DEFY THE IMPOSSIBLE – The Ironman Triathlon is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run, which comes to 140.6 miles covered on race day. Finishing this race has been a dream of mine for 7 years. It all started in 2007 where my dad and I were watching “The Biggest Loser” of all shows. They had a blip about a participant completing an Ironman after he got off the show. Out of nowhere I said, “I could do that,” and my dad quickly responded, “No you couldn’t. You can’t even swim!” The funny thing is that one statement propelled me into endurance sports. Who knows, if it wasn’t for that statement, I could be 260 pounds eating pizza and potato chips every day.
The road to IRONMAN has always been a struggle. Since 2007, I have always said, “one day I will do this.” I could have called it quits in 2010 when I failed at teaching myself how to swim, or even 2011 for that matter. I could have called it quits when I panicked the first time I swam in open water. I wondered if I would ever get over the fear of not knowing what swam below. I could have called it quits when I broke my foot on two different races last year. I could have called it quits when I did horrible at my first cycling event this year. I could have called it quits during those long 9, 10, 11 hour training sessions in the middle of the summer. IRONMAN has not only made me a better athlete, but a better person as well. I fell down so many times I lost count, but I kept plugging away and NEVER GAVE UP. I kept picking myself up off the ground and trying again. The phrase, “one day I will do this,” became, “I AM AN IRONMAN on August 24th, 2014.”
Before I start, I would like to thank my family that supported and cheered me on throughout this process. You all gave me a huge boost every time I saw you on the course. This accomplishment would not have been as meaningful without everyone there.
Race morning had a different feeling than all the others. This moment is what I had been waiting for since 2007. I got to transition around 4:30am, topped off the air in my tires and dropped some nutrition into my gear bags then headed to the swim start. IRONMAN Louisville’s swim start is unlike any others on the circuit. It is a first come, first serve rolling start. The sooner you get in line, the sooner you get in the water. I was in line at 5am and sit on the hard concrete for an hour and a half. By 6:45 emotions were running high, nerves were building and I was as anxious for this race to get underway already. The pros went off at 6:50 and the line made its way up to the river. During the national anthem, I tried my hardest not to tear up, but it happened anyway. All the hard work I put in throughout the years has finally come down to this point. The gun went off and 2 minutes later, I jumped into the Ohio River and started swimming. I was racing in an IRONMAN.
The Ohio River swim was a point to point swim. Each athlete swam 0.8 miles upstream and 1.6 miles downstream then finished near Joe’s Crab Shack and the Great Lawn. No more than 5 minutes into the swim I get elbowed right in the face hard by another swimmer that knocked my goggles off of my left eye. I was feeling that blow for a little while. Shortly after that, I got hit in the nose, knocking off my nose plugs. Those who know me know I really can’t swim well without my nose plugs. Luckily I carried two spare plugs in my tri shorts just in case something like that happened! When I got to the turnaround, I looked at my watch and saw 34 minutes. The current was much stronger than I anticipated! The last stretch went without an incident. The shore grew closer and closer, and before I knew it one of the volunteers was plucking me out of the water. I looked at my watch and it showed 1:07:59. I had to do a double take because I was in disbelief. I had a personal best swim by 18 minutes!
I took my time at the first transition knowing I had a long road ahead of me. I double checked my gear and nutrition to make sure I had everything. I headed out on the 112 mile bike with my family all there cheering me on! In the week leading up to race day, the weather was projected to hit triple digits, so I knew I had to stay on top of my hydration. Turns out, of the 9 aid stations on the bike, I had to stop to pee at 5 of them! I may have been a little too on top of that. The bike ride was absolutely beautiful. The rolling hills were a nice touch as well even though I was not a huge fan of them by the end. Total elevation gain on the course was about 5,400 feet. At mile 55ish, I hit the first wall of the day. I was hitting 17mph consistently on the bike up until then, but dropped to 15mph for about 10-20 miles. The loop course had us going through La Grange two times, one of only a few viewing areas on the course. Huge lift seeing my family there each time. By the time I passed La Grange the second time, another athlete and I were playing “tag” for the rest of the way back to transition. I passed him, and then 5 miles later he would pass me back. This really got my head back into the game and I was back to averaging 17mph. I rolled into transition with a time of 6:51:14 on the bike, which was another personal best.
I went out for the run and again my family was there cheering me on. I ran through transition like a champ. I started off running 1 mile repeats, only stopping when I hit the aid station to re fuel. When I hit the turnaround at mile 7 of the down and back, I hit my second wall of the day, except this one wasn’t as nice. The next 8 miles were pretty rough. My right hamstring tightened up, my feet were on fire, and it felt like the sun was roasting me. At the end of the first loop at mile 14, my family was there cheering me on, propelling me forward. My times got faster from there forward. I knew I only had one more lap until I cross the finish. Only 12 more miles separate me from IRONMAN finisher. I found my legs again on the turnaround of the second loop at mile 18. I passed about 125 people in the last 6.2 miles. I saw the Louisville skyline at mile 22. The crowds cheers from 4th Street Live grew louder and louder. I rounded the corner and there it was: the finish line. I high fived people on the way in and finished with a time of 13:39:53. A volunteer put a medal over my head. Then all of a sudden I hear, “From Tulsa, OK, Mikeal Ball, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!” This was the proudest moment of my life. I get my finisher’s hat and shirt and see my family by the finisher’s area. I give everybody a big hug and tears of joy start to roll down my cheek.
None of this would have been possible without the support of my family. They are always there for me every step of the way. And my beautiful girlfriend Cassie: The unsung hero of this story. Every long run after a long bike on Saturday’s she cycled right beside me, making sure I stayed hydrated in the hot weather. Every Sunday when I went out for an open water swim in Skiatook Lake, she kayaked beside me, making sure I didn’t drown. She did my laundry, cooked me dinners after workouts. The list goes on and on. And I know I have said it o you several times, but I will say it again. THANK YOU for everything you have done for me this year while I chased down this dream.
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