Move to Hawaii & Ironman Experience
In June 2015 I moved to Kona on the ‘Big Island’ of Hawaii. It had been my dream to retire to Hawaii, so now that I could no longer pursue my career in Idaho due to the stroke and aphasia (difficulty with speech and language), and after my wife was offered a job as a surgical technician at a local hospital, we decided to move. It must have been God intervening because soon after my move I found a new purpose in life.
On October 10, 2015, I volunteered at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. I had a lot of fun and it got me thinking... “I could do something like that.” I have never been even a casual runner, and I think I had it in me to run a marathon? And after a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 bike ride? At 56 years old? And…having had a serious stroke? What was I thinking!!
Soon after, I noticed a guy who advertised on his car that he coaches triathletes. He got to know I was a stroke survivor and my vision behind wanting to participate in triathlons. I awkwardly asked if he, Rick Rubio, would consider coaching me. After he watched me run and swim, he said he would! I learned later that Coach Rick had had two hip replacements and competed in triathlons.
Recovery Is Slow, But Steady
I received invaluable support from my girlfriend (who later became my wife), children, colleagues, and friends. I had speech, occupational, and physical therapy from the hospital where I was a patient, and I continued outpatient therapy after being discharged. When I could no longer afford it, I relied on the health providers who graciously gave me discounts (some by as much as 100 percent). With encouragement from the Idaho State University Speech and Language Program, I helped start an Aphasia Stroke Recovery Support Program for stroke survivors.
I also improvised. After about 18 months after my stroke, I began working out, riding my bike short distances, weights, and swimming. As my stamina slowly increased, I began to go on longer bike rides and swims. I remember the days where I could go 10 miles on my bike and swim 200 yards, and I so was so proud of myself!
Kevin Rhinehart, Stroke Survivor, Triathlete
No Going Back Now!
First up, there was an 2015 Thanksgiving Triathlon, (Kiser Motorcycle's 8th Annual (Tri)ptophan Turkey Day Triathlon), racing for Team BioAstin, a company that makes nutritional supplements. That triathlon is called the sprint triathlon and consisted of 1/3 mile swim, 16 mile bike, 2 mile run. Was I ever tired but I kept going, finishing in the last half on the participants. More importantly, I was hooked. I had found new passion in life - I wanted to participate in triathlons to give stroke survivors hope!
Since then, I've participated in other races, all the way up to the finishing the Ironman World Championship (2016), a 140.3 mile affair (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run, which is a marathon)! I also participated and finished the Boston Marathon (2018). I wasn't fast, but was I determined!
Prestroke, letting off a little steam
Prestroke, attending a conference in Boston, MA.
Copied from the American Stroke Association web page
Life Before the Stroke
In the years leading up to my stroke, I was busy involved in my psychotherapy practice which I loved, helping people find healing from extensive damage caused by themselves and/or others. I enjoyed playing music, finding escape with my bass guitar. I also enjoyed family, friends, fishing, wine, Seahawks football, and volunteering.
According to the American Stroke Association, "a stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States."
A piece of plaque traveled up my left carotid artery and various parts became stuck in my left brain, causing the affected parts of my brain to die. Because it was on the left side of my brain, speech was impossible, and the right side of my body was seriously impaired. I could read, but I could not identify letters. I had trouble writing, standing, swallowing, balancing, and had to sit in a wheelchair.
I had to quit my job that I loved, and I could no longer play my bass due to an uncooperative right hand.
In short, I thought my life was over...
Laurie Rhinehart pictured with me after my very first triathlon in 2015.
The Night That Changed Everything
After work one evening, my son asked me if I would join him and a friend with working out, something that I would infrequently. Not long into it, I suddenly felt exhausted and I laid down...right there on the floor. I was not able to walk or talk, and my face looked odd. Unbeknownst to me, I had a serious ischemic stroke. That was January 24, 2012.
The main reason I do the triathlons is very clear to me: To give stroke survivors hope and empowerment. As I said, I thought my life was over, and in many ways, it was. However, since that day in October 2015, I repurposed my life to helping stroke survivors find meaning and hope for their lives. I want to show them that their lives are not wasted; that through hard work, they can once again find meaning in their lives. Triathlons happen to be my passion. Each stroke survivor needs to find their own passion, something that motivates them to achieve more than they at first thought possible, whether its participating in a sport or swallowing.
The bottom line is, don’t let anybody define who you are. Don’t let a diagnosis become a prison that keeps you from enjoying life. Don’t let self-limiting beliefs define who you are. Dream big. Ridiculously big. Stroke survivors CAN!
Out of this, I started Stroke Survivors CAN, Inc., a nonprofit organization to help to connect stroke survivors and a reason for living passionately, and to provide sponsorships to stroke survivors in non-contact athletics.
I’ll be speaking to groups on my story on courage, determination, the importance of community, exercise, and much more.
Together, Stroke Survivors CAN!
Kevin Rhinehart, Stroke Survivor, Triathlete © All Rights Reserved