Red Deerian Craig Schmitt achieved what most of us can scarcely imagine accomplishing at the recent World Ironman Triathlon at Kona.
He and his wife Nicole flew there last month so Craig could take part in the tremendously challenging event, where he was one of about 2,000 from around the world who had qualified to take part.
Craig, 34, a physiotherapist at Weber Physiotherapy Clinic, recalls the rush of humidity and heat the moment the couple arrived in Hawaii. He only had a couple of days to prepare for the event, which begins with a 4 km swim, followed by a 180 km bike route and wrapping up with a 42 km run.
“It’s kind of like the ‘world series’ of triathlons,” explains the father of four. “My weakness out of the three disciplines would certainly be the swim. It was so choppy, but at the same time it was so cool because you could see these schools of fish swimming by,” he recalls of the warm, pristine ocean water.
“The swim took a lot out of me. Then the part that would be my strength is the biking portion.” But it was windy, which can take its toll on a route that stretches for a staggering 180 km.
Next up was the run. “I hit the wall on the bike with about 35 km to go. I really hit it hard, and suffered. I kept thinking how am I going to run a marathon at the end of this. But with endurance racing, everybody at some point lands in a dark place.
“Negative thoughts creep in and you’re asking yourself all kinds of questions like can I do this? Why am I doing this? For some people, it just spirals out of control. Everyone deals with it, but at the time, you feel like you are the only one dealing with it.”
As he began the run, the negativity was still feeling heavy. “I was low energy, my legs felt awful. I was mentally drained. I was three kilometres in and thinking I have 39 more to go for real?”
Bearing down on everyone was also the heat without a trace of cloud cover. People were dropping out as the hours ticked by. But Craig started finding a new source of inspiration to keep going when Nicole came running along beside him.
“I was about five kilometres into the race going on a gradual incline. I wasn’t in a great spot. And there’s Nicole at the top of the hill telling me ‘This is your dream. This is what you’ve worked for. You’re in Kona. This is it. Just keep the legs moving’. That’s what I needed to hear.”
Craig finished the event in 10 hours and 15 minutes; in 490th place. “Deep down, I wanted to be in the top 250. I really wanted to crack under 10 (hours) there – that was kind of my magical number.”
Looking back, Craig, who grew up near Drumheller, was always interested in being active. “Essentially, it was hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer – hockey, baseball; hockey; baseball,” he adds with a laugh.
But the thought of taking part in a triathlon didn’t surface until several years later. First, he took up biking and found something he developed a passion for. “Nicole had two young cousins who were going to bicycle from Vancouver to Calgary. A couple days before they were to leave, one of them had a heart attack while he was biking and died.”
Craig eventually offered to make the trip with the surviving cousin, and it proved a meaningful and life-changing journey. He delved into biking more and more, then took up swimming and running on more serious levels as well.
As already pointed out, Craig and Nicole are dedicated – first and foremost – to the well-being of their family. Training happens in such a way as to not interfere with family time – even if that means very early mornings. He also has to forego training with various groups because of the times they get together, so much of his training is done on his own. “We have a rule at home where Sunday through Friday I’m home at 7 a.m. those mornings, because that is breakfast time with the family.
“Part of it is that I’m driven. And part of it is that I’ve been blessed with an ability to do this. If I’m not doing it to my fullest, why am I doing it? If I have that opportunity, why not do my best.”
Craig and Nicole are also thankful for the support they received prior to the trip. A fundraising dinner was planned by Terry Carter, and Craig’s employers at Weber Physiotherapy Clinic helped out as well. Others also generously stepped up to offer financial assistance as news spread of the Kona event.
Meanwhile, Craig is grateful for the experience, but it’s not over. He wants to go back and tackle it again. To that end, he’s embarked on a training regimen again.
“It was really one of the pinnacles of my life – one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. I never thought I would qualify. It starts off as a far-off thing where you feel you can’t even dream about it. Then you plug away at the training.
“Over the years, it’s been a steady progression to get there. So yes, it’s been a ‘life-changer’ for me.”