It started with a simple question for Y member Rich Watson.
“What if I had done more?”
It was 2007, and he had just watched the Iron Man Triathlon on TV.
“I am just stunned at what these people could do,” he said of the triathletes who swam 2 miles, biked 112 miles and then ran 26.2 miles.
Rich was nearing the 10-year anniversary of his diagnosis of Hodgkin’s disease. His treatment had been successful, and he was in remission.
But, because of the radiation and chemotherapy Rich endured, doctors told him that at that 10-year mark he could experience reduced lung capacity, heart issues and a severely weakened immune system because a portion of his spleen was removed.
The triathlon marked a conversion moment for Rich.
“I made a deal with myself that day that if I could ever get myself into that type of (triathlon) condition, I wouldn’t have to look back in my life and wonder, ‘What if I had done more to get healthy?’”
At that time, Rich said he weighed 291 pounds.
“I was lazy,” he said. “I was just a fat slob. I had every excuse in the book for what I had let myself become.”
He decided that day that he would complete an Iron Man triathlon and put to rest the question of “What if I had done more?”
He purchased a decent bike to start riding, began jogging and educated himself about swimming by watching YouTube and gathering advice from friends and staff at the YMCA.
The Y had just opened its new facility a year earlier, giving Rich plenty of opportunity to swim year-round.
He completed a super-sprint triathlon in 2008 in North Platte. That race consisted of 4 laps in the pool, a 7-mile bike and a 2-mile run.
He then competed in the YMCA’s first triathlon that same year and has competed in the triathlon every year since then.
That first year, he lost 40 pounds, mainly by just eliminating pop from his diet.
Then, he joined YMCA boot camp and learned about the importance of tracking calories, and that made another huge difference in his lifestyle. He has now tracked his food every day for the past 4 years.
He also met encouraging friends at the Y, who knew his goal.
“The Y was invaluable to me with the friendships and the facility it provided,” Rich said.
Rich continued to work toward his goal of an Iron Man triathlon, at times training for at least two hours a day and three to four hours on weekends. He has endured knee surgery, hamstring and Achilles injuries and all the other hardships that come along with training.
Last winter, he set a date to complete his Iron Man after coming across a motivational quote that said, “The difference between a dream and a goal is a deadline.”
For no particular reason, he chose Friday, June 12, 2015.
On that day he showed up at the YMCA, and at 5:31 a.m., he began his journey. He completed nearly the entire race at the Y, first starting in the pool and then moving to a group cycling bike and then finishing on a treadmill with the last mile outside.
He completed his goal in 12 hours, 24 minutes and 40 seconds.
“Right after I finished, I was just thrilled beyond belief,” Rich said. “I’ve thought about this every day for so long.”
The race was hard on his body, but not as bad as his body could have been without it.
Rich said at 17 years beyond his diagnosis and treatment for cancer, he has experienced none of the side effects they warned him about.
“Every time I go into my oncologist, it just gets better every year,” he said. “I couldn’t imagine feeling like I do now 10 years ago, or 15 years ago or 17 years ago.”
Rich will continue to set new goals for himself, including his current challenge of running 1,500 miles in 2015.
Rich, who is a vice president at First State Bank in Holdrege, is grateful for the Y for making this goal a possibility and has given back for about 5 years now by serving as a volunteer board member on the branch advisory board.
“The Y has had such an impact on me,” he said. “I just feel like if there’s anything I can add to that, I just want to help if I can.”
And, although he is humble about sharing his story, he knows it’s important for the bigger picture in life.
Last year, he ran 20 miles in his “Survivor” shirt in the Phelps County Relay for Life and was encouraged after another survivor came up to him with tears in her eyes saying he was an inspiration to her.
“I just think it’s something that God wanted me to do,” he said of the process of accomplishing his goal.
“All of the lessons you learn along the way. Maybe they are for me. Maybe they are for other people.”