LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - What is it that motivates people to try to tackle the most grueling one day sporting event in the world that starts with thousands of people thrashing, kicking, punching, gasping and climbing over others in the water for 2.4 miles?
When I was going down the list of reasons why people are attempting Ironman Louisville 2019, Eric Bryant’s comments were an eyecatcher: “not a strong swimmer" and ”had a near drowning incident as a child" along with “facing my fears.”
“I kept slipping further and further out,” Bryant said. “Nobody seemed to notice.”
Bryant almost drowned at the age of 4 while wading and fading into a lake.
“Eventually I was in water over my head and was really struggling and panicking and to the extent, I actually took in a lung full of water,” Bryant said. “My older brother, God bless him, luckily he noticed I was underwater and reached into the water and grabbed me by the hair of my head and literally pulled me out."
Overweight and stressed out in 2018, The United Methodist minister realized he needed to do something different in life. Time to tackle his fear of water by training for and trying a shorter sprint triathlon. It didn’t go as planned.
“I found the first kayak I could find,” Bryant said. “I grabbed hold of that thing and talked to a nice person on it until I collected myself, controlled my breathing, and went on down, honestly, to the next kayak and tried that one for a while.”
He kept at it and kept getting disappointed.
“I’ve experienced being the last person out of the water,” Bryant said. “Not just in my age group, but no kidding, last guy out of the water.”
There will be no one last or first out of the water this time.
“I’m thinking there may not be a swim on Sunday,” Meridith Nguyen said on Thursday. “I’m gonna have to make peace with that and move on with it.”
Nguyen, of Louisville, saw the green writing on the wall when I spoke with her right before the decision to cancel the swim. She swam the river every week preparing for her first Ironman try. She tried to explain why this is so devastating.
“There’s hours, months and some people years of training that goes into this,” Nguyen said. “For me, the swim was the hardest part. A year ago I couldn’t swim 25 meters. The swim was my biggest challenge in the race. So to me, that’s what I want to do the most, to prove to myself I can do it.”
The good news is Bryant has overcome his fear of water and drowning through all this training one stroke at a time.
"The more you do something that causes you fear and build up the experience of it being ok the more confident you become,” Bryant said.
“Complete and utter disappointment” is how he describes his feelings now that he won’t be able to conquer the swim in an Ironman race. But it’s all a matter of perspective. Remember, everything that has happened after he was pulled from the water with lungs full of water at the age of 4 is a gift he almost missed.
“I’m really grateful that I have this life to enjoy, this life to embrace,” Bryant said. “That’s really part of my Ironman story, finding a new way to embrace life and experience life fully.”