Inspiring Ironman Returns to Ireton

Having his right leg broken in six places during a 1999 recreational soccer game was only one of the challenges Theo Androus overcame on his way to becoming an Ironman. The 1989 Bishop Ireton High School graduate returned to the Alexandria school last week to speak to students about, "Rekindling and Nurturing the Unbreakable Human Spirit." Bishop Ireton Principal Oblate Father Kevin Nadolski introduced Androus saying, "In the spirit of Easter, in the spirit of Christian hope, he did not let any difficulty bring him down, but rather saw through it all and believed with confidence that he can do anything he puts his mind to." Father Nadolski welcomed Androus "home" as someone who "truly represents the risen message of Jesus Christ." On a Wednesday evening in 1999, the slightly built Androus took a shot at goal in a coed soccer game in Alexandria, but never saw the 6-foot 3-inch, 240-lb goalie who crashed into him. The impact shattered two bones beneath Androus’ knee into six pieces, causing "unbelievable pain," he recalled. He was taken to INOVA Alexandria Hospital where surgeons stabilized the fracture, inserting a titanium rod through the center of his tibia. Androus spent a month in bed and three months in a wheelchair recovering from the injury. Androus, who wore leg braces as a child to correct a congenital condition and survived a head-on car crash on the George Washington Parkway in 1989, said he had to set a goal for himself in order to get well. His goal was running the 2000 Marine Corps Marathon. "Life is about making choices," Androus told the assembly. As an Ireton student, he didn’t see the point of studying geometry or trigonometry and remembers begging math teacher Richard Bulcavage for a C, but publicly thanked him last week for giving him a D, the grade he deserved. Androus said he regretted never having had the chance to thank the late Coach James McGrath for his influence. "You have people here who care so much about you," Androus said. In his sophomore year at the Virginia Military Academy, Androus was sent home for breaking the rules. His grandfather told him, "Theo, these events are meaningless, except for the meaning you give them" and could be "either stumbling blocks or stepping stones." After working construction jobs, Androus returned to college — this time paying his own tuition. "My grades were representative of my choices," he said. The death of a high school sweetheart in a drunk driving accident made him vow never to drink and drive. He also made a pact with his brother never to do drugs, Androus said. Reading Viktor Frankl’s, "Man’s Search for Meaning," about surviving Auschwitz, inspired Androus during his recuperation. There were many times he wanted to quit while training for the Marine Corps Marathon. Five weeks before the race, he tore the anterior crucial ligament in his left leg, but doctors said he could still run, so he did. At mile 17 of the 26-mile race, Androus hit "the wall" of exhaustion near Haines Point. He remembered that not long before friends had wheeled him around Haines Point during his recuperation. Androus began to cry. Fellow runners said, "It’s okay. You’re going to be okay." He told them he knew he would be. After finishing the marathon, Androus set another goal — participating in an Ironman competition consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. To train for the event, he entered the Colorado Half Ironman. Androus had his work cut out for him. He had never before swum more than 20 meters. Swimming in Colorado’s 40-degree air temperatures made hyperventilating in the freezing water inevitable. Overcoming both his fears and getting kicked by other swimmers as they raced, Androus successfully completed the Colorado event. Androus says that, in spite of the threat of sharks in the Gulf of Mexico, the November 2001 Florida Ironman competition in Panama City was "the easiest of the three races." Now known as the "titanium Ironman," he realized, "the mind quits before the body does." "You are facing many choices," Androus told the assembly, noting especially seniors soon to graduate. "Where do you want to be in 10 years? In 20 years?... I’m not here to suggest what you should decide, but to tell you to decide. Life is all about choices. … I’m excited for you. In this room is the potential for unbelievable greatness … Choose wisely." As a token of appreciation, at the end of Androus’ presentation, students James Schiefer and Katie Kestermann presented him with an Ireton golf shirt. Androus, who is available as an inspirational speaker (www.goTHEO.com), lives in Alexandria with his wife Terry and two children.

Copyright ?2002 Arlington Catholic Herald.  All rights reserved.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2002