A decade ago Patrick Evoe was 50 lbs. overweight and couldn't swim 25 m. Now he's an IRONMAN champion.
By Kevin Mackinnon
As he ran down the finishing chute he stopped to hug his parents. He stopped to hug his girlfriend. There were high-fives for his nephews, his sister and his brother-in-law. All the folks who have been coming to his IRONMAN races for years. As he ran down the one-of-a-kind finish chute at 4th Street Live in Louisville wearing his orange, Little Caeser’s-emblazoned race kit, Patrick Evoe got to celebrate his big win with the people who have been so supportive through the good times and bad.
Photo by FinisherPix.com
Patrick Evoe hardly has to win for his career – heck, his life, actually – to have been a resounding success. In 2002, just out of college and dealing with the stress of multiple layoffs happening to people in the cubicles all around him, Evoe decided it was time to make a change. He weighed 190 lbs, which made running in the oppressive heat in Austin, Texas overwhelming, so he decided to hit the pool. There was one slight problem. He could barely swim.
“At the beginning, I couldn’t swim 25 meters without stopping,” he says. “I worked that entire summer, swimming every day after work, each time trying to make it 50 meters farther than I had the day before. By the end of that summer, I had built up to being able to swim 2,000 meters without a break.”
Fast-forward a decade. As they do at all his IRONMAN races, Evoe’s parents were waiting at the end of the swim, ready to give him a split. In Kentucky, Evoe wanted to know how far he was behind defending champion Chris McDonald. If the gap was over three minutes, he was going to ride his own race. Less and he was going to try and catch up to the strong-riding Australian as quickly as he could.
“Two minutes,” he heard as he exited the water.
“I decided to drill the first 20 miles to see if I could catch him,” Evoe says. He caught up to McDonald and race co-leader Thomas Gerlach and stuck with them. After taking in some calories and caffeine from his special needs bag at 60 miles, Evoe felt really good going up a hill at the 75-mile point of the race.
“Something inside me just said go,” he says. “I started riding as hard as I possibly could. I kept telling myself ‘ride as if there’s no run.’”
Ride like there’s no run? Really? What happened to just trying to make it 50 m further than the day before? A few months earlier Evoe was dealing with the worst year of his professional career. Now he’s taking that big a chance?
To understand how Evoe reached the point where he was willing to put his race on the line, you have to understand how much pressure the guy puts on himself. While most of us would just be thrilled at the fact that we’ve made if from where he started to the professional ranks, this is a guy who wants so much more.
Last year Evoe was the runner-up in Louisville. He finished second a few months later in Cozumel. You don’t lose 50 pounds to become a professional triathlete unless you are driven and have a desire to push your body to new limits. So, last winter, Evoe pushed himself harder than ever before. He was determined to move one more step up the podium.
The result of all that hard work? Not good. He dropped out of IRONMAN Texas and wasn’t happy with his race in Racine. In the summer he moved up to Boulder and changed his outlook on training and racing.
“I put so much pressure on myself – all I could think about all winter was the win,” he says. “ In the summer I got back to enjoying the process. I rode hard up the mountains and I ran hard with the guys.”
Somewhere along the line he remembered what had driven him ten years ago to get into the pool and swim those 25 meters.
Which is why he took that chance, I’m guessing. With 37 miles to go on the bike, Patrick Evoe realized that he had nothing to lose – he’s already a great champion. He could take a chance and go for the win on that hot day in Kentucky.
Not that it didn’t hurt, mind you.
“I didn’t get excited until I could see the finish line because, in the last 13 miles, I wanted to stop every step,” he said after the race. “That last mile was my slowest mile and my most painful mile.”
Photo by Larry Rosa / endurapix.com
Painful, yes, but oh so worth it.
“I can’t describe how excited I am,” he said a few hours later when he returned to the finish line to welcome athletes into the finish line. “I feel very at piece that it finally happened. It was far from a perfect day, but I made it happen. I took some risks and they paid off.”
It is a tribute to just how great a guy Patrick Evoe is that when Chris McDonald got to the line in second place he was quick to celebrate his friend’s win. “I might have been a bit happier if I’d won,” McDonald said, “but I’m not sure how much.”
You know how we often say “it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy?”
That win in Louisville last week? It really couldn’t have.
You can reach Kevin Mackinnon at email@example.com