Mike Ryan spends his days holed up inside the training room at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium, getting pulled in many directions as the club's head athletic trainer/physical therapist.
One of 14 current staff members who joined the franchise in 1994, Ryan has successfully figured out a way to handle the daily stress that comes with the job, and it usually starts around 4:30 each morning. Ryan puts himself through strenuous workouts that include swimming, running and lifting weights. All the work prepares him for not only his job, but his hobby of testing his endurance at every opportunity.
The 22-year NFL veteran has completed five Ironman Triathlons and his sights are set on July when he will go for number six in Austria. He has competed in Hawaii (1994), New Zealand (1996), Canary Islands (1998), Brazil (2000) and Idaho (2004). In addition, he has competed in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon and the 2002 World Championship Duathlon.
"The kind of job I have and what we do there is a lot of stress," Ryan said. "There are a lot of things to juggle, multi-tasking is really part of the job. You are juggling a lot of things and it's important to keep a clear head when there are serious things where you really have to think clearly. For me, I work out well and clear my head and I have my time. Physically and mentally I feel sharper, and it makes all the difference in the world."
An Ironman Triathlon is 140 miles worth of swimming, biking and running. Even though they aren't triathlons, it is worth noting Ryan has also participated in the Running with the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain (twice), the Race Up the Empire State Building in New York and the Boston Marathon.
"It's morning and weekend workouts," Ryan said of his routine. "That is the difficult thing. The races themselves are a lot of fun and I love doing them. The training is the hard part. You are putting a lot of time into them. I'm very fortunate that my wife understands. You rarely see me working out at lunchtime. If people need stuff I need to be here. The difficult stuff is working around other people's schedules. You have to train. You can't just wing it."
Ryan recently completed the MS Mud Run on February 28 at the Cecil Commerce Center in Jacksonville. The event, a 10k race with boot camp-style obstacles that are surrounded by or consist entirely of mud, benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Events included a log walk, tire crawl, scaling a cargo net over 12 inches, a rope swing, a slip-n-slide and crawling on your belly and elbows for 50 yards under barbed wire in two-and-half feet of water.
"It's a great fundraiser," Ryan said. "It's a different type of race and this is the first year it has been in Jacksonville. People love it. You can't get caught up in the time or the elements. It's a fun, tough-guy kind of race. It is more of a bigger workout than it is just worrying about your time and your pace and how far you've gone. You don't do this stuff every day."
Ryan and his "Fire and Ice" team with four firefighters finished third in the team portion of the event with a time of 1:22:26. This is one of many races in which Ryan has teamed up with local firefighter Eric Prosswimmer. The duo completed a 31-mile relay race through the trails at Guana River State Park in Ponte Vedra.
"Eric is a tough as nails guy," Ryan said. "He has run marathons in full fire gear."
Ryan has a simple strategy for his challenge in July.
"One foot in front of another," Ryan said. "Small chunking. The thing about this race is it's as much as what you do above your head as it is below the neck. You have to stay focused on what you're doing. You have to stay positive.
"Everything hurts. Focus on the good things. Get to the next aid station. Get to the next mile. If you're on a bike and you're hurting at thirty miles into it, you realize you have another eighty miles to ride and then a 26 mile marathon after that, you just can't think that far down the road. Such is life. Plan on tomorrow but take care of today first."
And his goal for the triathlon?
"I want to finish under 10 and a half hours," Ryan said.
Photo by GlossyFinish.com