozens of triathlon races, 14 of which were at the 70.3 mile, half-Ironman distance ( 1.2 mile swim; 56 mile bike; 13.1 mile run), I felt I was ready for a new challenge. I submitted an application to vie for the Guinness World Record for most half-Ironman triathlons completed in a single year. The current record is 23. I would need to complete, in one year, nearly twice as many half-Ironman’s as I had in the past six years combined. The goal was lofty, but after three months of waiting, Guinness accepted my application, and I made plans to begin my pursuit of the record in 2016.
Just one week later, I was at an Ironman event in Louisville, KY. During the race, I began to experience unbearable pain in my left calf. The pain became so intense that I was forced to stop before I could cross the finish line. Back home, my doctors confirmed that the pain was coming from severe damage to my meniscus and that I would need to undergo a full repair surgery to relieve the pain and to be able to race again. The surgery, which required nearly 12 weeks of recovery and physical therapy, was scheduled for the middle of January. Even if I recovered ahead of schedule, the year would be 25% over before I could get even one half-Ironman under my belt.
This news was discouraging, to say the least. I had just gotten everything in place to pursue my goal, only to have a huge obstacle, one that I had no choice in, set in front of me. Through introspection leading up to my surgery though, I considered the circumstances that many others fight through.
A lot of the races I had been a part of over the years had ties to non-profit organizations. Some of the people I had seen and the stories I had heard came back into my mind. Most notably, stories from the Challenged Athlete Foundation (CAF), a group that helps provide athletic-grade prosthetics and appliances for athletes who have been physically challenged by severe injuries or congenital conditions, and also stories of the patients at St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital; kids, some not even out of pre-school, already facing circumstances that could take literally everything away from them.
Knowing that there are people fighting much harder and with much more at stake, I doubled-down on my commitment to breaking the record, regardless of the time I would lose to my recovery. Now, after a full recovery, with lots of help from my doctors and physical therapists, I’m nine races into my goal with more scheduled every weekend for the next 16 weekends. In between working my regular job Monday through Friday, I’m travelling all over the US, racing in a dozen states, and even racing in the US Virgin Islands and Canada.
In addition to setting a new record, I’ve decided to widen the scope of my goal and use any attention this pursuit might draw to raise awareness for the organizations that helped inspire me. I encourage anyone reading this story to look into the courageous battles being fought by children and athletes with the help of CAF and St. Jude’s.
Ultimately, this experience has taught me that there is no excuse for making excuses. Very few things in life can actually stop us from achieving our goals if we only have the commitment and the discipline to overcome them. The Guinness Book is filled with regular, working-class people who set excuses aside, embraced commitment and discipline, and became their very best. I hope to be one of them very soon.
To follow my journey and help me support both organizations please go to http://aracing.net/
People often ask – either with a curious or perplexed expression – “What made you want to start the nonprofit?” I smile and say something to the effect of, “A lifetime of screwing up.”
Be About Change (the nonprofit) provides higher education scholarships to students from low-income households, and we write about individuals and organizations that embrace change and seek to make a difference in the lives of others.
Lately, when interacting with people, whether I just met them or have known them for a while, I ask myself two questions: Is there anything I can do personally to help further their goals? Who in my network of people might be able to help them?
The questions I used to ask were usually quite the opposite and I spent a lot of time figuring out ways to avoid dealing with internal conflict, or at the very, least suppressing it (only to realize that this in fact compounded things). Social media? I thought that was a platform for complaining and posting versions of my ideal self, as projected by my ego. As it turns out, the ego can be useful, but I’ve found its energy is wasted on creating facades.
Ironically – and I’ve never actually said this before – the nonprofit functions in a similar way. It’s an alter ego of sorts, and when I compartmentalize what I believe are positive efforts, I seem to be able to hold myself to a higher standard within the confines or premise of the nonprofit. In a way, it gives me a place to practice BEING my ideal self. Not the aesthetic kind – but the kind that is rooted in the foundational principles with which I was instilled when I was growing up.
Not so long ago, I made decisions from a very self-serving place; this of course compelled me to act in corresponding ways – addictions, self-isolation, no consideration of others, permanent judgment of others, and essentially no value for the lives of others or my own.
Even still, almost a year into sobriety, my darkness seemed to have a stronghold on me…and I knew, yet again, it was time for change. In a way, I felt cheated…where was the reward for voluntary sobriety? Wasn’t life supposed to be much better now? 2015…dead sober…and it was one of the most difficult times in my life…because for the first time in my life, I knew I had to travel to the deepest, darkest corners of my mind if I was to find peace.
I spent a lot of time identifying behavioral patterns in my life and learning how my mind works. I habitually sought out new experiences and scenarios that made me uncomfortable. I got used to immersing myself in my fears. My running training was often at 4:30 and 5:00 a.m., with no sunlight. There was something liberating about conquering physical challenges in darkness.
After the run, hitting other personal records, and practicing writing more honestly, it dawned on me that I could actually harness the madness…the unsettled nature of my mind, and channel it to do something productive, while trying to help others. I use the word “trying” because there is an inherent sense of arrogance in saying “I help others.” It’s presumptuous to assume you know what is best for someone else. Rather, I try to configure and reconfigure my motivation to be conscious of where others are in life, understanding that all of us generally operate from a place where we feel mentally safe.
I can’t honestly say I wanted to…it was never some life-long goal of mine. I guess you could say I became a person that was no longer solely motivated by service to self. I became aware that the smallest effort we make TODAY can have a positive impact on a person…generations later, after that spark ignites action in others throughout time.
As I conclude this article, a song starts playing on my Spotify playlist that I used to hear when I wanted to make changes in my life, but couldn’t. When fear of the unknown was paralyzing. But don’t take my word for it.
Imagine your fears and the stronghold they have on you. Thank them for bringing you this far (gratitude for them is important, in my opinion). Then allow that energy to propel you into a state of continuously being about change. Thank you for letting me share my #halfthestory.
Rarely does a class assignment lead to lasting relationships or memorable experiences beyond the class itself. But this semester, one project turned out to be a lot more than I expected – all in the best way imaginable.
When my partner and I were assigned to Paint Love for a semester-long project in our public relations course, we knew we had lucked out. This client assignment was more than your run-of-the-mill group project; it was the foundation of our work as soon-to-be communication professionals. Excited, albeit a little nervous, we jumped in headfirst.
Founded in Atlanta in 2013 by Julie McKevitt and her husband, Aaron, Paint Love has a mission of “connecting artists and nonprofits for a positive impact on youth.” Paint Love coordinates lessons taught by local artists for groups serving at-risk youth in the area. Last year alone, the young nonprofit reached over 700 kids through its art lessons.
From losing a parent or close loved one to living in Atlanta’s largest women and children’s shelter, these kids have been through more than most of us could imagine. And, they’re just eight, and 10 and 12 years old.
I’ve volunteered at two events, and I left both of them feeling happy, energized and full of love. Everyone who has volunteered knows the positive personal experience it can be, but working with Paint Love is like nothing I’ve done before.
I went in to it expecting little kids who didn’t understand or care what was going on, but I found young people who connected to the art on a deeper level than I could have imagined. The kids are creative, emotional, tough, funny and loving. And, some of them are talented artists.
I live for when the light bulb goes off…they’re kind of sitting there, not really getting it, then all of a sudden they make a connection with the art.”
I saw this, too, when I watched thirty elementary school students write phrases of self-affirmation on giant flower petals one afternoon in DeKalb. At first, none even understood how to write something positive about themselves, many were reluctant and others just didn’t want to. But by the end of the event, every one of them smiled proudly and showed off unique paper flowers covered in rainbow-lettered phrases declaring, “I am kind and beautiful,” “I share,” and “I love my friends every day.”
Since January, my partner and I have devoted hours each week to Paint Love, volunteering and writing news stories about events, and it’s been one of the most eye-opening and rewarding experiences I’ve had at the University of Georgia. I only wish I had found this incredible organization and the incredible things it’s doing before my final semester in Athens.
Paint Love makes a huge difference in the lives of these children, but it needs a lot of support. Donate money, art supplies or time, and I guarantee you’ll get hooked on Paint Love just like I have.
Visit www.gopaintlove.org to read more of Paint Love’s story and to find information on volunteering.