Conor Devine was on honeymoon in Mauritius a decade ago when he was struck with a mystery illness and ended up in hospital. The chartered surveyor and entrepreneur returned home to Northern Ireland to receive a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. He was just 28 years old.
Told to quit playing his beloved football, Devine struggled with every aspect of life as the debilitating symptoms took hold. Then, in 2010, he made a conscious decision to fight back.
Embracing a vigorous exercise campaign and revolutionising his diet, during Christmas 2014, he set the target of completing two marathons, two triathlons, a half Ironman and a full Ironman in 20 weeks… and would achieve his goal.
Having released his autobiography, Attitude Is Everything, in 2014, Devine is now releasing his second book, Iron Mind, a first-hand account of how he conquered Ironman while living with MS. He talked to 220 about the five lessons he’s learnt from long distance triathlon.
1. Sense of achievement
“It’s difficult to explain how the six months of training can take over your life – and then there is the event itself. If you successfully cross the Ironman finish line after 140.6 miles, the sense of achievement is hard to put into words. The sacrifices you’ve made over many cold, dark months, staying in at weekends, and foregoing the normal things in life, are all worth it when you hit the magic carpet and the legendary announcer Paul Kaye shouts: “Conor. You. Are. An. Ironman.” It’s an incredible feeling, and to achieve all this whilst living with MS makes me very proud.
2. Sense of adventure
“There is a serious amount of brainpower that goes into planning an Ironman, but it is one of the best adventures you will ever have. In fact, for someone like me, calling a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile cycle and marathon run an ‘adventure’ is an understatement. If you embrace everything about the event – including the logistics – this is an experience you will remember for the rest of your life. That is guaranteed.
3. Physical benefits
“If you commit to a training program of six months where you are either running, cycling or swimming six days a week, the physical health benefits are terrific. Assuming you pick a training programme suited to your capabilities, you will quickly start to have more energy and feel stronger. The health benefits of regular exercise are reason enough to give Ironman a go.
4. Mental health benefits
“Just as important as the physical benefits, is the mental health boost to finishing an Ironman. Not long ago, I would never have dreamt of entering one of these events, but I found through training and during and after the race that my confidence was at an all-time high. This is one of the world’s toughest physical challenges, so if you can get it done, you’ll feel ready to tackle whatever challenges life might throw at you. It’s incredibly empowering.
5. Motivational and Inspirational impact
Whether you set out to inspire people is irrelevant. Once they hear that you completed an Ironman, it has an incredibly motivational effect. One of the things I’ve found over the years is that it is one thing to inspire someone in the moment, but motivating them to get out there and do it too is another level altogether. The motivation has to come from within, but it can be developed if we keep an open mind. I know that becoming the Ironman I never thought possible has impacted others in a positive way and this is something I am incredibly proud off.
“So there you have it. If you were looking for a reason to sign up to one of these incredible races, I’ve just given you five. So go sign up, get it done, and brag about it for the rest of your life.”
You can find out more about multiple sclerosis and get support at www.mssociety.org.uk