Charlotte Observer Newspaper: Determination links generations of ‘Ironmen’

My grandfather and I at the 2008 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Clearwater, Florida

This is a newspaper article that was published in December 2011, and I wanted to post it in on my blog to celebrate the Air Force retirement of my grandfather, which took place on January 31, 2012


Charlotte Observer, by Joe DePriest

Catawba County (North Carolina) native Joe Lineberger, 80, and his grandson, Brian Boyle, 25, are best friends. They hang out, talk a lot and enjoy the company. What’s more: they inspire each other. They’ve inspired me since I’ve gotten to know them over the past few weeks.

When Boyle told me about his grandfather’s recent “Spirit of Service” award from the U.S. Air Force, he didn’t mention his book about recovering from a near fatal auto accident as a teenager. “Iron Heart” by Brian Boyle with Bill Katovsky (founder of Triathlete magazine) was first published in 2009 and a paperback version came out on Nov. 15.

Lineberger brought up the subject of his grandson soon after we first talked. He asked if I knew about Boyle’s injuries, his comeback and completing a dream of finishing an Ironman Triathlon.

That’s how it went: grandfather and grandson putting the emphasis not on themselves, but the other. There’s an energy going on here – a sharing of strength. 

As a kid, Lineberger picked cotton on a Catawba County farm and later worked in his uncle’s grocery in downtown Maiden. Three uncles served in World War II and he was proud of them. At Maiden High, he played football, baseball and basketball – dreaming of going to Duke University. His family couldn’t afford the tuition so Lineberger joined Duke’s R.O.T.C. program and worked odd jobs like waiting tables in the university dining hall and selling football programs at games.

He was determined to succeed and earned a bachelor’s degree from Duke. Later, he’d get a master of business administration degree from the University of Chicago.

Action in Vietnam

Lineberger’s Air Force career began in 1953; he retired 28 years later as a colonel, but stayed on as a civilian employee. At 80, Lineberger still works full-time at Andrews Air Force Base and the Pentagon. He’s a Senior Executive Service member, the equivalent of a three-star general. 

The “Spirit of Service” award is for more than 50 years of service, including assignments with Air Force headquarters in Washington and the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force. Lineberger was military assistant to the assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower, Reserve Affairs and Installations under five assistant secretaries. 

During the recent awards ceremony Michael Rhodes, director of administration and management in the office of the Secretary of Defense, talked about Lineberger and others who were being honored that day. “….They’ve had a hand in creating the world we live in today,” he said. “For more than five decades, each of the tremendous public servants we’re celebrating today has ensured our military strength and readiness. They meant business and they got business done.” 

Lineberger has pulled his share of administrative duties. But he was also awarded the Bronze Star for taking part in ground action during the bloody 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam. He was in Cholon, the Chinese section of Saigon, where some of the most intense fighting took place. 

The Vietnam War is a subject he knows first-hand. He’s researched Congressional Medal of Honor nominations for two Air Force heroes killed in Vietnam and shepherded the paperwork through the system: From the Joint Chiefs of Staff and defense department to Congress and the White House. “I guided them through the hoops,” Lineberger said. “I know the hoops. I’ve been through them before.”

One of those Medal of Honor winners, Airman Bill Pitsenbarger, is the subject of a movie that will be filmed next year, partly in the Carolinas and Georgia. Lineberger is one of the consultants on “The Last Full Measure” with an all-star cast that includes Bruce Willis, Robert Duvall, Laurence Fishburne, Morgan Freeman and Charlie Hunnam. 

Lineberger has many relatives and friends in North Carolina and wishes he could get back more often to see them. Maybe the movie will give him the chance. 

Meanwhile, he’s still working with the Air Force because “it keeps the mind fresh,” Lineberger told me.

His wife, Mary Helen, died seven years ago. They had five children. Boyle is the oldest of nine grandchildren. 

Although Lineberger keeps in shape by walking, he doesn’t do the grueling Ironman Triathlons and marathons Boyle takes on. But Lineberger is often at the finish line to offer encouragement.  The fact his grandson is out doing all that physically challenging stuff is nothing short of a miracle. 

Learning to walk

Boyle, who lives in Welcome, Md., was 18 when he headed home from swim practice one day and a dump truck rammed into his Camaro. Air-lifted to a shock-trauma hospital, he’d lost 60 percent of his blood, his heart had moved across his chest, and his organs and pelvis were pulverized.  In a coma for two months, he eventually came to and relearned how to walk, run and swim. 

He’s won all sorts of competitions, graduated cum laude from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and in 2010 was awarded the American Red Cross Regional Spokesperson of the Year award for the second year in a row. 

Boyle has been featured on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” NBC’s “Today” show, ESPN, and in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Fitness magazine, Runner’s World – the list goes on and on. You can get all the details in “Iron Heart: The True Story of How I Came Back From the Dead.” 

Boyle survived because of his ironclad determination. He got that from his grandfather – somebody Boyle said “I want to and will try to emulate the rest of my life.” 

A “model of determination,” Boyle called him. “And most of all, a hero.” 

I’d call both of them “ironmen.”

To read more, please visit here.


Success Magazine: An Athlete’s Iron Heart

Success Magazine, January 2012

IRON HEART, January 2012

A car wreck nearly ended his life, but Brian Boyle wasn’t going to let that stop him from achieving his goals.

By James  Mayfield 

Depending on the day of the week, Brian Boyle’s schedule goes something like this: Wake up at 6 a.m., have a quick breakfast, hit the pool for a two-hour swim followed by a 20-mile run and maybe a four-hour bike ride. 

Such is the life of a person preparing for one of the most challenging sporting events on the planet—the Ironman triathlon. 

With a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile full marathon, the Ironman competition represents the survival of the fittest. The training regimen alone is something the 25-year-old from Welcome, Md., is lucky to be able to maintain—considering that just a few years ago, doctors told him he might never walk again. And during surgeries, he technically died eight times. 

In 2004, Boyle was 18 and at the top of his game, graduating from high school and looking forward to college. A competitive swimmer, his best events were the sprint-based 50-meter freestyle and 100-meter butterfly. On July 6, as Boyle headed home from swim practice, a dump truck broadsided his Chevy Camaro as he crossed an intersection. 

Pulled from the gnarled wreckage, Boyle had suffered extensive trauma, with lacerated liver, collapsed lungs, nonfunctioning kidneys and heart pushed to one side, among other injuries. “I had 60 percent blood loss and pretty much every major organ was damaged,” he says. At Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, Md., doctors placed Boyle in a chemically induced coma and performed a total of 14 operations, requiring 36 blood transfusions. During all this, his heart stopped eight times. 

After months in the hospital, Boyle finally regained consciousness, but his road to recovery was just beginning. Because his pelvis had been crushed, doctors were doubtful he would ever walk again. 

One thing that kept him motivated was his family. “My parents and I have always been best friends and that was the great thing about having that support system in the hospital. I just kept thinking, this may be bad now, but I’m thinking about my parents, and it’s a thousand times worse for them. So what I have to do is push aside all this negativity and put on a smile for my parents, because they are going through enough already.” 

The accident not only put a hold on his athletic aspirations, but also his goals overall, and Boyle was very serious about his goals. “When I graduated from high school, the three short-term, realistic goals I had were to go to college, be on the swim team and one day attempt an Ironman,” he says. “But the accident put everything on standby. I really didn’t know if it was ever going to be possible to achieve those dreams.” 

Despite everything, Boyle was not despondent. The very process of having set those goals, maintaining the discipline to work toward incremental benchmarks, and knowing the immense rewards of attaining them gave Boyle an advantage during his recovery. He knew he had to set new goals and a new plan to attack them—as well as a new timetable that would test him in a new way. “I had to just push forward every day and take it one step at a time, very slowly.” 

After two months in the intensive care unit and a week in a rehab center, Boyle went home and continued outpatient therapy. Meantime, his support system grew stronger. “Team Boyle,” comprising Brian and his mom and dad, had matching shirts made and developed a website where friends and well-wishers could cheer him on toward a full recovery and his goal of competing in an Ironman World Championship. 

On Oct. 13, 2007, three years after he was told he wouldn’t walk, Boyle completed the Ironman in Hawaii—in 14 hours, 42 minutes and 25 seconds. “It was the greatest day of my life; it was awesome,” he says. “That was the step back into life, the breath of life all over again. When I crossed the finish line in Hawaii, I was showing everyone, including myself, that I wasn’t sick anymore. I wasn’t Brian the boy in the wheelchair, I was Brian the Ironman.” 

Boyle recounts his remarkable journey in his 2009 memoir Iron Heart: The True Story of How I Came Back from the Dead. It was a book that began when he was released from the hospital, although he didn’t know it at the time. “When I left the hospital, my nurses told me I was going to go through physical therapy, but I also needed to focus on the emotional therapy, too,” he says. “And they told me to keep a journal of the progress so I could visually see the improvement on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. That’s really pretty much how the book was started.” And the title Iron Heart? “The title came from the fact that the main concern in the hospital was my heart. It sustained the most damage of all the organs, and the most operations were done on my heart, from what I was told.” 

Today, Brian Boyle’s Iron Heart story continues to inspire others and exemplify the importance of setting goals. He went to school for graphic design and upon graduating cum laude from St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 2010, ran his first 50-mile ultramarathon, completed his third Ironman in 10:14, and also made his first blood donation to the hospital that brought him back to life. 

In 2011, Boyle launched the Red Cross Iron Heart Campaign to help raise blood donation awareness on a national level for the organization he credits with helping save his life—the American Red Cross. “When I was going through physical therapy in Baltimore, I remember being in this wheelchair and looking around at the other patients and thinking to myself, ‘I may actually leave here one day and make a full recovery,’ ” he recalls. “I felt lucky at that time because a lot of the patients there may never walk again, they may never leave that unit. I promised myself right then and there that if I ever left that rehab center, I would do everything I possibly could to take my experiences and my background and use them in a positive way to help in as many forms as possible. And what better way to start than with the foundation of my recovery, the Red Cross?” 

As for Boyle’s next goal? Getting back to the World Championship Ironman in Hawaii, of course. “It was great that I finished the one in 2007, but now I have to try and earn my way back by qualifying like everybody else. When I crossed the finish line in Kona I made a promise to myself that one day I would get back there on my own… and not on my story,” he says, referring to exceptions to the rigorous qualifying requirements made for him because of his extraordinary circumstances. “The endurance races like the Ironman triathlons and marathons have personally become much more than challenging athletic events, they have become a lifestyle. What started out as a way to complete my recovery has now become a way to show my appreciation to the people who have been a part of my journey back to life. 

“Crossing the finish line at any event is my way of saying thank you to everyone who has supported me over the years—my parents, family, friends, coach, doctors, surgeons, nurses, physical therapists, rescue workers, blood donors, and the list goes on and on. Just to even make it to the starting line at these races is a gift, but to finish is so meaningful. When my heart is beating fast and the adrenaline and blood are pumping rapidly out on the course, this once was a sign that I was dying, but now they are a sign that I’m living.”

To see full article click here,

Brian’s Red Cross National PSA can be viewed here.