Iron Heart

On July 6, 2004, 17-year-old Brian Boyle drove through an intersection in Maryland and was broadsided by a 20-ton dump truck. His ribs, clavicle, and pelvis were shattered, his lungs collapsed, his kidneys and liver failed, he lost 60 percent of his blood, and his heart was ripped across his chest. He spent two months in a coma on life support. Doctors said he was never going to walk again. Three years later, he completed his first Ironman triathlon. Since then, he has finished two more Ironmans, 12 marathons, and his first ultra—the JFK 50 Miler—this past November. The recent college grad shared his thoughts about overcoming all odds to become an elite endurance athlete.

Comeback Kid: Brian Boyle recovered from a two-month coma to become an Ironman triathlete and ultrarunner.

—I can remember waking up and I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t move. It was like I was living a nightmare. I was coherent enough to understand I was in a hospital. I could hear the machines. I could hear my parents tell me about the accident. I could hear them cry, but I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t do anything.

—All I was hearing was constant negativity. I was going to be a vegetable. I’d never walk. I’d never get out of bed. So I started setting my sights on very tiny goals: living without the respirator, tying my own shoes, getting out of the hospital.

—One year after the accident, I was back on the college swim team. I spent the next year getting my strength back. At the end of that year, I decided to try an Ironman. It was the only way of knowing whether or not I was fully healed.

—I’d watched the Ironman on TV as a kid. It was always so motivating. It’s the most difficult race for the body and spirit. So I contacted the Ironman organization, told them my story, and said I could do Kona that year.

—I had no background in triathlons or endurance sports. I was a sprinter. I needed the approval of about a dozen doctors before I was cleared. I didn’t know about the pedals, the gears, nothing. I figured I’d do the best I could.

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