An Ironman is a test of pain tolerance and mental and physical stamina. For Jeff Cottrell, the Ironman Memorial Hermann Texas will be a challenge this weekend, but it's nothing compared to the hurdle he overcame to finish on his second attempt.
In 2014, Jeff Cottrell was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure while weighing 500 pounds. As a registered nurse, he had already seen the signs but drove through his shifts at full speed while being tormented by the joy and infectious personality that his peers love him for. Cottrell had watched his mother succumb to health problems just seven years earlier, and while he had already begun making the changes needed to change his outlook on life, the news from his doctor served as an official wake-up call.
In 2019, Jeff Cottrell competed in his first Ironman with over 200 pounds off his body. Despite not finishing due to a medical issue, he is looking forward to crossing the finish line on April 23rd. He spoke to Muscle & Fitness about the journey to get to this point and make the most of life now and always.
Make better decisions
The quality of what I ate changed. That was the biggest thing and I also started to be physically active outside of work. I had an attitude that if I was active I'd be on my feet all day, but I knew that wasn't enough. I started running and got a gym membership. I worked nights so I went to the gym at 2am. The front desk person let me use an office chair to put next to the treadmill. I would walk for five minutes and sit for five minutes. I did this for 30 minutes and built up to an hour. As soon as I could get up to an hour, I just started walking for 30 minutes. I haven't really stopped the number of times I've eaten, but the quality has improved tremendously.
I would work a full 12 hour shift and everything from my knees to the soles of my feet would be on fire. The first time I went through a shift without pain, it was kind of overwhelming because I realized I was in a great position, but I had to keep going. I would get through the busiest of days and I don't feel my ability to care for a patient has ever suffered. I've noticed that when I used to have to squeeze into a tight area so I could help deliver oxygen to a patient, it became easier. Outside of work, I've always had a small circle of friends and they never did anything about it, but they supported me. Finally I was able to meet a great woman and now we are married. There was definitely a confidence boost in that. Just being able to live without pain is amazing.
Courtesy of Jeff Cottrell
thing great is done alone
I switched from walking to jogging. One day I had just finished jogging and was in the parking lot and I pinched one of my knees walking back to my car. I didn't go to the doctor and after about six weeks I felt better. During that time I bought a hybrid bike and rode it a bit, but it was too big. I found someone on Facebook Marketplace selling a road bike and I bought it. You always want to ride with people, so I started looking for a group ride around me. I found a few of these and met quite a few people in 2017 and I'm still friends with most of the people I met on those first rides. These people are doers and motivated in all areas of life. It was a great benefit for me to immerse myself in this group of people. I completed a progression of an Olympic distance triathlon. When my wife and I met I think I had just signed up for a 5K. She made one too. We got married six months after we met, and two weeks before that I ran my first half marathon. She graduated two weeks later in vember 2017. We ran a half marathon every month in 2018 and then a full marathon in January 2019. It's just part of being alive. When you hang out with people, and that's what they do. It becomes what you do.
When I was young I watched the Ironman when it was on TV, but I didn't let it move me. It was cool, but I've never forgotten it. I also always liked the Black Sabbath song Ironman. I worked for Memorial Hermann who is the title sponsor of the event. I worked in the medical tent for two years (2017, 2018) and a pretty good thing happened to me in that first year. One of the athletes came in after she finished. I told her I was just getting started in triathlon and she told me that when I set my sights on something, it really works when I look at something physical that reminds you of a goal that makes you want to go towards it reach. She gave me her finisher medal and that moved me. I have never forgotten her and this medal hangs in my bedroom. It will be nice to hang another one next to it.
The first try for Jeff Cottrell
I was actually on the right track to finish in 2019. I did the one thing everyone says you shouldn't do, and that's don't do anything new on race day. Because of my weight loss, I wear compression garments underneath my clothes when I run. As I got off the bike and I could really feel how hot it was, I had a bright idea that the cycling dungarees I was wearing were compressing me, but it wasn't as much fabric as a full t-shirt and compression shorts, and I left that on. I got into an area after mile 11 and sat on this concrete bench to search my bag. As I sat down, imagine the sound you would hear if you poured just 8 ounces of water on the concrete. I looked down and it was just bright red blood pouring out of my pants.
I also knew I was starting to get a little loopy. There is a street where it gets a bit dark between street lamps. I just imagined I was actively bleeding and already exhausted. If I pass out anywhere in this small area and no one sees me, who knows what might happen? I just thought there would be a lot more of this and it wasn't worth it. The way I look at everything, there is no end. I have to do what I do as long as I live. My main goal in all of this is never to become one of those people in their 50's, 60's and 70's and become comfortable with going to the doctor because you think that's part of getting older. I can not do this. I see it as being in the doctor's office one day a year, other than my yearly checkup, that's a decrease in the quality of life because I don't want to be there. I want to have fun doing something. So I have to be proactive now because there is only now anyway. You may have pain at the doctor or at the gym.
Courtesy of Jeff Cottrell
A message from Jeff Cottrell to those about to begin their own journey
The easiest just from a data analysis is walking with a little extra effort, 30-40 minutes, 3-4 times a week works wonders. It doesn't have to be an Ironman or anything crazy, especially when you're starting out. Just do everything and progress and build on that. There is no schedule and no end. Think about your quality of life and try to improve it. It is not only physical but also mental and in all aspects of life. There are many stories in the news of people who would give anything for a 45-minute jog to be their biggest concern. There are people on this planet who don't even know where their next clean cup of water is coming from. Everyone has to find their own motivation. Join a community. That always helps and it has helped me a lot. You only have one chance, so try to make the most of it. There's this saying I always tell myself; Do something good for yourself and others. I just think if everyone did that, we'd be cool.
Follow Jeff Cottrell on Instagram @_jeffcottrell_.