Life Lessons from the Iceman
There I was eleven months ago, exhausted from completing the first four components of the Iceman Challenge. I had just finished skiing 5km, running 10km, skating 5km around the ice oval, and running another 5km to the Prince George Aquatic Centre. To make it worse, the temperature was -20 degrees Celsius, which makes it hard to even breathe outside. I climbed into the pool to complete the final part of the race, an 800-metre swim, but I didn’t even make it one length before I got hit with the most brutal leg cramps I have ever experienced. There were hard lumps of muscle, the size of softballs, that formed on my outer thighs. My legs were locked in the bent position and I was unable to straighten them out due to the excruciating pain. I must have looked like a legless war amputee (imagine Lieutenant Dan from the movie Forest Gump) while I was twirling around in there trying desperately to keep going.
I had not competed in any kind of race since grade seven track and field, so what the hell was I doing here at the age of 35?
Seven years ago, I made a major life change and left my job as a Locomotive Engineer to go back to school to study finance and accounting. During those years my wife and I welcomed three incredible daughters into our family. Our youngest, Annika, was born in April of 2018.
In September of that same year I was set to write the final exam for the CPA (Chartered Professional Accountant) program, known as the CFE, which is a 3-day beast with a 30% failure rate. I decided I would take three months of paternity leave during the summer to help my wife and me stay sane while we adjusted to the reality of having three young children and to give me the time I needed to prepare for the exam.
I had been so looking forward to this three-months off. I had imagined how amazing it would be and how I’d finally have time to do all the things that I had wanted to do. I was telling everyone I knew that it was going to be the “Summer of Tom.” When it finally started in mid-July, I felt overwhelmed between feeling completely unprepared for the exam and the craziness of living in a home with three young children, one of whom was still a newborn. I remember thinking a month into the leave that it definitely was not what I had hoped. I buckled down though and treated studying like a full-time job, knowing I did not want to have to repeat the exam a year later. I finished the exam in September and felt cautiously optimistic that I had passed. The results would not be released for several months.
After finishing that exam, things really started to change for me. It was as though I had this realization that what I had built up to be the most amazing three months of my life had turned out to be a massive disappointment. I still had one month to go before I would return to work, but summer was over and it seemed the “Summer of Tom” was a complete failure. I decided that my mindset had been all wrong to begin with. I had believed that these three-months off would be my escape from all the things in my life that I was unhappy with. Now I was dreading the return to work and I was afraid of what life would look like with me working full-time and us raising three kids. I pictured myself as this unhealthy overweight guy that works in a cubicle all day and then rushes home in his minivan to take his kids to all of their activities. I thought about how I wouldn’t have any time left just for me, to do things to better myself. I began to ask what I could change in my life to become the person I wanted to be while not giving any less to my wife and children.
I didn’t know what I needed to change, but I was so hungry and determined to figure it out. Then one day my wife’s friend was over for dinner and mentioned that she had been going to the gym at 5:00am everyday and how she just loved it. I was very curious to hear about it because changing my morning routine was something I had thought about a lot, but because I had failed to start getting up early so many times in the past I was fairly certain it wouldn’t work for me. She mentioned this book, “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod, and said I should definitely read it. I bought the e-book the next day and started devouring it. Have you ever experienced it where you read something that was exactly what you needed at that moment in your life? That’s what that book was for me.
I refer to that time as the moment I got off the hamster wheel and started asking better questions about what I really wanted my life to look like. I started waking up at 4:30am or 5:00am everyday. There is an entire routine that I adopted from that book but the thing that had the biggest impact on my life was the daily reflection, journalling and writing down what I wanted my life to look like. I didn’t know it then, but that was the beginning of my journey to transforming my own life. I realized that there were all these things I had wanted to do for years, but hadn’t. Somehow the months and years had flown by and I was looking back wondering how in the hell I had ended up where I was. I started to think about how I really wanted my life to look in all of the important areas, such as my marriage, parenting, spiritual health, physical health and the impact I wanted to have in the world. As I reflected on my life and the differences between how it was versus how I wanted it to be, I realized that I couldn’t just sit around thinking about my life, I needed to actually take some kind of action. I resolved to set ambitious goals for myself and to do things that scare me.
And that is how I ended up at the Prince George Aquatic Centre with those horrible leg cramps on the final stretch of the 2019 Iceman Challenge. I decided that no matter how slowly I was moving I would not stop swimming until I had finished the race. And after struggling for a few laps unable to move my legs, the cramps released and I was able to swim normally for the most part and complete the race. Although it was the most painful experience I have ever put my body through, I cannot express the feeling of accomplishment that it gave me, as well as the belief that I was capable of doing anything I put my mind to. And so for the same reason I decided to compete in the Iceman Challenge, I also decided to join Toastmasters. I would no longer let my fear prevent me from doing the things that I really wanted to do in life. I believe we are all capable of much more than we think we are, but we need to be willing to overcome those limiting beliefs that we have and do things that scare us and push us to be better. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- This was a speech that I presented at the Spruce Capital Toastmasters Club (The best damn Toastmasters Club in PG) in February of 2019. Many people told me that they loved this speech and since I’ve recently been training for the 2020 Iceman, I thought it was worth sharing this as a blog post. I first wanted to do the Iceman when I was 25 years old, but I put it off for 10 years. Training for it enabled me to be in the best shape of my life at the age of 35 and completing it gave me incredible confidence and the belief that I could accomplish anything. So I ask you, dear reader: What have you been putting off in your own life that could totally transform it for the better?