Find strength in pain - and don’t do it because you have to, but because you can. That’s the wisdom of champion triathlete Mary Beth Ellis, who gave a rousing speech on the spirit required to be an elite endurance athlete after winning the Ironman U.S. Championship on August 11 in New York. Ellis, a four-time Ironman Champion and the American record holder at the Ironman distance, poetically outlined her vision of the sport at the awards ceremony.
“Ironman doesn’t come easy. It doesn’t come without blood, sweat, and if you’re like me, a lot of tears,” said Ellis, a member of teamTBB who rides the Cervelo P3. “There are moments in training and in every Ironman race where you want to quit, where you doubt yourself – or at least doubt your sanity,” she added. “But, in those moments – and in that pain – is where we find strength. Perhaps the best thing about Ironman, though, is that you don’t leave that strength on the course. You take it with you. You take it to your family, your career and you share it with the world around you.”
Ellis revealed that when she was 28, doctors instructed her to give up running because she had developed arthritis in her hips. “It was devastating,” she said. “But, I wouldn’t stop. I couldn’t stop.” Instead of giving up, Ellis switched from marathons to triathlons in 2005, and has been competing in professional Ironman competitions around the world ever since. “I was told it wasn’t possible. But I proved it was. That’s the spirit of Ironman,” she said.
Ironman completion requires athlete to “routinely do things that your friends and neighbors think are impossible – or at least completely crazy,” she continued. Ellis said that while your friends are having barbeques, an Ironman is getting up at 5 a.m. and riding for six hours on a perfectly good Saturday morning. “But we do these things. Every day. Not because we have to. But because we can.”
She then shared a recent New York Times article about Chris Cleary, 40, an athlete who competed alongside her in the Ironman race after a lengthy and painful recovery from being hit by a car that fractured his skull and nearly ended his life in 2007. Ellis said that Cleary’s doctors had told him that recovery might be impossible after he had spent months languishing in a hospital bed, but he thought, “when someone tells me I can’t do it, I’m going to try to do it.” Ellis said that this is the kind of toughness that makes an Ironman. “You are an Ironman now,” she told Cleary and all of the other competitors. “Take that spirit into the world, and show the world that, no matter how difficult the challenge, you can do anything.”
Ellis wins Ironman NYC