Last year, when Brian Greenberg lay in agonizing pain recovering from yet another surgery related to his Crohn’s disease, he never lost hope. “Once I was healthy enough, I knew it would be a goal I would have,” said Brian, who was first diagnosed with the condition at the age of 11. That goal was completing a half-ironman—which he will attempt for the first time Sunday, Aug. 30, in Portland, Maine. A half-ironman is a rigorous 70.3-mile race that comprises a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and ends with a 13.1-mile run. Brian is aiming to complete the race in seven hours.
Brian, 32, has a history of pushing his body to the extreme. He previously ran half-marathons and is making his way through two other huge goals: skydiving in every U.S. state and climbing all 46 High Peaks of the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. Brian said taking on physical challenges gives him “a sense of normalcy” and independence. “It gives me, even if a brief moment in the grand scheme of things, a time where I am dependent on myself and an independent person to get myself across the finish line.”
Six months of training has prepared him for the race on Sunday. Five to six days per week of 5:30 a.m. wake-up calls to get in hours of running, biking, and swimming around his usual work day. There have been plenty of bumps in the road along the way. In April, Brian battled a bout with dehydration so severe it landed him in the hospital—his hands cramped so badly he couldn’t sign the insurance paperwork. Brian knows he has to listen to his body and respect his limits, especially because he lives with an ostomy. Each morning Brian checks his ostomy to see if it’s in the proper condition for training. Some days he has to take a break and skip training. “The bumps in the road are always going to be there,” said Brian, “So I can’t let them upset me too much.” Instead, he learns to adapt to what is right for him and tries not to compare himself to other athletes.
Brian shares his enthusiasm and passion with others through his non-profit Intense Intestines Foundation (IIF). Brian started the organization in 2011 to raise awareness and help the IBD community. Brian explained IIF’s goals, such as the Never Stay Quiet campaign, aim to show people it’s OK to talk about the condition—and to show IBD affects people beyond simply the bathroom. A new program IIF launched is IBDebt, which offers financial assistance for medical bills.
From hospital beds to finish lines, Brian knows how far he has come and will continue to go. He also knows even leaving the house may seem like an impossible feat for people struggling with IBD. “Every journey starts with the first step,” said Brian. He encourages people to take it slow, like going for a walk around the neighborhood, to build up their strength.
One of the biggest lessons Brian has learned is to not let frustrations win by throwing in the towel early. Positivity is also crucial for coping with the mental aspects of the condition. “If you keep that negative attitude, you won’t see a reason for taking that first step,” explained Brian, “The sun is going to rise the next day and you might still feel bad, but it could also be a great day.”
Follow Brian during his half-ironman this Sunday on IIF’s Twitter at @NtenseNtestines, where live updates will be posted the morning of the race.