UltraRunning Magazine: One Hundred Miles of Gratitude

IMG_5039UltraRunning Magazine

March 2018 issue

The adrenaline was electric at the starting line of the Devil Dog 100 ultramarathon in Prince William Forest Park, Virginia. It was 5:59 a.m. on December 2, 2017 and with only a minute to go, I glanced at the faces around me, their physical and emotional energy glowing under their headlamps, and I wondered what motivated all these incredible athletes to pursue this event. As for me, I glanced down at my bib number where I had written the names of 170 generous people that pledged to donate blood to support my Red Cross virtual blood drive – they were my motivation.

The gun went off and I focused in on running one mile at a time, hoping that the past six months of training would get me to the finish line. The first loop, miles 1-20, went by in a steady blur as I charted out various markers on the course to be aware of for the upcoming laps. Early on, I stayed with a pack of runners in a single file line at a 10-minute-per-mile pace, our headlamps illuminating the course in front of us. I continuously studied the course in front of me, on alert for any root, rock or any hidden debris that could twist an ankle or worse. In the sub-freezing temperature, I kept trying to blow my exhaled breath downward so it didn’t cloud my foot placement. The last third of the loop included a variety of technical inclines that forced me to slow the pace to a careful walk.

The second loop, miles 21-40, the pace remained steady. With the energy still high, I spoke to several of the runners that had  shared the same pace – learning where they were from, how many ultras they completed, what their estimated finish time was and other information.

Once I reached the halfway mark during the third lap (miles 41-60), I felt a sense of reassurance. Right before the sun went down, I was able to see my parents at an aid station. We were very happy to see each other, even if only for a few short minutes, but it was enough to give me some much needed inspiration.

On the fourth lap, miles 60-80, I felt a surge of energy and increased the pace for as long as I could. I knew I had to conserve energy for the last loop, but I wanted to make the most of this second wind that I had after seeing my parents.

By mile 92, the surge slowed back down and I alternated a fast walk/jog strategy. Through the trees, I watched the sun begin to slowly rise and I could hear the sounds of nature and wildlife preparing for the new day – the birds, insects, and the sound of my tired feet crunching through the path covered in leaves. I breathed in deeply as I reflected on how magical this moment was, noticing that the sun’s reflection off the tiny dew droplets looked like thousands of diamonds in every direction. Watching the sunrise was an awakening for the mind, body and spirit.

With a few miles left, I was reduced to a moderate walk and I kept glancing at my watch to see my pace and the time, but most of all my heart rate.

Watching the blinking heart icon made me reflect on how special this event was and just how amazing it is to be alive. Thirteen years earlier, I was in ICU in critical condition, in a coma for two months, resuscitated eight times, and was given 36 blood transfusions and 13 plasma treatments throughout my 14 lifesaving operations. I had been in a near fatal-car accident coming home after swim practice.

And now, here I was celebrating 10 years of competing in endurance sports and approaching the finish line. I looked down at my bib number that included the 170 names. As a blood recipient, these generous people were my motivation to not only start this race, but to also get to the finish line.

After 26 hours and 48 minutes, I crossed the finish line through the support of my parents, wife, four-month-old daughter Clara, and my Red Cross colleagues, Donna and Kamenna. In my years of competing in endurance sports, I’ve learned that a race may be run alone, but in no way is it ever an individual effort. I was able to improve my 100 mile time by 3 hours and surprisingly place ninth overall, enjoying every mile, breath, and heartbeat along the way.

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The Huffington Post: Art as a Form of Therapy

Brian Boyle, Time is of the Essence, 2006, graphic pen and charcoal on paper, 24 x 36in., (artwork © Brian Boyle)

Brian Boyle, Time is of the Essence, 2006, graphic pen and charcoal on paper, 24 x 36in., (artwork © Brian Boyle)

Every artist has a focus and a story to tell. My name is Brian Boyle, and this is my story.

My life changed drastically on July 6, 2004. One month after I graduated high school, I was coming home from swim practice and was involved in a very serious car accident with a speeding dump truck. The impact of the crash knocked my heart across my chest, breaking most of my ribs, clavicle, pelvis, collapsing my lungs, bloodloss of 60 percent damaging every major organ in my body, causing severe nerve damage to my left shoulder and left me in a coma where I was on life support for over two months at Prince Georges Hospital Center in Cheverly, MD.

In the blink of an eye I went from being a high-school graduate to a practically lifeless body on my deathbed. As for the future, it did not exist. My life was ripped away in an instant, and all that I had left as a reminder was a broken body covered in scarred flesh and a fragmented memory of what happened.

My rehabilitation and therapy was not just physical, it was also psychological and emotional. It was therapeutic for me to put my thoughts on paper, through writing, drawing and also through photography. For many hours of every day, my pen was my psychiatrist and I spoke through it subconsciously, and my emotions poured out onto the paper and into the computer.

I did not have an actual memory of the accident taking place, but I remembered most phases of the coma, and after a few weeks of getting strong enough to write and draw skillfully again, I explored my tragic past in order to confront and understand what happened to me.

The intense concentration that took place while visualizing and illustrating the subject matter helped me focus into the subconscious memories that lay beneath the surface of my mind. Having the ability to put my thoughts and memories down on paper was very therapeutic because it was the most efficient form of self-expression, which allowed me to embark on an internal journey in search of understanding.

Art portrays who I am as a human being and shows my inner feelings that cannot be expressed by words; recreating scenes from my memory of being in a coma, hallucinations, never-ending operations and the often hopeless atmosphere. To illustrate these scenes, I often use symbolic colors and images, disorienting compositions of blurred first-person perspectives and other methods that will recreate the memories.

This is what makes art so extraordinary, because an image that appears to be a blotch of colors is actually an expression of the artist’s emotions. I can create a different interpretation of my work, just by adding a variety of color-coordinated textures and value changes. An artist portrays their thoughts and feelings into their work by using neutral colors like gray and blue to show a feeling of peace, or use more vivid colors like red and orange to show rage or anger, and most importantly the essence of life, the substance of blood. The usage of black and white colors shows a clear boundary of life and death.

I try to use different effects like this in my artwork to catch the viewer’s eye; elongating a certain stroke or angle can change the whole perspective of a painting or sketch. Whether I’m drawing a picture of the intersection that my accident took place, or trying to recreate the feeling of being comatose, the art that I create attempts to put these fragments of my agonizing past together again.

Brian Boyle, Comatose, 2010, film, 2:00 (artwork © Brian Boyle)

Brian Boyle, Comatose, 2010, film, 2:00 (artwork © Brian Boyle)

Click here to view short film, “Comatose”.

I strongly believe that life is a learning experience in itself because every day you discover a new element that makes you stronger as an individual. Art is symbolically similar to life because art represents the essence and nature of life, which makes art as well as life a learning experience.

When I begin a new project, whether it’s digital, print or audio, I usually do not have a starting place or final product in mind. I just start drawing and it leads to a subconscious exploration of the haunting and fascinating visions of my past.

After the first mark on the paper is put down, I am flooded with memories that are visual representations of my subconscious. My method of reaction will vary, but my hope is to confront these images on a visible scale in order to make sense of them and from doing this these past few years, I finally have the closure that I have been seeking.

My journey back to life has been a very slow and often difficult process, and my art has also been a journey in itself to understand and confront this process.

The Huffington Post: Brian Boyle Resumes Triathlon Racing, Becomes American Red Cross Spokesperson

slide_258811_1676306_freeBrian Boyle died eight times after a dump truck sidelined him on his way home from swim practice, but the resilient athlete just wouldn’t let go.

Boyle was 18 years old when the force of a horrific crash pushed his heart across his chest and damaged every major organ in his body eight years ago. Doctors weren’t sure he would survive, let alone ever walk again, according to the American Red Cross.

But after undergoing several life-saving surgeries, a medically induced a coma, intensive rehabilitation and receiving 36 blood transfusions, the Welcome, Md., man gradually recovered and now dedicates his life to competing in triathlons and giving back to the donors who saved him.

“Thirty-six blood transfusions. That’s 36 people who took an hour of their time to save the life of someone they would never know,” Boyle told The Washington Post. “When I compete in a race, it isn’t just me out there: There is also a team of many blood donors being represented, and crossing that finish line is my way of saying thank you for their gift.”

And Boyle has crossed many a finish line. He achieved his lifelong dream of competing in the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii just three years after his accident. This year alone, Boyle has competed in two Ironman races and one marathon. He dons the Red Cross logo on his chest each time.

“I wanted to test my body,” he told courant.com after finishing his most recent marathon on Oct. 13. “I felt so limited, so restricted throughout my recovery. I was Brian the Sick Boy. The Boy in the Wheelchair. Now it’s Brian the Ironman.”

Boyle also honors his blood donors by emulating them, especially during a time when the Red Cross is facing a 15-year low in blood supply. He’s donated blood five times, according to the Red Cross.

“During a race when I feel my heart racing and my blood pumping, these were once signs that I was dying,” Boyle wrote on redcross.org, “now these are signs that I am living, and thanks to the Red Cross, living is something I don’t take for granted.”

To read full article, please visit this website.

2012 Boston Marathon

Near the start line of the Boston Marathon

As an endurance athlete, running in the Boston marathon is an experience I will always cherish, and as a blood recipient/donor/volunteer it meant so much to be able to run the race for the Red Cross.  Due to the heat, close to 90 degrees, it was repeatedly said that it was one of the most difficult races in the 116 years of the Boston marathon. From my training regime, I was hoping to run a personal best of around 3:20, but I couldn’t believe how much I started to sweat within the first mile so I knew from the beginning it was going to be a rough day.

Near the Newton Hills is where the energy was just completely zapped due to the heat, and it was the downhill section that affected me more than going up because the cramps set it in my legs. After Heartbreak Hill, I focused on just enjoying the race and getting to the finish line safely so I stopped and chatted with the Red Cross volunteers for about 15 minutes near mile 24 and just soaked in the experience of running Boston – it truly was an amazing day.

A few yards away from crossing the finish line

When I sat down after crossing the finish line (4:04) amongst the large crowds of people, a runner standing next to me fainted and I hurried to catch him and shield is head before hitting the ground. After 20 seconds or so, he started to regain consciousness when the medics rushed to him, so it took me by surprise that not only did I run the race for the Red Cross but I had to step in and put my volunteer cap on as well.

It was an honor to run on the Red Cross Team in the Boston Marathon and I’m so proud of all 21 members of the team. We were able to go above our fundraising goal and bring in over $80,000 for the Red Cross.

2012 Boston Marathon finisher's medal

The Boston marathon was a very challenging race, but I enjoyed every second of it. A marathon may be run alone, but in no way is it an individual effort. This race is for my blood donors, the Red Cross and for all the people who have been a part of my journey back to life. This finisher’s medal is a token of my appreciation for the gift you have given me, and I thank you all so much for believing in me and for all the encouragement and support over the years.