Patrick Schuster was born in Chicago, IL. As a teen, he relocated to Irving, TX
with his family. Patrick graduated from Dallas’ Jesuit College Preparatory Academy in 1990.
Patrick and his wife, Amy live with their family in Arlington, TX.
Photo credit: Paschall Studios Photography
My Journey to Ironman
My running career began at Jesuit College Preparatory, where I attended high school. My sophomore and junior years, I ran on the cross-country team. At the end of my junior year, my parents divorced. While they tended to my then five-year-old sister, I was left frequently unattended. My senior year was spent heading down the wrong road… I quit the cross country team, I studied little, and I spent time doing “my things my way.” I started smoking, drinking, running with the wrong crowd. I graduated from Jesuit and enrolled at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) in the Fall.
At UTA, I was a member of the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity, where I also served a term as President. In November 1993, the weekend before Thanksgiving, a friend and I were hit by a drunk driver. She was dropping me off at my fraternity house when the drunk driver hit a lane divider button, skid fifty yards through the intersection, jumped the curb, hit the top of the trunk of a car in the driveway (so he was airborne), then hit my friend’s car, flipping it over. He wrapped his car around a tree; she and I were left resting on our heads in a badly mangled car. I spent three days in ICU with a fractured liver, broken rib and a lot of cuts and bruises. She was released from the ER with minor injuries, and the drunk ended up having surgery for a lacerated liver. While recovering from my injuries, having to do respiratory therapy so that I could be strong enough to walk across the room, I quit smoking.
In 1994, my son was born. I was 22 and barely able to take care of myself out in the real world. His mom was in a similar boat. When he was 10 months old, he moved up north with his mom to her family. I was young and dumb, and with a series of miscommunications and misunderstandings, we lost touch. It hurt my heart that my son was growing up without me (and I him).
In 1997, that friend who went for the roll in the car with me became my wife. Amy and I decided to enter a running race – the Dino Dash. It was the first 10K I had run since high school. I actually enjoyed it and became anxious to get back into running. In our packet of goodies from that race, I found an application for the Cowtown Marathon. It was being held four weeks later. I decided to ramp myself up for the marathon. Amy said I was crazy, but I did it anyway.
The night before the marathon, I watched the broadcast of the 1997 Ironman World Championship, held in Hawaii. The Ironman started on Oahu, and is now held on the Big Island. It consists of a 2.4 mile ocean swim, 112 mile bike through the lava fields, and finishes with a 26.2 mile marathon, also through the lava fields. I said to Amy, “I’m going to do that someday.” She gave me that “Yeah, sure” look and went about her activities. I finished the 2008 Cowtown Marathon in about 3:30. I was pleased with my time, but I wasn’t sure when I would be able to walk again! Amy and my mom met me at the finish line, and they let me lean on them to walk to the car. We still had about 50 yards to go when I sat down in the grass; I just couldn’t walk any more. Amy went and got the car, and she and my mom loaded me in. That night, I told Amy,”As soon as I can move, I’m going to start training for the Ironman.” I still don’t think she believed me.
A couple of weeks later, I went and bought my first bike – a $400 Schwinn. I rode around in our apartment parking lot, remembering how to shift gears, getting used to the bike. I worked my way up to several miles, then ventured out on the streets of Arlington. In May 1998, I competed in my first triathlon – the Tom Landry Tri in Dallas. It was a 300 meter pool swim, 18 mile bike and 5K run. I had a pretty good race, and I learned quite a bit about how triathlons “flow.” June brought my second race – Metroplex Sprint Tri, out at Joe Pool Lake. It was a 400 meter lake swim, 18 mile bike and 5K run. Again, a race I felt good about, and three weeks later, my third triathlon ever was the ½ Ironman at Buffalo Springs Lake in Lubbock, TX. The 1.2 mile lake swim, 56 mile very hilly, very windy bike course, and very HOT, hilly, windy 13.1 mile run course took me 5 hours, 8 minutes to complete. Amy met me at the finish line with cheers and a hug. I leaned on her and said, “This is the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever done!” Once again, she practically carried me to the car.
Back at the hotel, Amy asked, “So, do you still want to try to qualify for that Ironman?” “Hell, yeah,” I replied.
After two more years of racing all different distances, including two more trips back to Lubbock, in May 2000, I went to Baltimore to race the Blackwater ½ Ironman, in hopes of qualifying for Hawaii. I fell short of my goal at Blackwater, but I earned a spot at Ironman USA, Lake Placid. This was to be my first full Ironman – a 2.4 mile lake swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run. We had to do some quick rearranging of the finances and find somewhere for me to stay up there, but in July, I went to Lake Placid, NY and finished in 9:41:47, second in my age group, and I qualified for the Ironman World Championship!
Three weeks after returning home from Lake Placid, we learned that Amy was pregnant. It made our plans and my training a little crazier, but we made it work. Amy, my mom and two friends of ours packed up and headed off to Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii in October 2000. I finished my first Hawaiian Ironman in about 10 ½ hours… a little shy of my goal, but then again, my goal was to be able to finish with the Pros (in 9 hours or less).
In 2001, 5 weeks after the birth of our first daughter, “Monkey”, I went to Camp Pendleton, CA for Ironman California. It was a brutal course…one cyclist even died, having lost control on one of the very steep decents. I finished in 9:20, and I was ecstatic, regardless of where I placed in my age group. I called home to Amy, who was watching the race unfold online. She answered the phone yelling, “You won your age group! You qualified again!” We were off to Hawaii again in October, this time with 6 month old Monkey in tow. My second Hawaiian Ironman was absolutely my toughest…I had nutrition problems. I mis-calculated my caloric needs and ran out of food way too early on the bike course. I spent too much time trying to figure out where I went wrong, and by the time I tried to play catch-up, it was too late. I cramped, threw up, and was just miserable. I walked for long stretches of the marathon, but I was determined to finish. It took me over 11 hours, but I made it to the finish line.
I returned to Ironman USA, Lake Placid in 2002. This time, Amy got to go with me. She didn’t spend too much time watching the race though, since it poured for the entire day. Descending some of the 6% grades in curb-deep water and 15-20 mph winds definitely made for an interesting day. Despite the tough conditions, I was able to finish in about 9:45, this time for 1st place in my age group, 7th amateur and 20th overall. Back to Hawaii, where I turned in my best Hawaiian Ironman time – 9:47:33. I had wanted a faster time, but I was happy that things finally seemed to fall into place, especially since the morning of the race, we weren’t even sure if they were going to have it. The west side of the Big Island gets rain about 3 times a year…that morning, we awoke to a major storm, and the ocean was really choppy. The Ironman gods must have worked their magic, as by the 7am start, the skies were clear and the water had calmed considerably. I was really pleased with the day.
In 2003, I really wanted another shot at the Hawaiian Ironman. I decided Lake Placid was my course, and I made plans to go back. As it turned out, that race was the National Amateur Championship for 2003. I had a new goal – I wanted to be the National Amateur Champion. I trained like a mad man… Monkey spent hours in the jogging stroller or in her playpen alongside my indoor bike trainer… I was on a mission. The training paid off when I finished Ironman USA, Lake Placid in 9:43:17 – first amateur, fourteenth overall. I was psyched about Hawaii too; this year was the 25th anniversary. Unfortunately, my race in Hawaii was doomed before it even started. Our condo didn’t have air conditioning, so I was constantly uncomfortable. I had stomach issues, and I was retaining water. I felt miserable and was never able to shake it. I drank a gallon or two of the ocean during the swim, which I promptly deposited along the highway once I was on the bike. I managed to ride OK and thought maybe I could shake whatever this was. The bike turn-around in Hawi brought the 40mph winds, and then the stomach cramps returned. I managed to run OK, but never fast. I thought very seriously about quitting. I reminded myself it was the 25th anniversary of the race…I told myself that tens of thousands of people try with all they have just to qualify to get here, but only 1800 or so actually get to go… I reminded myself how much I, and especially Amy and Monkey had sacrificed so that we could be here again… and I kept running. I finished in 10:46:24… not my best time, but not my worst either. Amy and Monkey ran to the finish line with me, and we were even included as part of the national broadcast.
In 2004, having come off of a pretty successful year, I decided to try my hand at going Pro. Shortly after doing so, I decided to go ahead and enroll in EMT school. I found that my competitive spirit and determination in triathlon training and racing carried over to the classroom. I became fixated on becoming the 1st in the class. I didn’t train as much as I should have to be a “Pro,” but I was studying like crazy. My first Pro race was back at Buffalo Springs. I went to my EMT class on Saturday, while Amy, Monkey and my mom drove to Lubbock. I got out of school that evening and flew to Lubbock. Amy picked me up at the airport, we raced back to the hotel to get my packet, and raced to the room to get me to bed. I got up the next morning, started the race, and for the first time ever in a triathlon, I dropped out. I was out on the bike course, pushing up the hills into the wind, and my heart just wasn’t in it. So, I stopped.
We went home and regrouped. I wanted to try one more big race as a Pro, but I needed to wait until I was done with class. I graduated from EMT school in October, having accomplished my goal of being valedictorian. In November, we drove to Panama City for Ironman Florida. I had a decent race there, but not the pro-caliber race that I wanted to have. On the drive home, I decided that it was time to hang up the triathlon career and pursue my goal of becoming a firefighter.
In January 2005, I enrolled in Paramedic school, and I threw down the gauntlet to some of the guys who had been in my EMT class as well. I was going to repeat my valedictorian accomplishment. Amy found out some weeks later that she was pregnant with our second child. We were excited, but I put even more pressure on myself to succeed. Triathlon hadn’t exactly been a high paying career, and now with a second baby coming, I needed to step it up. On September 29, 2005, “Boo” was born; I also graduated Paramedic school that night, as class valedictorian. I went to work for AMR in Arlington, working graveyards so that if one of the kids were sick, neither of us would have to take off from work. It wasn’t Amy’s ideal scenario to be alone 4-5 nights a week with a 4 ½ year old and a newborn, but we made it work. I started testing with any fire department who was offering a test. In August 2006, I finished the testing process with a local city, and I began my career that October. Always one to compete, I set my sights on the three-peat. I was going to be #1 in fire school. I accomplished my goal, but more importantly, I am now finally where I want to be. I had the career that I knew I wanted.
Finished with school and studying, and finally having a “normal” schedule, I began to get back into triathlon training. I knew someday, I would want to go back to Hawaii… not as a Pro, not necessarily trying to win, but to race again, push myself and enjoy the journey. 2007 was spent getting my training base back. I decided that I would go back to Buffalo Springs in June 2008, hoping to get back to Hawaii. I trained around everyone’s schedules… I set up training around my shifts, around kids’ school schedules, Amy’s work schedule, PTA meetings, karate practice, swim practice, etc. I got up at 4am to ride for two hours before the rest of the house comes alive. I got on the elliptical skier after the kids go to bed, so that I can help with homework, dinner and baths. I have every minute of the next day planned the night before, so that as soon as Boo is dropped off at school at 8:45, every minute is properly allocated until 2:45 when I have to be back to pick her up. There is virtually no wiggle room, though Amy is a champ at finding a few honey-do’s to keep things interesting.
June got here quickly, and we were off to Lubbock. I trained for the hotbox that is Lubbock. Every year, temperatures on race day range from 102-109. I had my nutrition plan down to a science…exactly when to take which food, drink or salt tablet. The morning of the race, it was 62 degrees and raining.
I swam exactly what I wanted to swim, and I headed out on the bike. I rode more or less what I wanted to ride… I was ready to attack the run. As I left on the run course, it was still raining, there were 20-25 mph winds and the temperature was still only 65. I was dressed for 102, not 65, so I froze my butt off. I ran the exact splits I wanted for the first several miles, then one by one, my pace got a little slower. I felt my chances of going to Hawaii slipping away, but I kept running. I finished the race in 4:30:44, 34th out of 936 and 5th in my age group. I was pissed. Amy had been out in the rain with the kids since the wee hours of the morning, so she was frazzled. It was hard for her to mask her disappointment too. I packed up my stuff and we headed back to the hotel. I just wanted to get through the day and go home the next morning. I was so angry, I didn’t want to go to the awards dinner. As we talked, Amy and I decided that it was really OK that I didn’t qualify… air fare was getting out of control anyway. We probably couldn’t afford the $1200 a piece plane ticket. Good riddance…
I had promised to take Monkey to the hotel’s indoor pool after the race. Of course, she was oblivious to my disappointment and was relentless about going swimming. I grabbed a beer and took her to the pool. While sitting watching her swim, two other competitors greeted me. We exchanged comments of “That was some wind,” and “Tough course today.” Finally, one of them asked me how my race had gone.
“Alright,” I said.
“What was your time?” he asked.
“Uh, about 4:30,” I replied.
“Wow! That’s awesome!” he said.
“Are you a Pro?” asked the other guy.
“Nope, my time was alright, I guess. How was your race?” I asked.
“Awesome. I finished in just over 5:30,” said one.
“About six hours for me,” said the other.
The first guy went on, talking about different things. A little while later, he told me he was hoping one of the spots for the ½ Ironman Championship would roll down to him. He asked if I would be at the awards, and I said yes. Talking with them gave me a little different perspective on things. I decided I should go and at least be social. Besides, Amy mentioned, I could always take a spot at the ½ Championship if I wanted or one of the other races… we could drive there.
Amy, the kids and I went down for the awards dinner. We ate and chatted with the other athletes. Not long into the awards presentation, Boo began acting like a typical two-year-old who has reached her limit of sitting still. Amy decided to take her back to the room.
A little while later, I walked into our hotel room with Monkey. I was holding my 5th place award – a bottle of white wine and a qualification card. “Which race?” she asked. I handed her the card –
“Ironman World Championship, Kailua Kona, HI Male 35-39 Age Group”
It took a second for it to register with her. I said, “I’m sorry. I know I was supposed to say no, but when the announcer said, ‘Patrick Schuster, do you want to go to Kona?!’ I got panic-head and said, ‘YES!’” She said, “Well, I guess we’re going back to Hawaii!”
After the IM World Championship in 2008, my wife, Amy and I discussed my plans for 2009. I decided not to pursue going back to Kona in 2009, so no need for trying to find an early qualifier. I set my sites on IM Florida. We came to the conclusion that I was going to spend the year with a singular focus and really go for it in Florida. I knew that it was going to require a significant commitment to accomplish my goals – qualify for Kona 2010 and hit 9 hours. That commitment wasn’t just from me; I needed my family to be on board. It would be a lot of training and would cut into their time. Amy and the girls were in agreement – “Go, Daddy, Go!”
IM Florida 2009 was certainly a great day. It’s actually kind of funny… 11 years ago, when I first got into the sport, I set my long term goal at doing a 9-hour Ironman. It just seemed like a good, round number with times I should be able to put together – 1 hour swim, 5 hour bike, 3 hour run. I didn’t realize then that there was much significance for that mark for anyone else, nor did I realize what all it would take to actually put it all together and make it happen.
The race went well, and I finished with the time on the clock reading 9:09:25. “Oh well, not sub-nine, but not a bad day,” I thought. I hung around the finish area for a bit, then headed back to my hotel room. When I got to my phone, I had text messages from my wife (who was at home in Dallas walking in the Breast Cancer 3-Day and monitoring my race on ironman.com on her phone) that said, “Sub-nine, woo hoo!” and “8:59:25 – you did it!” Only then did I realize that I had gotten in under nine hours. As it turned out, the finish clock was still on Pro time. That news was just icing on the proverbial cake. I called Amy, who read off my times and told me I finished 3rd in my age group. That also meant I qualified for Kona 2010… both missions accomplished.
In the Spring of 2013, some good people helped my son reconnect with me. He and I met face-to-face after eighteen long years apart. It has been a roller coaster of emotions, but the prevailing one is pure delight. Amy and the girls joined me in welcoming him into our lives with open arms. The girls pick at and banter with him like they grew up together. Simply put, I couldn’t be happier.
My training for Kona continues… and will as long as I am able to race and continue to qualify. My family is supprting my training efforts, and coach Jason Soria is now calling the shots. I’ve got the awesome support of Dr. Lezlie Maloy and the staff at Spring Valley Spine & Sportscare, Team Imagine Sports, PowerBar, Richardson BikeMart, Vector450, and the Law Offices of Elizabeth Parmer aka Chunky Girl Triathlete. My sites remain pretty high for my races. Racing as a Pro again keeps the landscape changing. We’ll see what the future holds…