At 8:00 p.m. on September 13, 2009 in Madison, Wisconsin David had nothing to say but he had everything to say. In that instant, it was his scream that spoke what words could not express. His arms that for the last 13 hours pulled and swung and balanced his lean body mass across
land and engulfed in water spontaneously rose above his head in triumph when he crossed the banner that said ‘FINISH’. Moments later he was in the arms of his wife.
This is what a man does after pushing himself beyond his capacity against the will of some 3000 other elite athletes – all comrades in a battle of a lifetime, giving all that he has to give and finally, FINALLY, realizing a personal goal that for the last 25 years of his life was just a dream.
“Pure elation,” David said to me. “To this day, I can still feel it.”
It was actually a twist of faith that made this conclusion even more special. You see, a year ago supporting him through all that goes into training for one of these things was his 40th birthday present from his wife (and his family including 4 children). They became team Martorano, changing their pantry to all ‘healthy’ foods, getting dad to bed by 8 p.m. even on weekends, and giving dad that boost when the 4 a.m. buzzer goes off and he didn’t feel like working out.
David looked to them for inspiration. They were his rock. On the really, really tough days,
there was one thought that always moved him to action. His normally energetic voice softened. “I would think of Nathan and Michael and how hard they have it,” he told me. “They don’t get to take a day off and so I couldn’t either.”
Nathan, 14, and Michael, 3, are David and Viki’s oldest and youngest sons. They both have autism.
The dream that almost wasn’t fulfilled.
It was a Saturday morning – one week before his 40th birthday – and David was ramping up his training. The big race was just six weeks away. He and a buddy had already finished their swim in the Houston Woods Lake. They were in hour two on their carbon-framed bicycles, manufactured to be light enough to hold with one hand yet strong enough to withstand the stress of human pressure on road disparities and imperfections.
But the bikes were not meant to withstand one thing. Without warning, a pick-up truck traveling 60 mph pummeled into them from behind and all that stood between the cyclists and the pavement was their helmets. David stares into blank space when he talks about it, wondering out loud why they were chosen to be spared when another mother in another moment lost her son.
The recovery was long, but not too long. After all this is David we’re talking about. Working at the YMCA, he had everything he needed to begin the journey all over again. In the meanwhile he happened to read about a program called Train4Autism that gives people tools to raise money for local work surrounding the disorder. David had a new inspiration.
Another thing you may not know about David is that as the district vice president for the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati overseeing the Clippard Family branch, he, his wife, and staff have started an effort to offer support for families like the Martoranos.
Once a month families of children who have autism are invited to David’s YMCA for free nights where siblings and parents can participate in recreational activities or simply visit with one another. On average more than 200 families attend. Under David’s leadership this year, the Clippard Family YMCA also was approved by the Ohio Department of Education as a private provider for the Autism Scholarship Program – making it one of the area’s few preschools providing students with all of the therapy and other services that are written into their Independent Education Plan (IEP). As part of its expanded all day inclusive preschool, his YMCA branch also operates an Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Learning Center for kids who have autism.
“I know firsthand the challenges faced by families like ours. Most insurance companies don’t cover costs of early intervention and some children require intensive therapy that many families can’t afford,” David said. (pictured at right with his son, Michael)
You can probably guess for whom David set out to raise money. This was the beginning of the letter I received: Please join me in my journey to participate in the Ironman Triathlon on Sunday, September 13, 2009 – Swimming 2.4 miles – Biking 112 miles – Running 26.2 miles while raising awareness about autism and the autism inclusion programs at the YMCA of Greater Cincinnati.
And so, team Martorano was back in training. This time David was leaner and in the best shape of his life. He wasn’t about to waste this second opportunity, and I’m not just talking about the Ironman.
The time had finally come.
It was 6:00 a.m. when David and Viki left their house for Wisconsin, way too early to get the kids up. Their good-byes were said the night before. But as the car was pulling out, the front door opened. It was Nathan. He had some final words he needed to say. “Dad, you have to persevere,” Nathan told his father. It’s pretty hard to describe how words like those affect a man like Dave but I bet you can guess.
On September 13 at 7:00 a.m. David was ready. There he was amidst a sea of competitors. When the gun went off they swam like a huge school of sardines, powering through every stroke two loops around Lake Monona. Then, with only their bare feet, they ran up a three story ramp for a quick change before hopping onto their awaiting bike. David described those first 20 miles as a warm up to the next 40 miles of rugged hills and wind desperately trying to push them backwards. By mile 56 he was still very much in control.
Then the final 19 miles awaited, and ‘it was all into the wind’. “At this point you just want to get off it and get running – after all you’ve been on the bike for over 5 hours,” David said.
In any other race, David would have been ready to call it a day, but this was an Ironman. He still had an entire marathon to do. By mile nine, he said, ‘the doubt, the internal talking really picked up, the demons, can I do this?”
It was about mile 12 when his right calf and hamstring cramped, causing him to nearly tumble to the concrete street. Only the most prepared athlete, someone with team Martorano behind them, would have thought to carry a pair of compression socks for just this situation. A quick stop with help from a race volunteer and David was back on his way…still with half the distance left to go.
They say in Ironman that the marathon is 20 miles of hope and six miles of reality. That reality struck David right in the face. The finish now in his mind, David looked up and saw it. There, along the side of the course where supporters could post messages of inspiration, David read, ‘dad, you have to persevere.’
Nothing, and I mean nothing, was going to get in David’s way now. The crowds grew electric in that final mile. “David Martorano – you’re an Ironman,” were the sounds echoing around him. Then he did it, he crossed that finish line.
Yes David, you are an Ironman. And Nathan is extremely proud.