Editor’s Note: Tom Hulsey completed IRONMAN Kona on as a part of Team ZERO in 2016. Below is the story of his journey to KONA, courtesy of IRONMAN.com. You can read the first part of Tom’s story here. Tom is joining ZERO at the Annual Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C., where he will join other advocates to fight for increased prostate cancer research funding.
“It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” This quote by my idol, coach Vince Lombardi, never resonated more with me than at IRONMAN Lake Placid in July. IRONMAN is a perfect metaphor for life, it’s the journey. You have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, there will be unexpected challenges, many far more severe than others.
Crossing the finish line at IRONMAN Lake Placid this year was the long-term goal I set for myself 17 months ago after I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. IRONMAN Lake Placid is considered one of the toughest full-distance IRONMAN events in the world. Many asked why I did not select an “easier” event, but people who know me know that I would not have it any other way. With my wife Lauren’s unwavering support throughout this journey, I achieved my goal and crossed the finish line at IRONMAN Lake Placid, but not without challenges.
The 2.4-mile swim was no walk in the park. Contact with other athletes simply does not happen when you are training in a pool with a lane to yourself. My swim strategy for an IRONMAN event is to save my energy for the long day ahead, so I decided to start at the back of the pack. That strategy didn’t pay off for me the way it did several years ago, however. When I raced at IRONMAN Lake Placid back in 2010, I had broken ribs and couldn’t afford a kick to the upper body, and staying back kept me fresh for the rest of the race.
The 112-mile bike was tough. I had to stop multiple times to change three flat tires and use the restroom, as one of the side effects from my surgery is bladder control. I wasn’t sure I would make it through. However, the warm weather in Kona will be my ally because sweating means fewer visits to the port-a-potty.
Finally, I made it to the run and I was feeling good, my shoulder felt better and the discomfort had shifted to my feet. I developed hot spots, eventually covering a majority of the bottom of both feet, making each foot strike painful. I stopped to get medical aid, and they recommended soaking my feet in ice water. I reluctantly agreed, knowing this would take precious time. It worked—for about 10 miles. The pain came back, so I returned to the medical tent for the same treatment. With the focus on my feet, however, I neglected my nutrition and grew weak and dizzy. Drinking cola at the last aid station helped and sustained me to the finish line. High-fiving the “voice of the IRONMAN,” Mike Reilly, at the finish line was a special moment.
Needless to say, reaching the finish line at this race was extremely difficult—physically and mentally. I have completed every race I’ve started, so I was determined for this race not to be my first DNF (did not finish). Half the challenge of an IRONMAN is mental (some say more than half). During those really tough times in the darkness on the run, I kept thinking about the reasons I chose this race: a goal I set to focus on beyond my health issues, to honor my dear friend Bill Rollings (this horrible disease took him too soon), and all the people that have been impacted by my story of hope, inspiration, and awareness.
Despite everything I’ve gone through, I had many special moments in the month of July—it was truly a celebration of life! I walked my daughter down the aisle and achieved my long-term, post-surgery goal of competing at IRONMAN Lake Placid. This race was the toughest of my 10 IRONMAN finishes, but also the most rewarding.
In addition to being just 14 months post-surgery—this race threw everything it could at me. Ultimately, it helped me prepare for Kona, especially mentally. I am training and anticipating the unexpected at the world championship. I plan to use this strategy to my advantage.
All in all, words that have resonated with me throughout this journey are from triathlon great, Dave Scott: “One of life’s most important lessons is learning to put your losses in perspective and savor your triumphs by riding on euphoria’s wave. Have high goals and expectations; regard defeats as stages on your road to success by remembering the little victories that have gotten you where you are.”
Physically and mentally, training for Kona has been tough. After beating cancer, Lake Placid was my goal—period. Kona was not on the radar. I’ve never raced two IRONMAN events so close together at just 11 weeks apart. After completing two IRONMAN races in 2010 (15 weeks apart and no health issues), I swore I would never attempt two in the same season again, but the opportunity to race at the world championship changed all that. I took a couple of weeks off after Lake Placid, but I still feel the effects of Lake Placid while ramping my training back up for Kona. As a result, I am focusing more on rest and recovery.
Additionally, I am humbled to know that my story is making a difference in the fight against cancer. I am so honored to be representing ZERO—The End of Prostate Cancer. So far, I have raised over $20,000 for ZERO.
Representing ZERO and racing at the IRONMAN World Championship in Hawaii this October gave me an international platform to continue to spread my message to a much larger audience. Every small donation has a huge impact.