I started my journey with EduMais at the beginning of 2017 as an English teacher. For me this was an opportunity to get to know those in the communities of Rio, and try to connect and see how I could make a positive impact in their lives. From the beginning I really identified with the EduMais approach, which was not only to teach English, but also create a Positive Discipline environment where the children could have role models to demonstrate positive behaviours, like being silent instead of yelling. The community is so chaotic that this kind of teaching can make a real difference in the children's behaviours, and in a short time I saw amazing changes in some of the most unruly students.
At the end of 2017 I volunteered to plan the curriculum for the eldest group of students (17-19 years old) for the following year. At the time I was planning I had been reading a lot about social entrepreneurship and I got excited, wondering what thought-provoking, empowering and inspiring content I could weave into our English classes. Then I had an idea: we could do an entrepreneurs course in English!
This idea became a reality and at the start of this year we launched our Entrepreneurs in English course. The students are all working on such amazing projects, like removing trash from the community, creating cultural and educational spaces, and making the streets safer and more beautiful. After seeing these wonderful projects evolve, my hope now is to enable some of the students to turn them into reality.
With this in mind, I decided to sign up to the Ironman 70.3 to raise the funds to get my students’ projects off the ground. The Ironman 70.3 is a 1.9km swim, 90km bike ride and a half marathon run (21km), which will take place at the end of September this year.
I’m no stranger to physically and mentally demanding challenges but training for this monster triathlon has been the single most difficult one of my life. This journey has already seen me assaulted in the early morning, taken to the emergency room, and broken down in tears of pain and frustration on numerous occasions. I'm now one month from the event, in bad shape, and the only thing keeping me going is the thought of how much the children I work with will benefit from the money raised.
Let's start with swimming. Oh swimming how I hate thee! My main problem with swimming is that having my face submerged in water blocks all breathing orifices. So when my heart races while I'm flailing about in the water, I start to panic about my next breath of air. And sharks, sharks everywhere! I see a shadow – shark; goggle fog – shark; rock – shark. I know, it's completely irrational, but my mind just won't quit.
Basically, my swimming is a display of incoordination coupled with a complete irrational fear. I need to train a lot if I’m to have any chance in this loathed discipline. My largest training swim for this event so far was last week where I swam 1.5km in the open water and I was so exhausted the next day I could barely move.
About cycling, I’ll be honest: I’ve always considered it a sport for middle-aged men with a beer belly who fancy themselves in Lycra. In a triathlon, it's the recovery cruise between swim and run, I thought; besides, I'm a bit of a natural on the bike... But I quickly realized that a) natural, I am not; b) the cycle leg of the Ironman was going to be the most grueling and the most crucial of the three disciplines; and c) training for it would turn me into a semi-functioning zombie.
I bought myself a used speedy triathlon bike (Gonzalez) at the start of the year and took her out training in Copacabana at 5am one morning. Suddenly, a kid no older than 15 blocked the cycle path so I braked, only then realizing that he wanted Gonzalez.
“NO, NOO PLEASE, SOMEBODY HELP!” I yelled, as he stared me down and confidently grabbed the handlebars of my bike.
Time slowed down considerably and I thought “this is it”; my desperate screams for help were lost in the dark and deserted streets. I knew fighting was not an option as I’d heard of people being stabbed and killed for their bikes here. I’d had enough momentum to nudge past him but I lost my balance as he grabbed me and fell to the ground. I waited to feel him pull me away and take my bike... but I was up, I was moving, shaking, and too terrified to look behind me, I pedalled for my life and managed to escape.
Realizing that biking solo was no longer an option I joined a cycle team. A cycle team that trains at 4am. On the nights before training I literally feel sick when 11pm rolls around knowing that I only have a few hours left to sleep. My two-year-old wakes up without fail around midnight and I try not to feel sad as my sleep time slowly disappears before me. Frequently, I’ve put in over two hours of intensive bike and run training before I start work at 7am.
With the group I realized I was nowhere as good as I had thought I was. I'd get up at 3am to meet them and watch helplessly as they took off. The only beer-belly in sight was my own. I'd be alone in the dark, cursing life and the fact that I'd actually paid money for this torture. And everything is worse at 3 in the morning. Trust me.
Finally, after a few horrid months, I got faster and could keep up with the group. I'd become so much stronger: joining the group was a great decision! Except for one minor detail: if there's one thing more dangerous than riding alone in Copacabana early in the morning, it's riding in a Peloton or a group formation, which is how we train. High speeds and close proximity leave little room for error.
One morning, in particular, I was completing my strongest ride yet and I was absolutely exhausted. I pushed with everything I had to stay with the group, even though I wasn't sure how long my legs would hold out at a pace of 38km/h. In a split second my front wheel was parallel with the rider in front of me and in the next second I went down hard.
I don't remember the fall, just being really confused. I thought I was having a conversation with Daniel, my partner, in the supermarket a week earlier and I was horrified to grasp reality and see all the other riders and a military nurse circled around me, saying things in Portuguese. My ears were ringing and I was shivering-cold, smothering my forehead with my sweaty T-shirt to try to stop the bleeding. I had no idea how badly hurt I was and I was put on a scoop-stretcher with a neck brace and taken off to hospital in an ambulance.
Initially, the damage appeared superficial, a number of stitches in my face and grazes on most parts of my body. But after a few days I realized that the impact from the high-speed fall had badly damaged my shoulder, chest and ribs. I couldn't lift my son and, needless to say, training was off limits. I had no idea if I would be able to do the triathlon or not.
After two months and of a lot of physiotherapy I'm finally able to do a little of all three disciplines again. My chest still hurts and I'd have liked to recover 100% but I just don't have the time. If it's been a struggle to this point, the next month will certainly make or break me as I'm well behind my trying schedule due to the accident.
However, I won't give up! I’ve already sacrificed so much personal and family time for this event (300+ hours) and invested blood, sweat and tears to get me to this point. But most important of all is my fundraising goal. Whatever life throws at me is nothing compared to the challenges the kids in the community face. The students I work with all want to go to university, they all want to have a life where they can feel safe, have a steady income, and maybe one day even travel and see the world. I believe too in their projects and know that with some help they can become successful entrepreneurs.
Please help me to raise $7,030 ($100 for each of the miles in the event) for my students to bring their beautiful projects to life. If I can achieve my fundraising goal it will make all of this worth it. Be generous and help give me the strength to cross that finish line and see these amazing students become entrepreneurs!
Thanks for reading my story and thanks for all your support!