Martina Hanna Face

22nd August 2016

“I nearly died two years ago and triathlon has given me a new lease of life”

Mum-of-four and author Martina Hanna is a member of the TRI10 team , a group of 10 triathlon newcomers attempting to complete 10 triathlons for 10 local charities. Here she explains how it was reaching the ultimate low that led her to discover a new life in triathlon…

I’ve been 24 years on the sidelines with my four children. When you’re in parenthood you fully immerse yourself and while I might have gone to a gym one or twice and stopped, I’ve never participated in a sport consistently. Before TRI10, I didn’t own a bike, a good pair of runners or even a swimsuit.

I nearly died in 2014 and getting through that has driven me to triathlon. I have battled depression my entire life and on the 16th of February 2014 I nearly died from it. On this day, I knew I was in trouble. All I could see was darkness and I was in the worst emotional incredible pain – my tears were flowing and the blackness was dropping, I felt like that was the end. Over many hours and all alone, I went from sad to angry and I remember getting incredibly angry with God, my angels and the universe as I roared and shouted at them. I questioned everything and I let them have it, I gave them two choices and told them to pick one. What came next was the most incredible awakening and my pain became the catalyst for my transformation. Today I know that the person I was angry with was myself. This day I felt what it was like for the people who pass on by their own doing. This day I found my purpose.

2015 was my first year to be depression-free. And so I had my 2016 to have a healthy body to go with my healthy mind. I heard about TRI10 through twitter and my intuition told me to go for it. I got in touch with Deric [Hartigan, read his story here] and asked if I could join the team. There weren’t any spaces at first, but when someone dropped out, I was in.

I used to think that cyclists had a death wish. I just thought they had no instinct for self-preservation. I thought runners were nutters and as for swimmers, I just thought ‘why would you want to swim in our polluted waters?’. The fact that I have now done seven triathlons still baffles me. I never thought in my wildest dreams that I would be a triathlete and, believe me, I’ve had some wild dreams!

I couldn’t swim one length of a pool. I had a fear of drowning and I was scared of everything in the sea – jellyfish, sharks, seals, the lot. I got my place on TRI10 on the 1st of March and on the 2nd of March I swam in the sea – I didn’t even have a wetsuit. It was so cold, but when I got out, I felt elated. It was like I was high, I felt I could actually do anything. Since then I’ve worked with a swim coach Johnny Carroll (The Fitness Guy) and he’s pretty much taught me how to swim.

My worst fear came to fruition in my first proper swim. It was pool-based and I was the first wave – which meant that I had about 70-plus athletes waiting for me to finish. I was the last in the pool, and all I could hear was Deric screaming and shouting at me saying ‘come on Martina, you can do it, don’t give up’. I did finish though!

I don’t think people understand fear. I have a terrible fear of the water and everything in it. Even sharks! Jaws did a right number on me as a kid. During one of my races I told the kayaker that I had a fear of drowning, telling me: ‘don’t worry, you won’t drown today, I’ve a fear of sharks too and there are no sharks’. But I told him it didn’t matter if there weren’t any sharks – fear is false evidence appearing real. As far as I’m concerned, jaws is in this water.

I’ve learnt that finishing last isn’t a bad thing – people always cheer you on. I did have one time when I was going so slow that the people in the boats asked If I needed a hand out, I immediately said to them: ‘no, thank you’! I know for sure that it is not so bad finishing last, everyone urges you on and you still get that same immense pride when you cross the line.

I only got a bike the day before my first race. I’ll always be grateful to a man called Greg Starr – rightly named – who could’ve got a better finish time, but cycled with me instead. I couldn’t use the gears, I fell of the bike, and then Greg fell of his bike trying to help me. It was awful. I kept pushing on and it showed how determined I am.

I have finished last in every triathlon. And it used to be all about finishing. Now I’m at the stage where that’s not good enough, I want to do better. Things are improving. When I first raced, my bags for transition were huge, I think it took me about eight minutes and I did think ‘jeez, that’s really bad’. But, the other week, it was down to two minutes and I just felt so proud.

I got a huge hamper for finishing last. It was at Dunmore East and it was first ever 750m swim – I’d never done that distance, not even in the pool. I was worried going into the water, I had tears streaming down my face, my friend Willie noticed and told me to just ‘keep breathing, take each step at a time, stay in control’. Once in the water, I got chatting to a kayaker called Paddy and told him he may have to stay with me, and he did. I was like Dory from finding Nemo, I just kept swimming. When I came around the buoy and started heading towards the shore I could see Willie in his bright orange t-shirt – I’ve never been so grateful of seeing someone. The hamper wasn’t for being last, it was for not giving up.

You learn so much about yourself during a triathlon. You’re working all parts of your body. The benefit of being on the ‘Mammy Sideline’ for so long is that I’ve pretty much got a new body, I haven’t put it under the same pressure as other people my age who have been punishing themselves for years. Our team physio Mike (from Leaf Physical Therapy) often comments on it. I’m like a new model, a new woman!

I can’t believe I’m a triathlete. I get up and laugh, ‘oh my jesus, I’m a triathlete’. I’ve now committed to completing an Ironman in 2017 and Deric is sticking with me! Now that I am a runner, cyclist and swimmer, I have a new found understanding for why they do what they do. I don’t look at them in the same way – I just think: ‘oh my god I’m a nutter too’.

I honestly don’t know how I will ever repay Deric. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be doing this and loving it so much that I could be looking at an Ironman and say ‘yeah, I’m going to do that’. Deric is such an incredible motivator. I feel blessed to have met him and become part of TRI10 who are all a fantastic support.

I can’t stress enough how grateful I am I never died. I am living and every day I work on my mentality and health. As I look at my future I see all the things I can now do as a result of being involved in sport. My children are grown up and are so happy for me and even my son gave me the chat about getting a boyfriend, that took me by surprise. I didn’t give it much thought and it never occurred to me that triathlons were a great place to meet new people. Now, every time I come back from a race, I’ve got a new number, it’s like Tri-Tinder!

To support Martina and TRI10, find them on Twitter under the handle @TRI10_ and donate at the iDonate page here Martina has also just written a book called Turn it Around and for more details follow her on Twitter, via @MannaFrmHanna

To view Martina’s top ten training tips, click here.