“It’s not about how hard or how far you get knocked down, it’s about how high you rise when you get back up.” With this mantra in his head, Andrew Starykowicz achieved something a few weeks ago that few others have: competing in an Ironman barely eight months after being hit by a van and in doing so, beating the cycling stage record for the third time in his career, with a time of 4h 1’14’’. It is without a doubt a feat worthy of the ‘Phoenix’ of triathlon and a real lesson of perseverance, which has earned him the nickname “The Revenant,” which we have affectionately bestowed upon him.
First of all, congratulations on your impressive comeback. How did you feel during the Texas race?
I was the happiest guy on the course. The plan was to go as if it was a normal race until had a breakdown in form or started to feel pain that risked injury. Having a healing back and left lower leg I had to be very cautious to differentiate pain that was causing harm versus healing aches and pains that are part of my daily life. So I simply went to the maximum of my ability until my fitness ran out and walked the rest.
Crossing the finish line in an Ironman after 8 months of recovery must have been incredible… What was your last thought before the Ironman?
I was overwhelmed with emotion, the last 8 months I would not wish on my biggest foe and to be able to just toe the start was an accomplishment, to cross the finish line…the picture spoke for itself.
What did your fans say to you during the marathon, when as you say, you had given it your all and you looked tired?
The fans of triathlon are a lot of fun. My fans much of the time seem to be what most would refer to as overserved, but to me, those are my fans. Guys and gals who are out spending their weekend how it should be spent, kicking back a few cold ones and cheering for their favorite athletes at a sport they are passionate about.
After these months of training and recovery, did you ever imagine that you would be capable of performing at this level on your bike, the exact same day of your return?
It was in my wildest dreams, but not my normal dreams… (laughs)
It seemed like no time had gone by between your Ordu and you…
It was only my 4th time on the Time Trial bike and I just settled on top of it and cranked out mad speed.
When did you realize that you could beat the record for the bike stage of the Ironman once again?
It was a secondary motive. My primary goal was to get out and feel good. As long I was feeling good and not having injury type pain I could maintain power and aero position.
Do you think that you would be capable of breaking the 4-hour barrier in the bicycle stage of an Ironman?
1:15 sounds like a very little bit, but that is over 0.5 miles/1 km. Divide that over 4 hours, it is a long freaking way off still! My goal is to win races, by going fast on the bike it puts me in position to win these races. I would rather go 4:35 and win than 3:59 and lose. It would be fun to break 4, but when I do it I also want to walk away with the win.
I’m sure you’ve received a ton of messages of support upon your return. What has been the most moving message, tweet or Whatsapp message you’ve received?
The overwhelming support from not only Age Group Superfans but from other professionals was incredible. There is not one that is “most special,” yet none of them were as special as the messages sent while my son was in the ICU for nearly all of the first 10 weeks of his life.
After the race I replied, ummm, over 600 messages via phone, email, and direct message on social media.
What did your young daughter say?
The best part about my daughter is she is so young she doesn’t comprehend all that has gone on the last 8 months. It is always “daddy up-ee” wanting to be picked up, and for much of the last 8 months I could not because of the fractures to my vertebrates…which really makes your heart sink telling your daughter you can’t pick her up. Yet we made it through day by day. Now she just tells me “more power” when she rides in the trailer on the way to school (daycare).
Do you remember how you felt the first day you rode your Ordu? What was that first training session like?
Yes. I rode the velodrome on a 35 degree F windy day and I could hardly hold aero position. it is a fast bike so it was fun to roll at speed again, I did not ride long at all because while I was comfortable on the bike my body was not ready for aero position.
What has been the most difficult part of these past few months?
The challenges we faced with our son.
Was there ever a time you thought you wouldn't make it back?
Yes, and I still question whether I will ever be fit enough to win another race. Let’s be clear here the “Comeback” is NOT COMPLETE. It is merely started. Finishing an Ironman to me means very little, winning races is what I do and until I am back to winning races with loaded pro fields, I am not “back”.
And just the opposite, when did you start to visualize your comeback?
Every day since I was able to sit on a bike in rehabilitation.
When did you decide that you were ready to step up and compete in the Texas Ironman?
I decided March 21st that I was fit enough to finish and my coaches agreed that I should give it a go.
Your family must have been a great source of support over these months…
Triathlon is truly a team sport. My wife & I have been through a living hell the last 4 months of 2016, between me getting run over, giving our son CPR on multiple occasions and spending nearly 10 weeks in an ICU, there are no words to describe what we went through. A comeback would never have started if it was not for the support I have received from my wife, family, neighbors, and friends. I had childhood friends show up at my door to say hello and ask how they can help and support me. Then there is my coaches and physical therapist, I am just sitting shaking my head with a lack of words. I could never have done this without them.
“It’s not about how hard or how far you get knocked down, it’s about how high you rise when you get back up.” What has this sentence meant to you over these 8 tough months?
It has been my mantra. It is like Lady Gaga says, “I’ve got a 100 million reasons to walk away, but baby I need just 1 good one to stay.” Nobody would’ve blamed me for walking away, after so many of my life events over the last 5 years but I know how fast I can get, I know how good I am. I know that if I can get a fair shot, show up healthy and well trained, I can do something legendary and that is why I am clawing my way back to the top level.
In your second race after your return (the Monterrey 70.3 Ironman) you set another record. How did you feel during this race?
I wish I had the legs I had at Texas because the fireworks would have been incredible.
And now, after Monterrey, what is the next step?
I need to go back to ground zero and redevelop core strength. I also need to build a base fitness for running and swimming, followed by a good amount to tempo and speed play.