Natalie Kfoury – Co-Editor-in-Chief
Imagine swimming to Franco’s and back. Imagine biking from Lasell to Portland, Maine. Imagine running the Boston Marathon. Now, imagine doing all three in one day. For Professor Neil Hatem, this wasn’t just something he had to imagine, this was his reality. Hatem, a math and Honors Program professor, participated in the Ironman Lake Placid competition on July 28.
Hatem, who runs the Boston Marathon each year, decided to participate in the Ironman competition, which consists of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and a full 26.2-mile marathon, while he was participating in a sprint tri- athlon, a shorter version of an Ironman, five years ago. During the race, Hatem nearly drowned and broke his bike with six miles to go, resulting in him carrying the bike the rest of the way, but he managed to finish strong.
“I started to think that I could do something bigger, and I actually enjoyed [the sprint triathlon], [which] is sick, I know,” said Hatem. “I’ve always wanted to say I was an Ironman…finishing that sprint triathlon under those conditions helped me realize it may be possible.”
To train for the Ironman, Hatem hired Mary Holt-Wilson, a triathlon training coach, who sent him daily training schedules. Hatem began train- ing in January and progressed up to 18 hours a week, training in Newton, on Martha’s Vineyard, and at Boston Sports Club in Wellesley.
While his training prepared him for the event, Hatem faced many nerve-wracking moments and even feared for his life.
“Honestly, I was scared that I could die, especially during the swim, where most tragedies occur,” said Hatem. During the swim, Hatem battled more than 2,000 other swimmers who could not avoid punching and kicking each other as they swam. He nearly suffered from a panic attack, resulting in a brutal headache that lasted for the first few hours of the bike ride.
“I was told by many people that I would want to quit numerous times,” said Hatem. “So when I wanted to quit, I would just think of my wife and kids waiting to hug me at the end, and I would push through the bad moments.”
In order to obtain a medal for the triathlon, Hatem had to finish the course in 17 hours. He finished it in 16 and a half.
“Running the final lap by the Olympic Stadium, where the 1980 USA hockey team shocked the world, was the best moment of my athletic life,” said Hatem. “Seeing my wife and kids and one of my best friends who showed up with four of his seven kids near the finish line and crossing it was very, very cool.”
Michael Daley, environmental studies professor, was at Ironman Lake Placid. A former Ironman athlete, Daley has been trying to get back into the sport and knew Hatem would be participating.
“I saw him for about ten seconds as he came into the turn and started his climb up the mountain. We exchanged a hello and I yelled at him to get up the hill,” said Daley.
In a testament to the length of the Ironman, Daley said after seeing Hatem he had lunch, played a round of golf, went swimming, ate dinner, and put his children to bed. After watching a movie with his wife, Daley turned on the computer around 11:00 p.m. and could see Hatem cross the finish line and celebrate with his family.
Hatem is not sure if another Ironman triathlon is in his future. He would consider doing it again in eight years if his son, who will be 18 at the time, wants to. For now, he focuses his attention on the 2014 Boston Marathon, one that will mean a lot as he was unable to finish this past year due to the bombings. He was only half a mile from the finish line.
“I want to stay healthy and finish it in less than four and a half hours. The simple goal is to finish,” said Hatem.
For now, Hatem will continue to inspire students in and out of the classroom. “Every day I try to be the best person I can be,” he said. “There are 24 hours in a day and I only need seven of those to sleep. That leaves 17 hours to do everything else. I also realize we are only here for a short period of time and I want to make the most of it.”