Get to know Michael Milton a little...
You see this story is all about courage, sacrifice and mate-ship. It all started about three months ago when I got a phone call from Michael Milton asking if I was keen to help him achieve his attempt at a world record for a one legged man in the marathon. In this case Michael was attempting to, not only break the world record, but was competing in his very first ever marathon at the Gold Coast Marathon. The standing record of 6hrs 42min, set by Simon Baker at the 2008 Dublin Marathon, was the time to beat. Just in case you don't know Michael, here is a short bio on his life: 5;23;30
Lost his leg to bone cancer when he was nine years of age and went on to represent Australia in seven Paralympic Games as a downhill skier, cyclist or as a triathlete. Michael actually still holds the record for being the fastest Australian downhill skier at 213km/h, which beats the top recoded speed by even able-bodied skiers. Just think about that for a second - 213km/h skiing on one leg down a mountain that will kill you if you happen to fall! The mind boggles! But fall he didn't, but then in 2007 he was struck down with cancer again, this time oesophagael cancer. The world of hard knocks keeps trying to pin this man to the ground but to no avail, as Michael successfully won yet another battle against cancer. Michael is proudly and lovingly supported by his beautiful wife Penni and their two young children in Matilda and Rowdy. Michael has supported Smiling for Smiddy since he completed the Midi Smiddy event back in 2010 and since that day a great friendship has formed between Michael and I. Here is Michael's website if you are keen to learn more http://www.michaelmilton.com/Home.aspx
Declan 'Duck' Hegarty - This 'Duck' will inspire you!
Declan had been diagnosed with a Glioblastoma Multiform High Grade Stage 4 Spinal Tumour about 18 months ago. This is a malignant incurable cancer that is extremely aggressive. He defied the odds and lived longer than most kids who contract this terrible disease, but eventually the little fella, with the biggest of hearts, succumbed to it last week. His parents have a Facebook page up for Declan so if you wish to know more here is the link.
The kindness of the Hegarty family will astound you!
Here is the thing about Declan and his family, even in the worst time-period of their lives they are are still thinking of others. Let me explain; Michael is allowed to have helpers to achieve his goal, we can't run for him but we are allowed to give him food and water and he had to be filmed the entire way as proof and verification of his record attempt. You see, Michael does not use a prosthetic leg, the only way he knows, which just happens to be the hardest possible way, is he runs on just one leg with the aid of carbon-fibre crutches. Once locked into these crutches his ability to use his hands are severely limited. So the following helpers were employed. Tony Hegarty, Declan's Uncle, but with the stress of losing his nephew Tony became so ill he was bedridden and a replacement was found in George Takis. George was to do the last half of the marathon. Steve Waters, a great mate of mine and long time Smiddy supporter was locked in to do the first half of the marathon but I know he secretly hoped to run the lot. A back issue he carried into the event would be the deciding factor. As for my role, I was to complete the entire event as Michael asked me to carry the backpack that had the go-pro camera attached, plus a bladder of water, phone, spare batteries, gels, bars etc. Besides the three helper runners there was a young lady by the name of Alyssa Coe, who you may of seen me mention a few times in my French Alps blog? Well she was emergency backup on a pushbike in case anything unforeseen happened.
Now here is the thing; Marty and his daughter Holly, so Declan's father and his sister, were there offering support as well. Marty popped up everywhere all over the marathon course as he cheered Michael's record attempt on, and Holly was helping out at the finish line. These guys had just lost Declan, been to his funeral two days prior and it just blows my mind that they still had the capacity to not only perform but to still be thinking of others. My heart went out to them both. My thoughts went out to Tony and his beautiful wife Jocelyn, and of course to Marty's wife Dallas and their immediate family doing it tough back home. As Rowan and I were in France we both missed little Declan's funeral. But a huge thank you to Jess and Anna and quite a few Smiddy riders who turned up on the day and represented Smiddy. I love you guys, you know that!
Steve my friend will ease the pain
So here is my account of what turned out to be a cracker of a day; You could not have asked for better weather with a mild winters morning of 18 degrees, beautiful clear skies and very little wind greeting the thousands of runners who turned up to run in either the half or full marathons. The starting lineup was of course Michael, who would be attempting the record run, Steve Waters, who was to run beside Michael and fetch food, water and Gatorade as was required and also to keep an eye on the pacing. My job was to run as smoothly as possible and immediately in front of Michael. The Go-Pro camera, set up in the backpack, would record for the entire duration of the marathon. Michael admitting to shitting himself with nerves prior to the run and I was pretty much the same as I did not want to stuff up in any way. The pressure was on! I can't begin to tell you how pleased I was to have Steve there helping out. If you want a reliable man to get any job done; maybe to wrestle Great White Sharks, or to pace a world record attempt, then Steve is your man. A nicer and friendlier man you will not find on this planet.
Ready, set, go! We have a marathon to run
The starters gun fires and a sea of runners depart eager to get to Burleigh Heads as quickly as possible prior to the strong sea breeze that ultimately always kicks in at some point in the marathon. Michael wanted to go out at no faster than seven-minute kilometre pace; first kilometre was six something, can't remember exactly but the message was loud and clear, "Sharky slow down". Whoops okay, there was that pressure. I wanted to get this right. Too fast a start could mean a disaster in the closing kilometres. Well it took a few kilometres but eventually we got it right; 7:03, 7:12, Steve was calling out the times, "Good work Shark, That's better mate, spot on champ." By kilometre seven the pressure had eased as the team worked like a well oiled machine. I expected the kilometres to tick by ever so slowly but was amazed at how quickly time moved forward. I think mainly due to the fact we were constantly entertained by the following incidents:
1. The overwhelming vocal support from the many hundreds of people that line the course at various points. All shouting for Michael, recognising what he was attempting was very special indeed.
2. The japanese dude that ran while playing tunes on a huge Tuba, complete with cymbals attached and decorated like Big Bird from Sesame Street. He was hilarious and going at about the same pace as us so we saw him frequently.
Another Japanese guy dressed as a horse and cowboy in one, who would stop frequently and entertain the crowd with his horsemanship skills.
3. Again the many Japanese, male and female runners that run with their cameras and stop and take photos along the way.
4. The funniest moment was when Steve was asked to take a photo for a Japanese female runner as she ran alongside of Michael at the 20 kilometre mark. Poor Steve had hurt his back and was clearly on the pain-train but still obliged her request. Another kilometre down the road Steve was forced to retire as he stopped by a telephone pole and helped to hold it up. Or so I thought...
Alyssa and George hook up
Meanwhile Alyssa had George's race number and had agreed to meet George at the 20 kilometre mark of the marathon. Well that was the plan before George decided to phone Alyssa and ask her to come to the 15km point, which she did but could not locate him. Eventually after some frantic time trialling on her hybrid bike that was not meant for speed, Alyssa, a little disheveled and a tad sweaty, George was located, number pinned on his chest and George joined us from the 19 kilometre point and immediately took charge. Marty had told me at the start;
"Just wait until you meet George, he is one focused man and will be an asset to Michael's record attempt."
Getting to know George
Well this turned out to completely true. While I crapped myself with worry about getting everything right and saying the right things to Michael, Old Georgie Boy waltzes in and starts telling Michael; "Okay how much you been drinking? Nah you need more than that. How about food and gels? Not good enough, need more than that. How's the pace been? Okay we are going to change that! Alright we are going to walk a bit here, get more fluid in, more nutrition, not too much walking, harden up, this is what it's all about, come on pick it up, no more walking, push on mate!"
He was brilliant and Michael just did everything he said and went on to break the world record by over an hour. George you can coach me any day old son!
Super Alyssa to the rescue!
Throughout that last half of the marathon Alyssa came in handy as she went in search of a shop to buy Gatorade, had to be gatorade as anything else did not work for Michael after his oesophagael cancer. At one point we had her carrying five bottles of water, Gatorade or Coke. When Steven's back went on him at the 22k kilometre mark, Alyssa was sent back to see if she could help thanks to being a trained massage therapist. She delivered the bad news to us that Steve was going to call his wife to collect him as his back was too sore to continue. I was gutted as I know how important it was for Steve to be there for Michael.
Don't you dare complain Smoothy!
On a personal note my training for this marathon consisted of 1500 kilometres of riding my bike and 28,000 metres of climbing for the two Smiddy tours in the French Alps. Which I might add were extremely successful events raising in excess of $100,000 for cancer research. Throw in a few 20 and 45 min minute runs off the bike and I was hoping my experience would look after me on the day. Thanks must go to Alyssa once again for picking me up from the airport on Saturday night in Brisbane at 11pm and driving me directly to our accommodation on the Gold Coast. Severely jet-lagged and snatching a few hours sleep I awoke very foggy in the brain at 5:30am and could not quite believe that I was now going to run a marathon! Anyway from the 30 kilometre mark my hip flexors and quads protested louder than any Ironman marathon I had ever done. I had to keep telling myself this; "Smoothy don't you dare say a thing, there is a man running with one leg behind you and he isn't complaining, just deal with it ya big sook!" And so I did. Yeh sure it all kind of sounds crazy I admit, but how often do you get to be part of a world record attempt and get to help out a mate along the way? Not often -if ever- I do believe.
Michaels sponsors believe in him and how good are Hoka shoes?
Michael's main sponsor is Toyota who have stood by him for years now, but a new sponsor he picked up a while ago has managed to help improve his run times. His shoes sponsor is an innovative company called Hoka One. These shoes have over twice the shock absorbancy of any other shoe on the market. Part of the deal of being a support runner was I got to try out a pair of these amazing shoes. I chose a half trail/road version due to the amount of offroad running I do. Anyway if you say yes to any of these questions then maybe they are for you as well. You have bad knees, weak ankles or suffer from early fatigue in your running, especially off the bike? Well I can now recommend these shoes whole heartedly. I took them to Europe with me and my longest run was 45 minutes. Then on marathon day we were out there for over five hours with no ill effects, I was impressed and will be back to try out their road version for my next Ironmnan in December in Busselton. Here is the website if you wish to know more: http://www.hokaoneone.com.au/
Comeback Steve and final six kilometres
We got to the final turn and knew we had just six kilometres remaining into quite a strong headwind. George and I formed a human two man shield running as close as possible, shoulder to shoulder and invited Michael to tuck in behind. It was not much but we hoped that it gave him a mental lift more than a physical advantage. Coming over the second last bridge we got the shock of our lives when Steve was spotted still running. As I found out later, he took some pain killers and continued on, hoping to eventually catch us but fell short by about two kilometres. A gutsy effort on behalf of the big fella but one that I know he is paying for now two days after the event as I type this. The disc related back issue will see him a regular at the physio for the next few weeks. I tip my hat to you sir and admire your toughness and resilience to go on and finish on Sunday.
World record time done and dusted by Milto
So there it was, George, Michael and myself running side by side for the remaining 200 metres, I took off my backpack and continued to film from a side on view and enjoyed hearing the claps and shouts of admiration from the crowd for what Michael had achieved. A 5:23:30 marathon with two legs is a pretty darn good time for your first marathon. With one leg and to slice over an hour off a world record is phenomenal, but to do it in your first marathon is super human, and that is my mate Michael, a super human husband to his wife Penni, as she is to him, a super human dad to his awesome children, and a super human friend to those that are closest to him. I am proud to call him my mate!
Finish line emotions
Michael put so much into finishing that marathon that as he crossed the line he virtually collapsed into a chair. He hands were severely blistered, physically he was spent and emotionally he had nothing more to give. After five minutes he was able to talk to the interviewer and through tears of sheer joy and relief at being able to stop and at what he had achieved, he said some really lovely words aimed at his family and the support he got from his four helpers. He especially mentioned his mate Marty and the loss of his son last week, and that a part of him was running for Declan today. Tears flowed freely and the icing on the cake was when three of Australia's most famous and successful marathoners were there to greet Michael after he finished. Robert DeCastella, Steve Monaghetti and Lee Troop.
Sharky's final words
I can't begin to tell you what an amazing day I had experienced because of my involvement with this run. For Michael it must be ten-fold. Jet-lag and lack of training aside it is without doubt, up there with one of the most enjoyable but hardest experiences of my life. The next day, Monday, I was a train wreck. Just ask Alyssa, who wisely refused my offer to drive home from the Gold Coast. The past three weeks in the French Alps, the news of Declan hitting hard, the long trip home, the late night and lack of sleep, the marathon, the emotions of the day, all came crashing down on me yesterday. I tried to blog but was hopeless so let it go another day and my thoughts are back with resilience today.
I sure do hope you enjoyed this account of Michael's very special day. For now it is back to work and my next blog will be about our brand new reunion ride happening at the end of the month. Over the past eight years over 1000 Smiddy riders, triathletes and swimmers have been part of the Smiddy journey. We are inviting them to join us in a one day ride to Noosa, 160km's, staying overnight with their family at the RACV Resort, where a celebration dinner will take place, before making their way home the next day.
Until then my friends,