The Ironman Widow
When Dr. Bradley called the Baldomir home in the middle of the night to tell Chrystal that her husband was having a heart attack, Chrystal doubted the diagnosis. “Are you sure it’s a heart attack?” she thought, “he’s only 34 years old.”
At seven weeks pregnant, Chrystal got out of bed and rushed to the hospital, where Jason was undergoing angioplasty to repair the blockage of his 34-year old heart.
It wasn’t his time though. And that baby, Jonathan, is now five years old, his brother Samuel is one-and-a-half, and at 40 years old, their daddy is in the best shape of his life. In the six years since his heart attack, Jason has shifted his lifestyle in a more heart healthy direction—a determined direction that has led him across several triathlon finish lines. He’s down about 70 pounds, and up about 20 finisher medals.
Following the heart attack, Jason went through six weeks of cardiac rehab at CVPH. After that, his doctors cleared him for light exercise. About a year after that, he completed his first sprint triathlon in Stowe, VT. Conquering the full Lake Placid triathlon this past July 28, now makes him an official Ironman medal-adorned triathlete.
Considering that Lake Placid is among the hardest Ironman courses out there, second only to the World Championship course at Kona, it’s safe to say that Jason’s heart has been cleared for Ironman level exercise—all 140.62 miles of it.
“After the heart attack, I thought, ‘I’ve got to get busy living, or get busy dying,’” Jason said.
“You totally just stole that line from Shawshank Redemption,” Chrystal said, laughing.
“You’re right, I did. But it’s true,” he confessed.
Becoming an Ironman has given Jason some hard-earned closure to the reality check of his heart attack, the “bump in the road,” as he calls it.
“I’ve taken on the penultimate challenge of endurance sports. To knock it out at age 40 is a milestone for me,” he said.
“But this has been a huge family commitment. You can’t take on a race like Ironman without making sacrifices. Between work and training, friends and family suffer. It can be a very selfish and lonely endeavor.”
“I’ve limited his friend time,” said Chrystal, who at times feels like she’s lost her husband to the sweaty abyss of Ironman-ness.
Jason, no doubt, has the heart of an Ironman, known for their tenacity and super-human stamina, Ironman triathletes push the endurance envelop of athletic achievement, often inspiring others along the way.
Chrystal… Not so much.
“I would have given up long ago,” she joked, as she changed Samuel into his swimming diaper and Jonathan begged, “Mommy put your bathing suit on!” for the fifth time in as many minutes. “Not right now, baby,” she told him, with the patience of an Ironsaint.
A Saturday afternoon with the whole family around the pool, or around anywhere, has been a rare occurrence for the Baldomir’s over the past two years.
“That’s been the hardest part of this. Saturday and Sunday turn into no weekend at all because he’s out training. Or in the winter he’s in the dark basement riding his bike for like seven hours straight,” Chrystal said.
“We’ve seen couples whose relationships have suffered because it’s such a commitment to train for these races. The past two years have been a little intense,” Jason said, referring to the four half-triathlons he’s done in the past two years.
“When I’m exercising and things on my body start hurting, I’m done,” Chrystal said, “whereas Jason thinks it’s good. When it hurts, I listen to my body. I say, ‘Stop.’ Jason says, ‘Shut up legs, keep going,’” she joked.
And Jason’s legs sure do listen. They’ve shut up and kept going for between 14-20 hours of intense exercise every week for nearly two years.
With that kind of commitment, he said you’re always going to miss out on something, but training with a team and coaches provides balance between work, family and home responsibilities.
“Jason’s team, Endurance Nation saved our marriage,” Chrystal said.
Well, that and a surprise trip to the Mirror Lake Inn for their thirteenth anniversary on June 17.
“We had chocolate and champagne for lunch, a couple’s massage in the Spa, I got a pedicure, and he took me to my favorite restaurant for dinner, all with no kids and no workouts. We hadn’t laughed that much together in months,” Chrystal said.
“It was really important to take that time out to reconnect,” Jason said.
“At one point I looked at him and said, ‘I like you! We should hang out more often,’” Chrystal recalled with a giggle.
With a one-and-a-half year old who still doesn’t sleep through the night and a restless five year old who likes to sleep in mommy and daddy’s bed (and as close to mommy as possible), the Baldomir’s are frequently sleepless in Schylar Falls, often compounding Chrystal’s “Ironman Widow Syndrome.” There’s no giggling at three in the morning when you haven’t had a full night’s sleep in two years.
“I’d love to do more endurance events,” he said, “but Chrystal won’t let me until the boys are older.”
“I haven’t slept thought the night in two years, but I really am so proud of him,” Chrystal said. “I remember watching the Kona World Championships on TV when I was younger. It’s amazing because it’s not just one sport, it’s three, and it’s a long race.
“I almost cried when he finished the Syracuse half after his heart attack. It’s such an accomplishment.”
When Jason crossed the finish line in Lake Placid, he became an Ironman for life, joining the elite endurance athletes of the world. Rather than accept his medal from an Ironman official, he asked Chrystal to do the honors.
At 34, flat on his back in the ICU, Jason feared he would be leaving his pregnant wife a young widow, but his heart’s desire for life was too strong. It takes a fighter’s heart to attack the open water, open road, open air challenge of an Ironman triathlon, and just as impressively, it takes the saintly endurance of a loving wife and mother to support her husband through it all.
… and that brings us to the official end if my Ironman training! Bring on the taper… (If you listen real closely, you can hear my wife cheering…)