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How Endurance Sports Saved My Life

An introduction into my unique brain chemistry:

October 6th was National Day Without Stigma. On that day I finally decided to be public about my unique brain chemistry. To hear my message click the link to my youtube video below:

National Day Without Stigma: I Have Bipolar Disorder

National Day Without Stigma: I Have Bipolar Disorder

During college many people find their identity. My freshman year of college I had my first extremely major depressive episode. I spent over 3 months torturing my brain, struggling to succeed in school, masking my emotions, and dealing with what I thought was stress. In 2005, two weeks before my sophomore year started at the University of Michigan College of Engineering, I was self-admitted to an in-patient psychiatric facility. Why was I in a psychiatric facility? I had a major manic episode that caused me to be awake for approximately 3 days straight. I then ended up in the hospital where I was given the option to receive help. I chose to receive treatment and help. During that week in the psychiatric facility I was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, also known as manic depression. I spent the next 9 years learning that my alternative brain chemistry is not a disorder and it is not an illness; it is a unique part of me that gives me strength and individuality in so many ways.

There are many things that I can attribute to this unique outlook on mental health. The people who were aware of my condition, immediate family, extremely close friends, my psychiatrist, support groups, and friends who weren’t aware of my condition all gave me strength and encouragement. Most importantly, I had to help myself and constantly work on being a stable and successful person.

From the beginning of my diagnosis, I recognized that my stress my freshman year of college actually severe depression. I distinctly remember the darkest weeks when I cried myself to sleep and woke up with my heart pounding in pools of my own sweat. I masked my emotions, tried to ‘act like a man,’ and ‘sucked it up.’ I wandered directionless and was so frozen by fear of failure that I couldn’t begin a thing.

Somehow I made it out alive. When you have lived depression, in the deepest, darkest holes of your own self-conscious, you never want to be there again. I committed to doing whatever I could to be an optimistic, positive, outwardly happy, outgoing, stress-free, and drama-free individual. This has been and always will be a work in progress that I pride myself in.

Eventually I made it through college, graduated with an Industrial and Operations Engineering Degree, and made so many long-lasting friendships that I value every day of my life. College laid the groundwork for many of the coping mechanisms which I have modified and still utilize in my life today. It also gave me the academic background to begin a career.

I began a career in software consulting and worked for Chicago based companies for 4 years. The socio-economic norms of the times and my history of instability told me to stay at a job that was safe and stable. I became quite content growing my career and living the yuppy lifestyle (young urban professional). I had a great social life and an outsider looking in would say that I was doing quite well for myself. But, if you read carefully, I said that I had become content.

There is a big difference between floating contently through life and living a fulfilled life. After struggling with another bout of depression stemming from being laid off from my first job and being immobile from reconstructive knee surgery, I decided to commit to training for triathlon. I didn’t know it at the time, but this commitment ended up saving my life. After I completed physical therapy, I jumped into the sport of triathlon. I began taking spin classes, running, and swimming at my local gym. Within a year and a half of knee surgery I was running half marathons and completed the Chicago Olympic Distance Triathlon. I made new friends in the triathlon community who helped encourage me to continue following my new-found passion for endurance sports.

Triathlons make me smile!

Triathlons make me smile!

Before I knew it I had friends signing up for various 2013 Ironman races in (you sign up to a year ahead of time for a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run). My friends planted the seed and soon I wanted to compete in an Ironman as well. I remembered back to participating in my second sprint triathlon ever in 2008. There was also a half-iron distance triathlon taking place on the same day. I remember thinking, “and they think I’m crazy? Those half-iron athletes are out of their minds! AND there is a full Ironman?! That is IMPOSSIBLE and there is no way I could ever do one of those.” So in late 2012, I found myself researching how I might be able to complete the impossible. What was the training like? How much commitment would be involved? How might my life change by doing this event? And the most important question before I signed up: I am prone to manic or depressive episode relapses when my body is stressed and doesn’t get enough sleep, should I really be doing this knowing that I have bi-polar disorder? (This is one piece of fear that has held me back for many years; I will continue to fight)

I struggled with this thought. As a software consultant, I had a very demanding job that required travel one out of three weeks a month and worked on average 40-60 hours a week. From my research, Ironman would require an average of 20-30 hours of training a week on top of my full time job. Also, it was extremely important that I made time for my friends and family while trying to pursue a very individualistic goal. I thought about my life, how much structure triathlon had already provided for me, and the success I was having with my career growth. I also thought about the stagnation my life was in.

I made the decision and registered for Ironman Louisville 2013. Want to know what happened on August 25th, 2014. I, Dan Hohs, became an Ironman! I have repeated to others over and over, that competing in an Ironman is much more than going out on one day, swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles. Competing in this magnitude of athletic endeavor is much more about the life journey than the day of the race; toeing the start line and hopefully finishing is just icing on the cake.

Geez Dan you are long winded! Wasn’t this supposed to be a blog piece about how endurance sports changed your life?

Dan Cycling in Salt Lake City Triathlon Training Aero

Oh yeah, endurance sports have provided me with the motivation to improve all aspects of my life, deeply reflect on who I am, and most importantly, learn that I can do what I once thought was impossible!

Here are my top 10 reasons why endurance sports have saved my life:

  1. Time Management – For 9 months, every week, I trained 20-30 hours a week, worked 40-60 hours, sometimes traveled Monday through Thursday, had an active social life, and had to make sure that I got at least 6 hours of sleep. It took a lot of planning on a regular basis to fit everything in.
  2. Sleep Schedule – Getting improper sleep (for me this means less than 6 hours of sleep multiple days in a row) is extremely detrimental to my mental health. I have gone into manic or depressive episode relapses which have severely altered my life path because of unnatural sleep patterns. Having to go to sleep at a reasonable time and wake up became paramount in having the energy to train, work, and maintain an active social life.
  3. Nutrition – As for all people, especially endurance athletes, maintaining a proper diet is vital to having enough energy. Being in full training mode invigorated my passion for cooking, eating healthier, and food in general.
  4. Social Life – With a history of insomnia and depression, my endless nights lying in bed ruminating often lead to thoughts of loneliness and despair. I made sure to let my friends and family know that Ironman training was high priority, but so was spending time with them. Putting time into my schedule for social activities encouraged healthy relationships and helped me be more social. I also gained a lot of knew friends through cycling, running, swimming, and triathlon groups.
  5. Stress Relief – Nothing like a good long bike, run, swim, high intensity workout, or just walk to clear the mind. Long workouts actually tend to clear the inner chatter in my mind and relax me.
  6. Procrastination – There is no time to procrastinate when you have a busy schedule. To be honest, the idea of completing an Ironman scares the heebeegeebees out of me. Knowing that I may not finish and end up in a medical tent ensured that I stuck to my schedule. I have often suffered from a lack of focus. I wouldn’t say that I have ADD, but I would definitely say that I can be unmotivated at times. I have learned to plan, be more efficient during the task at hand, execute, and move on to the next activity.
  7. Commitment – I was so committed to Ironman and gaining a multitude of skills to help me athletically. All of these skills crossed over into my professional and social life. I learned the importance of setting a goal and the obligation to try and do everything in my power to honor that commitment.
  8. Humility – It is not easy to do things alone. It became extremely important to ask for help, seek out mentors, and learn from other people. There is always somebody who is faster, stronger, smarter, more knowledgeable, and hopefully willing to share their wisdom with you.
  9. Fulfillment – When you spend countless hours training and endless hours working towards your goals, you are bound to start thinking what is important in your life. I have found more joy, satisfaction, happiness, inner peace, gratification, and pleasure in my life through all of my trials and tribulations. I am so thankful for how far I have come, and excited to see where I am going next!
  10. Learning from my mistakes – I am not saying that triathlons and endurance sports can solve all the problems in the world. In fact, I have had manic and depressive relapses at many times in my life. I have also lost jobs, relationships, been injured, and just plain been wrong. The most important thing is to learn from my hardships and use the teachings as strengths.

So I completed Ironman Louisville in 2013, I got a promotion to senior consultant 3 months later, and I still wasn’t completely fulfilled. I’m so thankful I took that leap of faith, registered, and trusted my own ability to grow. If I hadn’t, who knows? I may be more depressed, prone to substance abuse, and cycling between manic depressive episodes more often. I’ve learned that fulfillment is something to constantly work at. I am still learning, still fighting, still training, and constantly setting new goals. Completing an Ironman, riding across the United States, and being a business professional with bipolar disorder all seemed impossible to me at one point in my life. Turns out I was wrong. So I’ll finish off with one of my favorite quotes:

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
― Lewis CarrollAlice in Wonderland

I’ll never stop dreaming, and I’ll keep trying to make the impossible possible.

Dan Hohs You Are An Ironman

Completing the impossible!

One Comment

  1. Inspiring! Good for you, Dan! I’m happy for you

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