CUPCAKES WITH THE CARTEL
This week we introduce you to a very inspirational member of the Cartel. Doug is a Naval Officer who selflessly elected to raise money and awareness for the charity 'Soldier On' as he trained for and competed in IRONMAN Melbourne in 2013, and IRONMAN Cairns in 2014. Doug used the motivation of supporting a charity that was supporting the fallen, those that had returned broken and the many families impacted by service. In doing so, the sport began to heal Doug in return. Have a read of Doug's story.
NAME: Doug Griffiths
OCCUPATION: Naval Officer of 29 years service and counting (Clearance Diver by specialisation and presently Australian Assistant Defence Adviser to Malaysia, based in Kuala Lumpur)
LOCATION: Presently Kuala Lumpur, family based in Canberra
YEARS IN TRIATHLON: 31 (some years more than others, depending on work commitments)...first race Sri Chimoey Triathlon in Canberra 1987
TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOURSELF, YOUR STORY, AND WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO THE SPORT OF TRIATHLON: Married (25 years to Emma - Em finished Kona in 2016), 1 x Son (Josh...just turned 18). Career Naval Officer, veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan. Clearance Diver by specialisation, I have been a ships Captain. I race to prove that I still can. 12 x IRONMAN finisher, 2 x Aust ITU LC teams. I have nothing to prove to anyone, I just do it for fun.
The thought of challenging yourself and putting yourself into the unknown is often enough to make the majority of people falter, question themselves and walk away from a cause or a challenge. In the period between September 2009 and March 2013 I walked away from so much. The reasons for this I still find it hard to explain or even understand. But it happened; it was debilitating beyond belief and for those that know me, it would be easy to think that I am making this up.
On the outside I looked like the normal me, but I had changed. I was not just getting a bit thicker around the middle, I was also starting to withdraw, move
away from people, and I was also moving away from doing the things I loved. I began to neglect all that was valuable and fulfilling in my life.
In short, I was giving up.
To understand why this downward spiral started when it did, it’s best to give some background.
I am a blessed person. I have a wonderful wife and family, I have a rewarding career as an Officer in the Royal Australian Navy, I have experienced the
honour of commanding Australian men and women as a ship’s Captain and in Operations (believe me, there is no greater honour for a military leader). In
2009 I was even privileged to be living in the idyllic setting of Hawaii, accompanying my beautiful bride on an exchange posting.
Sounds perfect right?
Well I guess it was, except for one thing.
In 2009 I deployed operationally to Afghanistan; it was my third operational deployment to the Middle East since September 11 2001. In the past, I would
always return home and continue doing my work, carrying on with family and generally loving life. But in September 2009, I returned home to my family
in Hawaii after seven months in Kabul where I was employed in a role that had me lay witness to some of the worst of humanity.
I returned mentally tired, jaded, maybe disenchanted, but superficially the same person. I thought that again, in 2009, I would return to reality the way I had after all previous deployments. Of course this proved not to be the case. I tried, but I was unable to do what I previously found enjoyable. In the past I would immerse myself in family and also the sport of Triathlon, something that I had found I was actually OK at. Prior to that last deployment I had been privileged to represent Australia in my age group at the World Championships in Sweden and Denmark and I was also highly competitive at the IRONMAN triathlon distance of the 3.8km swim, 108km bike ride and 42.2km run.
Naively, I simply assumed that I could reintegrate into my old life. Now, I must state that I have never been assessed as being negatively impacted by my
operational service, and I feel proud of my 25 years as an officer in the Royal Australian Navy. But for some reasons that remain unknown, I stopped being me. Some may refer to it as being stoic, others may refer to it as simply being pigheaded and stubborn for not seeking assistance, but I refused to acknowledge anything was wrong
Why should I? I had returned to a wonderful family in Hawaii, into an environment that should have been motivating, fun and nurturing.
But for me life was not the same.
In the years that followed my return, I tried to get back on the proverbial horse. But I continued in a downward spiral. I stopped exercising and I set goals that I never achieved. I backed away from challenges rather than embracing them, I entered five full IRONMAN distance events and two half IRONMAN races, but I was never able to pass the physiological block that was preventing me from training for them, or starting something that I once loved.
I knew I had the capacity to do it, I had done it many times in the past. But I was scared, to the point of being terrified at times. I was unsure of myself and I could not face the prospect of failure or the perception of weakness from not achieving at the level that I had once managed.
As a result of this I fear, I was placing my own health at risk from inactivity, I was placing my relationship and friendships at risk from being withdrawn and
negative in my outlook on my ability and the world in general.
So what was I to do? My mental turn around and change in my outlook came one day when I heard the news of another Australian death in Afghanistan at the hands of an IED blast. As always I shed a private tear and told myself I had to move on and give something back. At the time I had yet another race entry sitting waiting, almost taunting me. I knew deep down that I was not going to be able to make that race start. I would be too scared to try, and yet again I would take another excuse from the big fat book of ‘I can’t do this because’ and fall back into a world of self-pity and low-level depression.
Not this time though.
I knew that I had to support those that had given up so much. I had to provide something to my returned warrior brothers and sisters, many of whom were no longer able to participate in sport or their previous lives because of either physical injuries or the hidden scars of conflict. Previously I had my own demons that prevented me from trying, but with this goal - being in it for their sakes - I was able to attempt to dispel my fears and doubts and focus on something more than my own selfish achievement and self interest.
In 2013 I elected to raise money and awareness for the charity Soldier On as I trained for and competed in IRONMAN Melbourne. I used the motivation of
supporting a charity that was supporting the fallen, those that had returned broken and the many families impacted by service. Was my preparation ideal? No. Was I even fit enough or ready enough to compete? I would say possibly not.
But I was determined to finish, and focused regardless of the performance on a goal that was bigger than myself and one that would benefit those so desperately in need of support?
Yes, I think so.
By using social media I raised over $5,200 in 2013 for Solider On. I was scared beyond belief. I shed tears on the start line, I doubted my own ability from the gun to the finish line and I feared failure throughout. But I prevailed, mainly because the mission was bigger than my ego.
In the past, the finish was all about me. But in 2013, the thought of failing the forty Australian warriors who had paid the ultimate sacrifice and the many more who have been scarred physically and psychologically for life, got me to the start - and then got me to the finish - and helped me achieve my mission.
I did it again in 2014, using IRONMAN Cairns as a platform to raise another $3,200 for Solider On. Again it was not a stellar performance by any stretch of the imagination. But I made the start, I finished a very long day of physical and mental doubt, I raised awareness for the challenges of my brothers and sisters, and I moved one step closer to healing myself.
I use the philanthropic challenge associated with the physical challenge now as extra motivation for getting my arse into gear and back into life.
Completing a challenge bigger than yourself makes the finish so much sweeter.
In addition, in my full time job as a father to an amazing young man, it lets me demonstrate to him that society doesn’t need us to always take, it needs us to give back when we can - and that sometimes giving without thought of self, and challenging yourself against all your fears for those less fortunate is a therapy that can give you your own life back.
IF YOU COULD OFFER ONE PIECE OF ADVICE TO OTHER TRIATHLETES, WHAT WOULD IT BE?:
Never give up. Never think your best is not good enough, always smile and be thankful that you are in this sport, surrounded by a wonderful supportive community who want to see you succeed in reaching your goals.
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO BE PART OF THE CARTEL?:
The concept of a supportive amateur Tri team comprised of people from all walks of life, from all around the World, of all abilities, in it together to promote all that is good about the sport, this is what spoke to me.
IF YOU WERE A CUPCAKE, WHAT FLAVOUR WOULD YOU BE AND WHO WOULD LIKELY EAT YOU?:
The old unattractive, slightly broken, full fat cupcake at the back of the tray. Possibly left for the last person in the store. However full of flavour and never disappointing!
HOW HAS TRIATHLON CHANGED YOUR LIFE FOR THE BETTER?: It has helped me focus back on living after a very dark period. It has given me a new drive and purpose and lets me work toward being a better me everyday.