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Xavier Magazine | August 17, 2017

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Ironman, Iron Mind

Ironman, Iron Mind
By Jacob Baynham

If exercise is an addiction, then swimming was Bryan Krabbe’s gateway drug. Krabbe’s mother, a nurse, is responsible.

She instilled healthy eating and fitness habits in her kids from an early age, and enrolled Krabbe and his sisters in swimming lessons. Krabbe developed a taste for the sport. He swam through high school at St. Xavier, and in college he dabbled in water polo.

It wasn’t until he was getting his master’s in nutrition at the University of Cincinnati that Krabbe started running. A friend training for a marathon turned him on to it. Krabbe, now a student in Xavier’s PsyD program, started jogging with her. “Nothing extreme,” he says, at first. “It was difficult. I ended up getting a lot of shin splints. I wasn’t used to that long-distance stuff.”

But it got easier, and soon he was training for marathons himself. “It gave me a goal,” he says. “A reason to exercise.” The more he ran, the faster he became. In 2004, he qualified for the Boston Marathon. “That was enjoyable,” he says. But before long, even marathons lost their luster. He hankered for a bigger challenge.

“One of my friends suggested triathlons,” Krabbe says. “He knew I was a swimmer and had been running. But I didn’t have a bicycle.” So he went out and bought one. “That might be fun,” he thought. “Something different.”

He started cycling with people, building up his distance. He entered some shorter triathlons, and then, in 2006, he signed up for the Ironman race in Madison, Wis., an exercise binge that packages a 2.4-mile swim with a 112-mile bike ride followed by a full marathon. Did he ever doubt he could do it?

“I didn’t really think about it that much,” he says. “That helped.” Two other things helped, too: the knowledge that a friend had done it, “and maybe some arrogance on my part.” The race began and 11 hours and 23 minutes later, an exhausted Krabbe crossed the finish line. It was a memorable high.

“This peace overcame me,” Krabbe says. “This huge sense of accomplishment and confidence that I can do pretty much anything I put my mind to.” The feeling went beyond fitness. It also inspired Krabbe to get his doctorate in psychology at Xavier, where he is, fittingly, president of the Student Health Advisory Council.

Madison didn’t kick Krabbe’s exercise habit, though. Six triathlons later he had shaved one hour and 40 minutes off his Madison time, finished second in his age group and qualified for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. He went there to join the world’s top endurance athletes in the 2011 race. “Being there, seeing the professional athletes, it was a dream come true,” he says.

With all that behind him, it’s hard to imagine any higher fitness aspiration for Krabbe. But he’s signed up for another triathlon this summer, one he hopes to win. He’s also helping friends and fellow Xavier students get hooked on exercising. Maybe not a triathlon right away, he says, but how about a 5K? Go on. Just try it.

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