Being an Ironman is not just an ability to physically push your body to complete the 140.6 miles, it’s about how we manage the challenges that come our way as we embark on the journey to cross that finish line. Coach Martina nominated this month’s athlete because she recognized that he has had a remarkable journey to get to even the start line, let alone the finish line. She says that being an Ironman starts with perseverance and will power to move forward no matter what life challenges are in your way, and he has demonstrated just that. It’s a pleasure to introduce you to Mark Overby!
He has shown an incredible amount of desire, determination and discipline to beat cancer, and keep focused on staying healthy and never giving up on his dream to one day cross the finish line at an Ironman event. His story is inspiring, and it is an honor to turn the spotlight on Mark!
What is your interest in racing Ironman? How did you arrive at this goal of racing an IM?
My original Ironman interest started way back with ABC’s Wide World of Sports and watching Julie Moss and the famous crawl across the finish line. As time progressed, my interest came more and more from a desire to tackle a challenge and to use the training and experiences to get healthy and stay that way. I’ve never been known to not tackle the big and bad challenges out there.
Where does your experience come from for swim, bike, run (high school, college, after)?
I was a team “collision” sport athlete when I was younger, except for swimming! I swam competitively (the longer distance events) in high school and on the IM team in college. I didn’t take up running, other than our coaches making us run laps, until just about four years ago when I decided to start down this road. Biking was definitely something I picked up more recently too. I did a little mountain biking before, but road biking was pretty new to me.
Describe a little bit of who you are and what makes you go-go-go!
I’m the stereotypical silicon forest computer type. Data drives me! But I’m also sort of a jack of all trades. I’m also a pilot, I love the outdoors, and I love to travel (which could explain why most of my race selections are out of town!). What drives me is seeing the little changes along the way. A little faster here, a little better heart rate there, and just knowing that every step I’m taking brings me a step closer to my dreams.
You were preparing for a race last year, and learned that you had cancer. Can you please tell us how that came to be and what that meant to your training and for the race?
It started out with having the doctors check out my previously surgically repaired ankle and wondering if I was possibly developing some shin splints. After ruling out the obvious, they did a bone scan to see if it was shin splints. At that point the scans showed some unusual bone activity in my lower leg. At that point, we went in for more scans and the diagnosis came back of cancer. Besides the expected emotion hammer with all of the potential ways it could come out, it was clear that the treatment was going to require that we postpone my dreams for a little bit and come back at this from the other side. So, we had to put off racing and focus on the treatment. But, I had a great team of doctors that believed that the more active I could be (within limits) during treatment the better I would come through it.
During your treatment, how were you able to scale your training? Were you able to train?
Training had to be scaled back. Radiation treatment can really slam your energy levels. But the pool was a big help. I was able to swim a lot after we knew that the treatment wasn’t going to affect my skin or such. Running was out because the bones could be weakened by treatment and the force could be too much. We also used the bike as much as possible within my fatigue limits. As treatment went on, we had to adapt to low ferritin levels and let the body guide the effort.
How did you adjust your mind set around navigating a cancer diagnosis and a big race dream?
It hurts, but at the same time – once you get past the initial blow, it becomes an opportunity. Yes, I had to put off my Ironman dreams, but from a training perspective, at the same time, it gave me a new set of opportunities out of this challenge. I got a chance to focus on the swim for a while. And when you stack the cancer diagnosis on top of the other health challenges that happened before I started on this journey – you realize that this is training for the mental toughness that you need for triathlon. Treatment and the diagnosis can beat on you mentally and physically at the same time, but you realize each treatment is one step closer to the finish line and you plow through.
What is your health like now? How are you easing back into training?
The most recent scans came back clean with no sign of tumors! There will be many follow-ups, but the odds are good since I made it this far! The run and some on the bike was definitely lost, so we’re easing back into it with some run/walks and rebuilding things slowly to give the best foundation that we can! It’s time to play the long game and not overdo it trying to come back all at once.
When you get the green light, which Ironman will you race?
I haven’t picked my Ironman yet, but there are several in the mix. Boulder (nothing like having a team to learn from with home field advantage), Maryland, Arizona, and Cozumel are all floating around in the mix. This year will be about rebuilding (“We have the technology!”).
And when you cross the finish line (because you will), what do you want the message/the take away to be for yourself – for anyone else?
Comeback stories are possible! I started this journey, even pre cancer, in an unhealthy spot and the route may not be straight, but you can overcome anything. There is always hope, no matter how small, how far away. And you really do have to take this journey one crazy step at a time. I want to inspire the people who think that they’re too slow, too out of shape, too sick, and think this is impossible – that it really is possible. Everyone loves the comeback – anyone can live it. For me, I want that first finish to be the first of many. This is a life to be lived!