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A Strong Body, a Big Heart
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Stuart Hales
January 10, 2008

Brian Boyle crosses the finish line at the 2007 Ford Ironman World Championship in Hawaii.
Brian Boyle prepares to take the plunge at a half-Ironman event in Michigan last August.
Top: Brian Boyle crosses the finish line at the 2007 Ford Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. Below: He prepares to take the plunge at a half-Ironman event in Michigan last August.
(Photos courtesy of Brian J. Boyle)
He had completed the swim without much difficulty, but halfway through the bike ride he began feeling a fair amount of pain, and by the time the marathon started—the final segment of the 2007 Ironman World Championship—Brian Boyle began wondering if he would finish the competition, his first ever at full length.

“I’d only completed a half-distance Ironman, so I wasn’t quite sure what to expect,” he says. “It was pretty much a guessing game, and by the time the marathon started, I had 26 miles to run and not much energy left.”

But by this point, Brian had come much too far to even consider quitting. It wasn’t the physical distance he had traveled—the 2.4 miles swimming across Kailua-Kona Bay, followed by the 112 miles of bike riding across the Hawaiian lava desert. Rather, it was the emotional distance—the painful recovery from the car accident, the multiple surgeries, the somber prognoses from doctors that he would never walk again, much less swim.

To quit now, Brian thought, would diminish all he had achieved over the past three years, since that frightening day in July 2004 when the dump truck plowed into the side of his car, breaking most of his ribs, collapsing his lungs, shattering his pelvis, knocking his heart across his chest, and sending him into a coma. Worse, it would cast doubt on his resolve to move forward, to not just continue his life but to renew it, to become what he calls “the Lance Armstrong of the Ironman competition.”

“I’m a dreamer,” Brian says. “I’ve got a lot of big plans.”

Sharing His Story with Others

Looking at Brian today, watching films of him competing in the 2007 Ironman World Championship (which he finished in 14 hours), it is difficult to imagine he was once told he might be disabled for life, unable to walk, swim, or ride a bike. A competitive swimmer before the accident—in fact, he was driving home from swim practice when the dump truck hit his car—Brian is back in the pool, swimming for St. Mary’s College of Maryland. He credits a pep talk from Gary Hall, a gold-medal-winning Olympic swimmer, for motivating him to return to the sport.

While his recovery from the accident is a personal triumph, Brian has no intention of keeping it a secret. He wants to share his story with others in hopes of inspiring them to achieve goals they never thought possible. He’s also reaching out to the people and organizations who helped him survive, such as the Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, Maryland, where he was taken by ambulance after his accident.

“They’re having some financial problems,” Brian says. “They saved my life, so I’m trying to help them raise funds.”

Brian also is working with the American Red Cross and specifically the Greater Chesapeake & Potomac Blood Services Region, which supplies blood to hospitals and other medical facilities in Central Maryland, Northern Virginia and South Central Pennsylvania. His goal is to promote blood donation, using his personal story as inspiration.

“I had a lot of bad injuries, but recovering from them all came down to having enough blood,” he says. “I think I had a total of 36 blood transfusions and 13 plasma treatments. Without them, I wouldn’t have survived.”

Staying Focused on His Goals

Brian admits he is unfamiliar with the challenges facing the Red Cross and other blood banking groups and says he is taking “baby steps” as he learns his way. But he has faced far bigger obstacles in his life, and he knows from experience that he can make a difference if he gets involved and stays focused on the final goal.

“I want to use my story to motivate, both athletes and non-athletes,” he says. “I’m really grateful to the people who have helped me get this far, and I want to do the same for others.”

The American Red Cross helps people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies. Last year, almost a million volunteers and 35,000 employees helped victims of almost 75,000 disasters; taught lifesaving skills to millions; and helped U.S. service members separated from their families stay connected. Almost 4 million people gave blood through the Red Cross, the largest supplier of blood and blood products in the United States. The American Red Cross is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. An average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs. The Red Cross is not a government agency; it relies on donations of time, money, and blood to do its work.

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