St. George • Weighing in at 365 pounds and having seen his wife leave him a few months earlier because of his obesity, Eric Oscarson sat in his doctor’s office in March 2008 before undergoing gastric bypass surgery and told the physician that his goal was to complete an Ironman competition in 2012.
The doctor laughed.
“Get real,” he said. “Choose a goal you can actually achieve.”
But four years later, Oscarson is here, weighing about 210 pounds and set to participate in the Third Annual Ironman St. George on Saturday along with about 1,800 other endurance freaks. Of the 10 Ironman competitions in the United States, this one — featuring a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run — is considered the most difficult, and temperatures in this high desert town are expected to be close to 90 degrees.
“My goal is to complete it [before the 17-hour time limit],” Oscarson, 35, said. “I am in better shape than last year.”
Ah, last year. Oscarson tried it in 2011, but wrecked on his bike around mile 69 when a gust of wind on Highway 18 caught him by surprise while he was putting two energy gels in his back pockett.
“My head bounced on the pavement several times, and road rash decorated my hip, shoulder and knee,” he said. “Somehow I got back up and finished the bike ride.”
However, just more than five miles into the marathon-distance run, the pain became unbearable and Oscarson had to call it a day. The employee of eBay, which has sponsored several of his race entry fees, including his 2011 attempt, has made seven trips from his home in Provo to St. George since January to get comfortable with the course.
That’s fitting, since it was a trip in 2007 to Disney World in Orlando that convinced Oscarson he needed a lifestyle change. First, the seat belt on the airplane wouldn’t reach around him and he had to ask for an extender. Then, after standing in line for 90 minutes to ride on a rollercoaster, he learned he was too big to fit into a seat and couldn’t go on the ride.
“I had no choice but to walk back through the long, zig-zagging line to the exit,” Oscarson said. “It was embarrassing, and it was one of the last nails in the coffin of my marriage. … I was angry, embarrassed and I hated myself.”
Oscarson credits eBay for paying for the insurance that enabled him to afford gastric bypass surgery, but it was his own willpower and desire to change that has enabled him to be on the brink of reaching his goal set four years ago.
And his life is completely different now. In 2009, Oscarson ran his first 5K and slowly became addicted to running and taking better care of his body. Later that year, he ran his first marathon, finishing in just under four hours. He did his first half-triathlon in 2010, along with three more marathons.
“If nothing else, I hope my story inspires other people who might be in the same boat that I was to change,” he said. “When I go out and run, I feel so much better physically, but also emotionally.”
Third Annual Ironman St. George
P What • Endurance race consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run with a 17-hour time limit.
Where • Washington County/St. George, Utah
When • Saturday, 7 a.m.
Who • Nearly 1,800 triathletes from 48 states and 29 countries
Prize purse • $25,000