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I am an IRONMAN

Updated: Apr 28, 2020


This all began as an assignment for a class, with the prompt being "what is your story?" and I felt there was no greater time to tell this story than now.

If you are interested, yes, I did get an A+ on this assignment,

This is a story I have been wanting to share, but have been afraid to share it. But I also want nothing more than to share it.

I plan to continue to work on this, and create it into a book someday. Never did I ever think about writing my own book, but hey; there's a first for everything.

Many of you read the one page article that the school newspaper at UW-La Crosse wrote about me, and that was sort of the G rated version of it. This is the R rated version. The story that has all the painful details, all the stories, and emotions, and everything full on. I'm incredibly grateful for those that worked on my story for the newspaper. Thank you for helping me get this all started.

A handful of people have read this entire story and I've had nothing but positive feedback. My goal with this is to inspire people to live their dreams, and not let whatever life throws at you stop you.

*WARNING* This follow post may not be easy for all to read. For those who have struggled with depression, eating disorders, or abuse of any sort, proceed with caution. For all my other friends and family who did not know all these things about me, you may be shocked by what you read.

But please, to all my friends, family, and loved ones, know that I AM OKAY. All that has happened has shaped me into the person I am today. I feel no hate, or negative emotion towards anyone or anything in my past. I have forgiven those that have hurt me. I have forgiven myself for hurting me. I have gotten the help and support I needed. I was never alone. I am at peace with who I was, and who I am, and who I'm becoming.

And also, please; share my story. Share it with anyone and everyone you know. I want this story shared. I want the social awareness for all these problems, I want people to know it's okay to struggle, I want people to know that they have the power to be exactly who they want to be. Your past does not define you.

Go out and be the person you know you are meant to become.

I love you all. Thank you. And enjoy.

 

Wow. “What’s your story?” I’ve been asked this question before. However, I’ve never really gone deep into the actual answer. I’ve never been in a place in my life I felt comfortable sharing the truth. Now, I’m confident I’m ready. This is my story, and it’s time it was shared.

Before this begins you must know, this is not an easy story to share, nor is it easy to listen to or read, so proceed with caution. It’s been a journey and a long, tough road; let’s begin.

We’ll start with high school, when I started really caring about what other people thought of me. Way too much. When I started to discover social media, and began to compare myself to everything I saw. Was I pretty enough, skinny enough, athletic enough, smart enough? All those things that teenage girls obsess about. I took it too far.

I don’t know exactly when depression and anorexia started to affect my life, but they most definitely did. I didn’t even realize it was happening until it got pretty bad. I remember I started to bring my own lunches to school to have the most control over my diet. Control was a big thing for me. Controlling my diet, my exercise, my sleep, my water, I tracked it all like a crazy person. I learned that even if I didn’t eat, if I drank enough water I would feel full, so the hunger pains wouldn’t bother me so bad. I would weigh myself daily, multiple times a day usually, too. The only real, full meals I would eat would be dinner, so my parents wouldn’t question my eating habits.

I was in sports in high school too, so I was also exercising constantly. I was very, very thin. And to me, it still wasn’t enough. I wanted to be skinnier, skinnier, even skinnier. Depression hit me hard. I felt I wouldn’t be loved, appreciated, and accepted if I wasn’t skinny. I remember obsessing over models on Pinterest; their perfect bodies with their perfect hair and makeup. This is what a woman was supposed to look like. These were the standards I was supposed to meet. I had to look like them. I read about dieting tips and how to fight the hunger and cravings, to the point where I would find web pages basically promoting anorexia, where others would post what they would do to lose the weight.

I remember my hair falling out, thinning. My beautiful, long hair I was spending so much time perfecting, was thinning. It made me so sad, yet still I refused to believe I had a problem. I remember one day, going up to my room and crying myself to sleep, exhausted from how little I had been eating, which was barely a full meal in multiple days. The physical and mental issues made me an insomniac too, with all the negative thoughts running rampant through my head, crying myself to sleep was a fairly common occurrence.

After passing out in my room, I remember waking up, and it was almost like an out of body experience. Everything was so still, and silent. I don’t remember color, I remember it being black and white. I couldn’t hear a single thing. It was different than normal silence, it was complete nothing. No air movement, no sound of the trees outside, no sound of me sitting up in my bed, of the bed sheets passing each other, no sounds of my old house creaking, nothing. I couldn’t feel anything either. There was a complete stillness to life. I remember thinking, “Am I dead?” I truly thought I was. To test if I was, I made one of the worst decision I could’ve made, and self harmed for the first time.

After this I snapped out of whatever weird state I was in. I felt the pain. All of the pain. The physical pain, the emotional pain, the empty feeling inside. Even still upon fully waking, I remember this moment had an affect on me for multiple days. I remember being unable to taste food, and having minor hearing issues. After hurting myself, I started a bad habit of self harm for about a year. The physical pain on the outside, just ever so briefly distracted me from the pain on the inside.

Summer going into my senior year of high school was the hardest. I’m 5’8” and weighed 112 pounds. On my wrist, there is a tattoo of a giraffe. Everyone asks me why I have it. My best friend from high school has the exact same one. And even though we rarely talk anymore, I will never regret that tattoo. She is the one who talked me out of suicide.

I remember being home alone. I was sitting on the floor of my kitchen, just uncontrollably sobbing. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had a plan to make it all stop. I knew exactly what I would do. I would overdose. I would take as many painkillers as I could, and drink as much alcohol as I could. I would put deep cuts into my arms. I would pass out. I wouldn’t wake up.

I was scared. I was crying. I wanted it all to end, but how could I do this to my loved ones? My family? My mom and dad? Then my phone buzzed. I hadn’t even been talking to my friend. She texted me, “Are you okay?” Somehow she just knew, I wasn’t. NO. No I was not okay. She talked to me for hours. I am alive today because of her. She will always be my best friend, no matter how much, or how little we talk.

I had made it through high school, and got my first job, and this is when my life began to change for the better.

Since the point of this story is not to sell you on my job position, I won’t really talk about my job, but the experience I’ve had while working there. I went into it quite obviously very unconfident in myself. I was shy, nervous, and horrendous at talking to people. This job forced me outside my comfort zone, HARD. But I really needed the job, so I did it anyway. I had always thought that as a female, I should remain passive in what I do. To not take charge, not be a leader. This job showed me that was wrong. That I could be a leader, and that I could be strong and courageous. Four years ago I never would have imagined I’d still be working there today, or that my coworkers would become my best friends and second family.

I was suddenly surrounded by people who encouraged me, pushed me to be my best, and helped me reach my goals, and never once judged me for who I was or who I wanted to become. I gained a confidence in myself I never knew I had, that I never knew was even possible. I began to turn into a person I did not know I was even allowed to become by society’s standards.

For about two years longer I had my ups and downs with anorexia and depression still. Not nearly as bad as high school, but still an issue. I was sick of it. I was done. Some co-workers told me about this conference called Unleash the Power Within by Tony Robbins. I know, I know, it sounds incredibly cheesy. For those of you that don’t know, Tony Robbins is a very famous motivational speaker. I had other friends that had gone in the past, and said it was an outstanding, life changing experience. So my friends and I dropped a boat load of cash on this event, made plans, and we went.

It was, indeed, incredible. One of the greatest weeks of my life. I laughed harder than I’ve ever laughed, cried harder than I’ve ever cried, I danced my heart out with strangers who felt like family, and shouted on the top of my lungs. I even walked across a bed of hot coals and earned the title “Fire Walker.” It was truly a life changing experience. Leaving the event I felt fully confident knowing my depression and anorexia would never cause me detrimental issues ever again. And they never did, and never have. It was the greatest week of my life thus far, which was the beginning to my worst year ever.

The entire week I spent at the Tony Robbins event, I was snap chatting and messaging a ton of my friends, one of them being my friend Todd Berger. He had been to the event before, and was so excited for me to go and experience it too. It was my birthday when I got back, so we had made plans to get dinner and talk about the event.

The day I got back I was on cloud nine. I went to my classes, I aced an exam, and was just having a damn good day. When I got home from class and checked my phone, my life came crashing down.

I had found out my friend Todd had just committed suicide.

So many thoughts went through my head. I just beat depression, how could this happen to my friend, someone I love? This can’t be real. This is a joke. It’s fake. I called so many people. What the hell happened. I was just talking to him. And now he’s gone.

I very vividly remember this day.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. This pain was a pain I had never felt before. It was constant. It wouldn’t go away, and it was eons worse than the pain I had felt previously in high school. It was simultaneously a constant pain, and a numbness.

During this entire time, my grandmother was in the hospital with cancer. She had had it before, and she had beaten it. I was so sure she would be fine. This time though, the cancer was too much. For many months, I watched her slowly deteriorate before my eyes. It was incredibly painful to watch, and try not to let this cause me even further pain than what I was already feeling. It was even harder to watch how it affected my family. Three months after Todd had passed, my grandmother did too. More pain. More numbness. More confusion.

I felt like I was floating through life. Of course, some days I was happy. But most days I just felt lost. I waited for the mourning phases, the stages of grief to pass. However the pain didn’t end here. Yet again, three months later, another tragedy occurred.

This third thing doesn’t begin to have words that fully comprehend the crushing power it had on my soul, my being, my entire me. It crushed my everything, mind, body, and spirit. The events of this night will forever be engraved into my brain.

I was at a dance. I’m a ballroom dancer, and frequently in the area there are social dances. They’re incredibly fun, and make networking with other students in the area really easy too. This evening we were in Winona. We had just gotten done with a big competition in the Twin Cities a few weeks prior, so everyone was just having a blast. I had some friends in Winona, and another friend visiting from out of town I had just recently met at the Twin Cities competition. We had all gotten dinner after the dance and it was pretty late, so we decided to stay at our friends’ place since they lived right in Winona.

This friend, was a guy. He was nice. We had been talking for awhile, and danced a lot a the competition, and at the dance that evening. It was a little flirtatious and all around fun. When everyone had decided to go to bed that night we stayed up and talked a bit. It was just me and him in the room, our friends stayed in a separate room. We had all began to fall asleep. Early that morning he woke me up.

I will not share the details of this evening. There’s only one thing you need to know. When I told him to stop, when I told him no, when I tried to shove him off me, and pry his hands off my arms, he didn’t listen. He didn’t stop.

The next morning I laid there. Wishing I was dead. I wanted to run, but my body felt so frozen. I wanted to cry, and scream, but I sat in silence. When I finally was able to leave, I remember almost throwing up in my car multiple times on the ride home. I kept hyperventilating. I kept having panic attacks. I could still smell him on my clothes. What the hell do I do now?

For multiple days it was a challenge to just leave my room in the morning. This fear consumed me. I wasn’t safe anymore. No where felt safe. Not my room. Not walking to class. Not classrooms. Not a friends dorm. Nothing.

Todd was dead. My grandmother was dead. My entire being was shattered. How does one cope with all of this? At first I drank. A lot. I drank until I couldn’t feel anything anymore. It took away the pain, and the loss. Luckily, I noticed quickly how destructive of a behavior this was. I needed to find another output. So I worked out. I had to force myself into the recreational center, which was always filled with people, but I did it. I worked harder than I had ever worked before. I had asthma all through high school, so even though I did sports, I never pushed myself. I began running farther than I had ever ran before, and biking farther than I had ever biked before. I began lifting weights more, and hit PR after PR after PR, channeling all of this energy and negativity I had into the gym. When one day I decided, I’m going to take this worst year of my life, and turn it into my greatest year ever. I refused to be defeated. I refused to feel destroyed.

I signed up for my first triathlon sprint. I remember my mother doing one when I was younger, and with these new distances I was achieving I thought, heck I’ll do one too. It went pretty well! But it wasn’t enough. I needed more. 5ks and triathlon sprints just didn’t quite cut it. And that’s when the term “ironman” came into my life.

I had begun a new position at work, though still with the same company, and got to meet some new people. I was excited, because these were the elites, and I was about to join them. One I became very close with, and he was training for his first ironman. We had talked about it quite a bit, and I was so inspired. The seed was planted. This was it. I was going to do one too.

An ironman is one of the world’s most difficult triathlons to complete. It is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run all completed in one day. 140.6 miles and one day. So, I began training.

I trained for a year. I started training right around the one year anniversary of Todd’s death. It was the single hardest thing I had ever trained for in my entire life. And every time it got difficult, I remembered Todd. I remembered my grandmother. I remembered the boy who destroyed me. I would become an ironman. And nothing was going to stop me. The ironman would be my redemption, it would be me taking back control of my life. I can be whoever I want to be. My past does not define me. I refused to be broken and hurt any longer.

I remember waking up at 4am on race day, September 10, 2017. I had hardly slept. I was so terrified. Afraid of passing out, afraid of crashing on the bike course, afraid of heat stroke, afraid of not meeting the cut off times, afraid of failing. I could not fail. Failure was not an option. I would not stop. I would not quit. All I had to do was just keep moving. Throughout the year of training I had cried many times. Through injuries, setbacks, and various other things. But today, I was not allowed to cry. Not until I crossed that finish line.

My swim wave started at 6:45am. I was ready. I had trained. It was time. Each section of the course had it’s own ups and downs. The swim took me one hour and forty minutes. Around mile two of the swim, I remember wanting it to be over. I wanted flat ground underneath me again. Open water swimming makes me so dizzy since it’s so hard to find your bearings. I transitioned to the bike. Transition took me 22 minutes because of how dizzy I felt after the swim. The bike took me eight hours and forty minutes. I remember wanting to quit at mile 60. I was barely making cut off times, I was dehydrated, and I couldn’t eat my food or keep up with my nutrition. I was dizzy again, but for nutrition’s sake as my body wanted to shut down. The volunteers sat with me while I took a short break. I wanted to call the medics over to take me back and be done, and I almost did. I had to just keep remembering why I was out there. I hopped back on my bike and finished the 112 miles. I had almost been disqualified. I met the bike cut off time by 30 seconds. The second transition took me only 3 minutes. God bless the volunteers who helped me through this day. They basically changed me from sweaty clothes into my new ones. The run took me six hours and thirty minutes. In total, it took me seventeen hours and six minutes to complete the 140.6 mile course.

And I left it all out there. I did it for Todd, I did it for my grandmother, I did it for me. Every time it got difficult I just thought about them, and thought about the year I had been through. There was so many times I wanted to quit, and that I wanted to give up. But I refused. I remember crossing that finish line at 11:51pm and hearing Mike Riley shout, “Karlie Kiel, you are an IRONMAN!!!”

I did it. I did it. I freaking did it. I finished it. My mom and dad ran up to me at the end, and hugged me, and then I started crying. Sobbing really; whatever water was left in my body from being ungodly dehydrated all day came running down my face. Not once did I cry on that entire course (though many times I wanted to) and it all came out here. My mom cried too. I hugged them so hard. I got my finishers medal, shirt, and baseball cap. I wear them with pride.

Ever since finishing that race I have felt such a sense of liberation. Such a sense of peace. I have never felt more free in my entire life. I decide who I am. I decide my own destiny. Your past does not define you. Decide what you want, and go out there and get it. My name is Karlie Kiel, and I am an IRONMAN.

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