Brian's iron will

Kenn Oliver
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Eight times resuscitated from clinical death, 14 operations, 36 blood transfusions, one indomitable soul ...

When competitors line up to start Sunday's Corner Brook BG Triathlon World Cup - a half-Ironman event - there will be a true ironman among the group.

Maryland native Brian Boyle is on the west coast to compete in his first triathlon since finishing the Ironman World Triathlon Championship in Kona, Hawaii last October.

In this Oct. 10, 2007 file photo, Brian Boyle (right) receives an impromptu blessing from fellow triathlete Sister Madonna Buder before the Ironman Triathlon World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Boyle has the word Alpha in Greek letters tattooed on

When competitors line up to start Sunday's Corner Brook BG Triathlon World Cup - a half-Ironman event - there will be a true ironman among the group.

Maryland native Brian Boyle is on the west coast to compete in his first triathlon since finishing the Ironman World Triathlon Championship in Kona, Hawaii last October.

It might seem like a step back for the 22-year-old to go from one of the sporting world's most grueling tests of physical endurance to one of its little sister events, but for Boyle, the race offers not only an opportunity to hone his triathlon skills, but a chance to honour the memory of his grandmother, Helen Gillies-Lineberger, an expatriate Newfoundlander and sister to well-known provincial Sports Hall of Famers Bill and Ted Gillies of St. John's.

"The main reason why I really want to do the Newfoundland Ironman is to do the race in memory of her," Boyle said this week.

Boyle hasn't been to the province in over 14 years.

In 2004, it looked like he may never return.

Not long after graduating from high school, Boyle was involved in a horrific motor vehicle collision with a dump truck that left the Maryland state champion swimmer's body battered and broken. The impact of the crash "knocked his heart across his chest," shattered his ribs, clavicle and pelvis, collapsed his lungs, caused severe nerve damage to his left shoulder, damaged most of his major organs and left the 18-year-old with a 60 per cent loss of blood.

For the following two months, Boyle lay in a hospital bed in a chemically-induced coma. He was resuscitated eight times from clinical death. He was on pain medication far more powerful than morphine. He underwent 14 operations, 36 blood transfusions and 13 plasma treatments.

Life as he had known it, even from the perspective of his doctors, was over.

"Every day, it seemed to get worse and worse," Boyle said of his time in the coma.

He was unable to communicate, yet recalls being aware of his surroundings.

"Having my parents on both sides of me every day crying, begging me to keep fighting. Having nurses and doctors talk about nursing homes and being a vegetable. I couldn't show them I was there."

But he was there, even when the priest arrived to administer his last rites.

It was then he realized, for better or for worse, he didn't want to be a part of the ordeal any longer.

"My parents realized I had given up. My dad started yelling at me, a tough love kind of thing, begging me to keep going, to not give up, to not give in.

"I realized at that point the pain I was feeling was pretty bad, but it was nowhere near the severity of the pain my parents felt and that's when I realized I had to do something. If I didn't make it, they wouldn't either."

Slowly, he began showing signs of life. A blink of the eye, a squeeze of the hand ... strong visual clues to those around him there was still life in Brian Boyle. He was not ready to give up.

"Before I knew it, I was out of my death bed, out of the hospital and in rehab learning how to eat, talk and walk again."

Surviving was only half the battle for Boyle; his ultimate goal was far more ambitious.

Following graduation, Boyle had three objectives: to attend college, swim for his school's varsity team, and lastly - a goal he had set for further down the road in life - to finish an Ironman triathlon.

Following the accident, Boyle realized two of those dreams by making it to college and swimming with the school's relay team. Unfortunately, halfway through the season, fluid started to build up around his heart and lungs, forcing him to cut his season short.

Once recovered, but still too weak to swim competitively, Boyle spent the last part of his freshman year and his entire sophomore year body building in order to regain strength.

This past year, his third at St. Mary's College in St. Mary's, Md., Boyle took to the water again, proving to be one of the school's top swimmers.

Feeling good about how far he had come since the accident that nearly ended his short life, Boyle contacted the Ironman organization in May of 2007, inquiring about event eligibility and sharing his amazing story in the process.

Boyle had no intention of trying to complete an Ironman triathlon that year - he was looking at five, 10 or even 15 years down the road.

"When they emailed me a month later, the deal was that if I could get the medical approval from my doctors and I could complete at least one half-Ironman, then I would have the media slot for the 2007 Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii in October."

At the time, Boyle was still lifting weights and tipping the scales at 220 pounds, hardly an ideal weight for someone looking to endure a 2.4-mile swim, 112 miles on a bike, and a 26.2-mile marathon along the Hawaiian coast.

On top of that, Boyle had no previous experience in distance biking - "I didn't even know you had to clip your feet into the pedals" - and none running marathons. Even as a collegiate sprint swimmer, Boyle knew he wasn't prepared for the grueling distance through the ocean.

But he took the plunge. With approval from his doctors, Boyle started training and completed a half-Ironman in Michigan later that summer. It left him just six weeks to prepare for the big event in Kona.

"There wasn't much hope of me finishing that race," he said. "Barely anybody thought I could do it with what I've been through over the years with the accident, the recovery and all the injuries.

"Having that, plus the fact that I only had six weeks of training, it wasn't looking good."

But what he had, crediting the accident and subsequent recovery, was mental toughness.

"It's pretty much like a 90 per cent mental race having to get through those 17 hours. It takes a lot of mental fortitude to do that and luckily I had it built up over the years of coming back to life."

Boyle did finish the race, in a time of 14 hours, 42 minutes and 35 seconds placing him 1,564th in a field of 1,800.

Crossing the finish line was as much for his supporters, as it was for him.

"It was as if everyone's focus and support paid off. Everything I do is out of appreciation for my family, my friends, for everything they've done."

This weekend's event in Corner Brook is a qualifier for the half-Ironman world championship in Clearwater, Fla. this November. But more importantly, Boyle is looking forward to being able to celebrate completing another triathlon in front of his own personal Newfoundland support squad.

"We're kind of far from Newfoundland here in Maryland, but we stay in very close contact," he said. "Especially after the accident and during the recovery. The support from them, from the churches in Newfoundland ... everyone's been so wonderful, so caring and supportive."

Today Boyle - a personal trainer, swim coach and motivational speaker - is working on a biography and a series of fitness manuals for others recovering from disabling accidents. And he has plans to compete in another Ironman Triathlon down the road.

In the meantime, he plans on living life to the fullest.

"The doctors gave me a 50-year life expectancy, so I'm trying to make the most out of every day that I have, and I just try to do it with a smile the whole time."

koliver@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Ironman organization

Geographic location: Maryland, Kona, Corner Brook Hawaii St. John's Newfoundland Mary St. Mary's, Md. Michigan Clearwater, Fla.

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Recent comments

  • fred
    July 02, 2010 - 13:20

    A truly remarkable and inspirational story.

    Congratulations Brian! You are inspiration to everyone who hears or reads this story.

  • Maryann
    July 02, 2010 - 13:14

    Wow! What an extraordinary young man. His courange and determination and iron will is a fine example to everyone - young, old, disabled - that nothing is insurmountable. Great work Kenn; a wonderful human interest feature.

  • fred
    July 01, 2010 - 20:03

    A truly remarkable and inspirational story.

    Congratulations Brian! You are inspiration to everyone who hears or reads this story.

  • Maryann
    July 01, 2010 - 19:54

    Wow! What an extraordinary young man. His courange and determination and iron will is a fine example to everyone - young, old, disabled - that nothing is insurmountable. Great work Kenn; a wonderful human interest feature.