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The Decision.
By Tom Demerly
Eric as he finishes Ironman

Meggan Kantz is an unassuming young lady. Quiet and reserved, polite and well spoken. She is a police officer by trade, and carries the demeanor of a policewoman. She has red hair, freckles. Nice young lady. I know her because she is my wife’s best friend of many years. They shared an apartment together in college, swam together at Wayne State.

Sometime last year Kantz made a decision: To finish the Ironman Triathlon.

This is a decision many of you have made. Nothing remarkable about that. The sport is huge. Ironman is the new marathon. Everybody is doing it. Given a reasonable amount of training and dedication most people can finish Ironman. So in that regard, Kantz’s decision is common.

Interesting thing about decisions though; when you make a decision sometimes you don’t understand the full gravity of what you’re getting into.

Meggan Kantz did the training; she endured the little set-backs we all have in preparing for Ironman. Kantz arrived at the start line on September 9 as well prepared as any of us and a little nervous (also like any of us) about a long day ahead of her. Her family and friends were there, they made signs that said “GO MEGGAN!” The cannon sounded at 7:10 A.M. on September 9 and Meggan started swimming.

For a long time I’ve noticed something about people who seem to be able to endure extraordinary hardship, hardship above that experienced normally during the Ford Ironman Triathlon. They made a decision in advance. In Meggan’s case the decision was something like this: “There are only two ways out of this race- across the finish line or in an ambulance.” I am certain she did not understand the gravity of it when she made this decision and how bad she would suffer that day. Perhaps that is why decisions like this are made in advance. The mystery in Meggan’s case is how any person can muster the strength to honor that decision- especially when you consider what happened to her in the race.

Of the 2106 people who finished the Ford Ironman Triathlon in Madison, Wisconsin Meggan Kantz suffered more than almost all of them because of what happened to her that day, something no one plans for on race day. You can’t train for what happened to her at Ironman.

No one is sure exactly how this happened. There are a couple different stories. Meggan doesn’t remember all of it. It sort of comes and goes. That’s the way it is with trauma. Your brain shuts out the worst of it.

What we do know is it happened half way through the bike in an aid station. One second she was going through the aid station, the next she was regaining consciousness, and then losing it again. At one point she remembers waking up past the aid station with her bike on top of her. A man was standing over her. He said, “You have to make a decision… Do you want medical aid and then you’re out of the race, or do you want to keep going?”

Kantz got back on her bike for the third time. She already made that decision a year earlier. She kept going.

It is likely that Kantz crashed hard in the aid station when she collided with a water bottle. Either the volunteer mistakenly did not release the bottle when she grabbed it, or she hit it on the road and she went down. Hard. She didn’t know it at the time but she fractured her clavicle clean through. Broken collarbone.

Meggan Kantz finished the bike, using one arm to steer through the descents and for leverage on the climbs. She rested her broken arm on her aerobar pad. It was her right arm so she could not use her water bottle anymore. If she needed to drink- and you do a lot of drinking in an Ironman Triathlon- she had to come to a complete stop, put both feet down, pull her bottle out and drink, then painfully get started again and repeat the process a few minutes later to maintain her hydration as the day got increasingly warmer, increasingly windier. Because she slowly got dehydrated during the race she started having stomach problems. But she kept going.

When she finished the bike a volunteer in the changing area helped her change clothes. They are allowed to do that. She tucked her broken arm into her sports bra and started running.

I’ve heard stories like this before. My friend John Logan has done 2 Ironmans after breaking a collarbone in the weeks before the race. He did the swim with one arm. He’s done 10 Ironmans total. Another buddy of mine, Marcia Bennett, has done 10 Ironmans and was hospitalized after one of them. She says she doesn’t remember much of the race. She got two bags of I.V. solution following that race. We’ve heard stories of the determination people muster during Ironman and finish despite injuries, illness, disabilities. It’s a decision they made in advance: Once the cannon goes off they either cross the finish line or leave the course flat on their back in an ambulance. My buddy Eric Nguyen was pulled off the course at the 2006 Ford Ironman Triathlon in Madison with hypothermia. He didn’t quit the race, the doctor in the medical tent pulled him because his core body temperature was so low. He doesn’t remember big sections of that day. This year Eric returned to the Ford Ironman Triathlon in Madison and finished despite a bike crash that sprained his wrist.

If I crashed that hard during the Ironman I think I would have quit. There is another race next year and an injury that serious is a valid ticket out of the race. It’s a reason to come back next year. The ability of some people to push through that is mysterious to me. It speaks to the depth of the motivation many people take to that race. It is a level of motivation that is difficult to understand or describe. I’ve seen it many times. Meggan Kantz is one of the most recent examples. It boiled down to a decision: There are only two ways out of this, across the finish line or flat on your back.


© Tom Demerly, Bikesport Inc.
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