an ironman love letter

If you are only going to read the first paragraph of this entry, here it is in a nutshell. I signed up to do Ironman for all the wrong reasons, but I am going to finish it for the right reason. To make proud the one person who has made everything in my life possible – the burrito truck lady. Ok, you are going to have to read on to find out what this entry is all about. This isn’t Twitter, folks.

Why did I sign up to do an Ironman? I am not sure exactly why but it was really foolish. When I signed up, I could neither swim a mile nor had I ever actually done any kind of triathlon – much less the hardest distance of all. It was probably a healthy blend of stupidity, boredom, ego and overconfidence that got me to believe that signing up for Ironman Switzerland was a smart idea. Plus there is a part of my brain that literally forces me to get, achieve or do whatever it might be that my mind has begun to contemplate. Once I want something, I usually get it. And I know that probably sounds cocky but there is a reason for that and that’s what this entry is about.

Here comes a story.

About 30 years ago my 20-year old mother became pregnant with me. At the time she had just finished her training as a nurse after leaving high school at the age of 16. Having kids was not at the top of her list of priorities, but my father felt very strongly about starting a family so that is how little Mario made it into this world. Two years later my father (who I loved dearly) turned out to not be the committed family man my mother had envisioned him to be which resulted in his stuff on our lawn and my mother becoming a single mom at the age of 22. Most people weren’t too excited about my mother’s choices which resulted in her quitting her job and us moving on a horse ranch somewhere in Northern Germany where my mother cleaned the stalls and I learned how to ride ponies, dogs and the neighborhood goat. When things settled down a bit, we moved back to our hometown where my mother got to experience the great joy of being a single mom while working full time. We had no car, lived in government housing and had a black and white TV the size of my iPad. But to me everything was perfect. I never missed  anything, and if I was, I certainly had no clue. I was the happiest kid in the world. I am pretty sure there is no kid who played more than I did in the first five years of my life.

When it came time for me to go to elementary school, all that play time almost bit me in the ass. I was five years old and really couldn’t speak. Well, I could speak but unfortunately nobody could understand me. The German education system thought I must have some brain damage and it would be best for me to enroll in special ed school. My mother said “no way”, and I got to go to normal elementary school and then spend my afternoons at speech therapy. Turns out I didn’t have brain damage after all, but was just too preoccupied playing and never really focused on developing those muscles in my mouth that allowed for the proper pronunciation of important letters such as s,t,k and h. I know this is a long story, but there is a point that I want to make. My mother always believed in me and in my 29 years of life, I never was told that something was not possible.

Even when the odds were squarely stacked against us, I was too ignorant and optimistic to ever recognize. My mother protected me from things like negativity and pessimism which allowed me to focus on the one thing that I was really good at – follow my dreams. We never had enough money for vacation, so I spent my summer vacations with our neighbors. Once I got done with elementary school, it was decided that I was to enroll in the mid-level of our high school system. That would have meant I would have been done with school after 10th grade and would then go on to learn some profession that didn’t require college. That’s what my mom did, and that’s what she didn’t want for me. She believed in me. And while the public school system didn’t allow for me to take the collegiate high school route (the highest level of schooling), my mother took me from private school to private school until a small catholic private school 30 minutes away from my hometown agreed to take me. I was by far the worst student, protestant and expected to not last more than a year. I would have gladly failed but them catholic nuns and my dear mother wouldn’t let that happen.

When I was 12 years old I met some college student at the local soccer field who had been an exchange student in America. I went home that night and told my mother that I was going to do that. The plan was to play soccer, learn how to surf and meet lots of California girls. She said ok and four years later, I moved to Montana which is almost like California. I came back after a year, and told my mother that I didn’t want to go back to German high school but instead go to college in the US. It was going to cost $15,000 a year (college in Germany is free). My mother had some serious doubts but that didn’t stop my parents from depleting their savings (which only paid for the first semester) and hope for a miracle. Well, that miracle happened (me working as a custodian, me getting straight A’s, me getting scholarships, etc.) and now 12 years later I am still in America.

Five days from now, I am going to take on what arguably will be the biggest physical challenge of my life. I am not sure if my body is ready for it, as quite frankly I have never exercised for 13+ hours before. Come to think of it, I have never exercised for eight hours before either. But here I am – sure as hell that I am going to finish this Ironman. And that is because of my mother who always believed in me and helped instill this crazy sense of optimism.

Bad shit can happen on Sunday. My bike could break. So could my body. But my mind, my mind will be strong. No matter what happens on Sunday, I will finish. And I know my mother once again will believe in me.

But Sunday’s race isn’t about her believing in me, Sunday is about me showing to my mother that I believed her when she told me, again and again, that I can do whatever I set my mind to. I still do, now more than ever. Just with less hair.

I usually forget mother’s day. So this Sunday will be my mother’s mother’s day. That should take care of that for at least for a couple of years. Sunday is for the person who opened every door for me, and never held me back when I walked through. Sunday is for the person who I love more than life itself. And who always felt the same way about me.

See you at the finish line, Mama. Sunday is for you.


  1. Anonymous July 20, 2010 at 11:47 pm

    Wow, Mario, that is a beautiful story. love it. it sounds a lot like mine, only with a dad in the mom roll. makes me want to meet your mom.

  2. Anonymous July 21, 2010 at 2:30 am

    I love you for this letter. I can only imagine how your mom feels!

  3. Anonymous July 21, 2010 at 7:47 am

    You are going to have one hell of a biography one day. And Mario, I know you will finish. Viel Glück.

  4. Anonymous July 21, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Alisha, thank you for your comment. Parents are amazing.

    Elisa, :).

  5. Anonymous July 21, 2010 at 6:52 pm

    Well…you know this had me in tears! What an amazing post for one of the most amazing women I’ve ever met. You know what’s better? You actually recognize how lucky you are. One of the most blessed families I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Now enough mushy stuff…go kick ass Ironman!! xxx

  6. Anonymous July 21, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    Beautiful Mario. Good luck!

  7. Anonymous July 21, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    Lovely. Inspiring.

  8. Anonymous July 21, 2010 at 10:16 pm

    Wow! As if I and your other readers needed another reason to truly admire you – Mario, you are unbelievable – you have such a big heart and are such an inspiration. I can’t wait for the movie of your life to come out – not right now, mind you, but after a long life of unbelievable accomplishments. I would wish you good luck but you don’t need it – your hard work & determination have already determined the outcome – you will succeed and I feel blessed to know you.

  9. Anonymous July 22, 2010 at 6:40 am

    Thank you all for your comments. I have been blessed with a great family and great friends.

  10. Anonymous July 22, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Thanks for sharing Mario. Honestly, I got a little choked up while reading this. And I haven’t cried in two years…which was from laughing…at the humping motions you make while playing Wii Olympics. And here’s some free advice: don’t make those motions while doing the Ironman. I’m pretty sure someone will beat you up if you do that.

    By the way, your mama looks good.

    Good luck with the race. Please don’t die.

  11. Anonymous July 26, 2010 at 11:17 am

    Hi Mario,

    Jan hat mir von Deinem Blog erzählt! – Sehr schöne Story!! :-))) Deine Ma ist bestimmt sehr stolz auf Dich! UND: Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Ironman!!!!

    Viele Grüße aus Köln, Anne

  12. Anonymous August 21, 2010 at 12:40 am

    great story Mario, would that ALL families be as close as yours! Having met your mother firsthand I can attest for her love for living life well and you. Being a parent is difficult yet sometimes gives us intangible rewards we did not expect, especially when in the heat of the battle. Your words and sentiments for your Mom are enough to fill a parents heart with love and hope for the future (yours) to last the rest of our days. An Ironman? hell that was a piece of cake compared to what your Mom accomplished in raising you! Here’s to Ingelore- cheers!

  13. Anonymous August 21, 2010 at 12:59 am

    Ryan, I am going to be in Portland sometime in mid-October. I challenge you to a match of judo.

    Anne, danke. Freue mich von dir zu hoeren.

    Jay, you are the man. I am going to be coming over to your house for dinner right after I finish that marathon and my judo fight.

  14. Anonymous September 21, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    A terrific story, Mario. Your mother’s been everything you ever needed… am touched and motivated by your story.

    I have a much simpler 10 km run coming up in 11 days on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday in Bangalore, India. After reading your post, am now more fired up than ever to finish the run strongly… will write to you soon after that.

    May you continue to lead your strongest life!!! Hats off to your world-, nay, universal-class mom!!!

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