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Anything Is Possible with Shay Eskew

The story that you're about to hear is amazing and so I want to properly introduce our special guest, Shay Eskew. He is an All-American and All World ranked IRONMAN triathlete. He’s a burn survivor with scars over 65% of his body and he is a sought-out national motivational speaker.

Despite being told he'd never compete in sports again at the age of eight after being set afire by a neighbor's child and enduring over 35 surgeries in the last 36 years, Shay is a living testament to anything is possible. He’s a four-time IRONMAN member of Team USA, ranked top 1% of IRONMAN worldwide and has competed in nine triathlon world championships, including the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii and at the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships in Mooloolaba, Australia.

His mantra has always been to not merely be a finisher but be a competitor. We talk about the incident. We talk about perseverance. We talk about how to put yourself in the pain, which is something that will benefit you. If you're looking for a little kick in the pants, to get you doing those things that you know you should be doing, then you're going to love this show.

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Dustin
This is Shay Eskew, father of five under twelve, and ranked at the top 1% of IRONMAN Worldwide.
You’re a kid, Shay, at eight years old and you go over to lend a hand to help the neighbor wrangle some bees. While attempting to do the neighborly thing and help rid the bees, this neighbor grabs a match and some gas and thinks this is a good idea. As fate would have it, you catch fire. I've got to ask you when you realize you're on fire. What enters your head?
Shay
First thing is panic. I'm eight years old and I'm standing there watching all this go down and paralyzed by it. At first, all she had done was throw a match down on the bees’ nest. There is no reason to think that I was at any risk or jeopardy of being caught on fire. The next thing I know, I feel gasoline splashed me on the right side of my face and my friend’s left side of his body. We see it hit the match, but we didn't know what she was throwing. For us, it was shock and panic and then the next thing you know, we're engulfed in flames. Luckily my mind went back to watching a TV show called Code Red, which was very popular back in 1982. I had the wherewithal to stop, drop and roll and put the fire out. As I extinguish my flames, I look over and see my buddy still engulfed in flames. You can see the fires searing up from his head. I grabbed the water hose, put him out and stood there alternating the hose between the two of us. Our body burning from the inside out. Our flesh was charred, blackened. I remember touching my head and all my hair came out. My clothes were melted to my body and all I could think was, “What the hell just happened?” I was standing there doing my business, doing nothing. I didn't even know how to light a match and now the majority part of my body is covered in burn scars.
Dustin
I felt like I was there with you. It's an insane incident. After you get the fire out, what happens next?
Shay
We're standing there with the hose. I'm alternating between the two of us trying to cool our bodies down. One of the neighbors heard screaming and she went and got my mom. My mom wrapped us in blankets and called the ambulance for them to come get us and told them, “Two boys have been set on fire.” During the whole time, she had no comprehension just how severely burned we were. We were taken to Grady Memorial Hospital in downtown Atlanta. It was at this point that it started to sink in. We realized we had no insurance to cover myself. The girl that set us on fire, their insurance company was not taking liability for our hospital bill. The doctors pulled my mom aside and said, “I don't know if you realize how serious this is, but this is going to be years, if not decades of treatment that your son will have to undergo. You're going to be in the hospital for several months. The doctor bills will easily exceed $2,000,000. We want to give you a glimpse of what's down the road.”
She couldn’t process this. My mother is bipolar and she was in a state of being overwhelmed. These next few days they spent to stay with us to assess how we were burned. Fortunately for us, the Shriners Hospital for Children in Cincinnati heard about us, our story and our need. They relocated my mother and me from Atlanta to Cincinnati. That's where I spent the first three months undergoing surgeries and rehab. They treated me up until I was 21. All in all, I endured over 35 surgeries in the past 36 years. Due to the severity of the burns, my right arm was physically melted to my side. It took three years for me to lift my arm over my head. I had learned how to write left-handed to go back to school. My neck was permanently stuck at a 45-degree angle. It took three years and multiple surgeries for me to be able to hold my head up straight. To say it's been a long process would be an understatement. It is one that deftly rewarded perseverance, grit and focusing on getting through the day doing what needs to be done today and not counting on any miraculous achievement on a weekly basis.
Dustin
This is a very touching story. You're on record for saying that you wouldn't change anything about it. Why?
Shay
If you were to ask me that question when I was eight, fifteen or even 21 years old, I would change it. Who wouldn't go back and redo all that? Who would want to undergo all those surgeries, years of being made fun of, kids calling you Freddy Krueger at school? I never had a girlfriend. I forgot to mention my right ear was amputated as well due to gangrene setting in. Everywhere I went, people would stare at me and I hear they’d make comments. I'm on the other side of it, happily married for fifteen years with five kids, a successful sales career, a top performer in the industry. I've competed in eleven IRONMAN or triathlon world championships in seven countries on four continents. I tell people, “Name one thing I've ever missed out of my life.”Did I have to work five times as hard to be average? I did, but because I had to work five times as hard, everything meant ten times as much to me. That's one of the things I've learned in my life. We value the things that we work the hardest for. We value the things that we have to suffer and sacrifice.
The things that come easily mean nothing to us. I'm thankful that I've had to work as hard as I am to get to where I am. I know what it takes to be successful. I also know what it's like to be laying in a hospital bed at eight years old and told I’ll never play sports again. I was spending every waking moment to say, “I will do whatever it takes to regain the athleticism that I once had.” Once you've been there and you've been there at the cliff, you realized life can be so much better if you're willing to do the work. It's one of those things you wish everybody could experience what it's like. The world takes on a whole different meaning when you start pushing through the pain. You don’t only seek out obstacles, you bury them. You hope that people put obstacles in your life so that you can crush them and show them what you're capable of. I'm a believer in life. Mediocrity will get you nowhere. It's through adversity that we can show people what we're truly capable of. That's why I latched on to the belief that obstacles are just opportunities in disguise.
Dustin
Has anyone ever asked you about religious things? Do you feel maybe that you were chosen because you have something inside of you? You have a particular mindset. I imagine if this happened to many others and it does, people burn, however people don't come out of it like you have come out of it, which I totally want to acknowledge here. I'm very curious if you feel there was something special as if you were chosen to do this because you could deal with it. What's your thought?
Shay
I'm very religious and spiritual. I truly believe God never gives us more than we can handle. I latched under that quote that sometimes God has to melt his people down to show what he's truly gotten planned for them. What I've learned over the years is I can't focus on the things that I've lost, like my ear or scars on 65% of my body. I have to focus on the things that I can control, things that I can impact the outcome. It gives me strength knowing that God's got bigger plans for me. Don't worry about the things you can't control. It's amazing how over time, by embracing this allowed me to live a whole different life. One of the examples I tell people is if you look at people in sales, historically it will tell you tall men and attractive women do well in sales. This was a question I posed to a future employer years ago when I first got into sales and he said, “I would agree with you 100%.” I said, “I'm willing to bet my first two paychecks. If you and I do ten cold calls together, every person will remember me over you every single time.”
This guy was very successful, in his mid-50s and easily at the million-dollar mark. He looked at me with a grin on his face and says, “Shay, you’ve got my attention. Spill the beans. Why do you feel everybody can remember you over me every time?”I said, “It's all about being memorable. It just happens that being tall and attractive are attributes of being memorable but no offense, there's a lot of mid-50s balding guys out here making sales calls every day. There's only one one-ear burned guy and that's me. Therefore, they’re going to remember me over you every single time.” I can tell you people don’t forget me. My wife and I would go eat at restaurants and a hostess or someone might up say, “I’m glad to see you.” My wife had always looked and was suspicious and says, “How did they know you?” I said, “I've only been here once.” The fact that I looked so different than everybody else that comes in that door, they will never see a burned one-ear guy come in their restaurant. It resonates and it contributes to me being successful in sales. When I call people, as long as I'm not a complete ass, I've got a leg up on everybody else out there because they're going to remember me.
That's the whole name of the game. It’s being memorable but be memorable for the right reasons. What a blessing it is to the scars that it makes me memorable. Think about it. As a kid, you fight so hard for conformity. You want to look and dress like everybody else and then once you get to adulthood, everybody wants to be different. You don't want to look like everybody else. I've got this gift given to me and I didn't have to do anything. I look completely different than everybody else. When I go to the beach, everybody knows, “This guy's been through something.” I’ve adapted some amazing stories over the years telling people I've been attacked by a shark. I was the only plane crash survivor. I was motorcycle riding and ran through a barb wire fence and people believed it. Not many people can get away with those stories. All of that to say, I truly believe God has a plan for me and the key has always been for me to be open and receptive to it.
I wrote a book called What the Fire Ignited: How Life's Worst Helped Me Achieve My Best. All this came about from a chance encounter with a guy over dinner. He posted a question and he said, “Shay, when are you writing your book?” I said, “Jack, I’m so busy. I can't figure out what I'm willing to give up to make it happen.” He said, “That's crap. I've written three bestsellers. I know you can't be as busy as me. I’m going to introduce you to my publisher after we get off the phone. The rest is up to you.” Months later, I have my book finished and it made the Amazon bestseller list. You can't convince me I wasn't meant to have dinner with that guy that night. This was a complete stranger that I had reached out to LinkedIn because I knew he was a top performer in this industry. I sent him an email through LinkedIn and said, “Would you be willing to impart some words of wisdom over dinner?” He accepted. Do you know how many emails this guy probably gets a day? This guy's extremely successful.
I'm one of those if you put yourself out there you tell people, “I'm doing the hard work, will you share some wisdom, have a cup of coffee, let me come to a party or work out?” It's amazing how people go out of their way to help you become successful. Many people are scared of failing. They don't want to tell everybody what their goals are. They'd rather keep it to themselves so if they don't get there, they don't have to look at these people in the eye. I tell the entire world that when I set a goal, I put it out on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter because I want everybody to hold me accountable. If I ever slip off, I want somebody to tell me. More importantly, I want people to say, “I know you’re struggling with this. Let me help you get there.” It truly has made a big difference. It's one of the things that led me years ago. I realized to be ranked top 1% in IRONMAN athletes worldwide, I had to do something different. I reached out to Joe Friel who wrote the book, The Triathlete's Training Bible: The World’s Most Comprehensive Training Guide. It’s a bestseller.
Many people rely on this book to get started on triathlon. I asked him, “What would it cost for me to hire you to write me a training plan?” He said, “I'm not taking new athletes.” The guy called. Do you know how many emails this guy gets? He called me back and he said, “I'm not taking any athletes.” I said, “Joe, I'm going for it. I want to train like an Olympic athlete. I don't have the facilities. I don't have the skills to compete at that level but that's not going to stop me from training at that level. Help me get and achieve my goals.” He said, “I took on a new athlete who's coaching, who's a former world champion. Let me introduce you to Adam Zucco.” Ever since I've been introduced to this guy, I've qualified for the world championships every year. All this came about because I laid it out, “I want to compete at the highest level.” I reached out to what I consider the authority, the experts and made myself vulnerable. I said, “Help me. I'm willing to do the work. What do I need to do?” That's the key in life but at the end of the day, you still have to do the work.
Dustin
It's fathomable to go through a life incident like yours or similar. There are other people that have done it and have come out after years of working on themselves. However, I noticed when looking into your past, it didn't take years. Although I'm sure some things have, what I discovered was four months of you being out of the hospital, you were playing baseball and then you got into football. In high school, you were an All-American Wrestler, a three-time boxing champion in college and a nationally ranked All-American Triathlete. Before life started teaching you lessons, what did you realize at that moment that others don’t?
Shay
One of the things that set me along this path is in 1982, when I was laying in that hospital bed in Cincinnati, I received an 8x11 autograph portrait from Herschel Walker. I still have it 36 years later. He says, “Best wishes, Shay, for a quick recovery. Herschel Walker.” I was bedridden for the first month. I couldn't sit up, was laying on my back and above my bed was a piece of Plexiglass. They had all the get well wish cards dangling and taped to that Plexiglass and on there, I had Herschel's poster taped. I looked at that thing every single day and I told myself, “When I get out this hospital bed, I'm going to do everything I can to regain my athleticism.” Out of the hospital, it became very clear that I wasn't the athlete I was when I went in. The fact that I couldn't use my right arm, the fact that at lunch recess at school, I was the last one picked. They looked at me as a very physically challenged kid, which I was. Fortunately, my parents subscribed to tough love.
They said, “We're not going to feel sorry for you.” Part of it helped that my mother was bipolar. I remember if I would start to cry, she’d say, “I don't want to hear you crying. Do you want me to give you something to cry about?” It was her mental condition coupled with my desire to get better that made me stronger. I realized I couldn't be weak. I had to be strong and part of being strong was being mentally strong. I forced myself to participate in sports. I want to have a chance to be normal. I want a chance to show people what I could do. I knew I wasn't as good as 99% of people out there but I truly believed if I was given an opportunity, eventually I would become better. Luckily, I did start seeing the progression. The fact that three years later, I could finally lift my right arm over my head was a huge catalyst. I got introduced to wrestling in sixth grade. I finally found a sport where it wasn't about who was the fastest or the tallest. It was who could take the most pain and dish out the most during a certain amount of time.
This is a sport where I was competing against people a foot taller than me and that outweighed me 40 pounds. I've always been a smaller guy. I was competing against people five pounds of my own weight and it was through wrestling that I truly found my calling. I said, “I've lost a lot of athleticism in sports that require finesse and touch like golf, tennis and baseball, but it feels there are sports that require all-out effort, the last man standing. Whoever had the highest pain threshold wins.” Those are sports I did well in. I did well in wrestling, I was All-American and I'll be inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame as a Medal of Courage recipient. In college, I was a three-time boxing champion. I never lost and I continued that after college competing in IRONMAN where I've been fortunate enough to compete in eleven world championships because I'm a believer. Nobody cares what you did in high school or college. Those days are long gone. I don't live in the past. People only care about what you are going to do now? What are you going to do tomorrow? Many people want to lay back and rest on their laurels. I'm a believer you've got to keep pushing yourself every day. Every year, I'm looking to one-up from what I did the year ago. That's why I believe there are no excuses.
You can't say, “I'm too busy. My job’s too demanding. I travel too much.” I tell people, “I've got five kids under twelve. I’m married for fifteen years. I travel every week for work but somehow I still fit it in.” We all have the same 24 hours and I realized years ago that if I wanted to compete at this level, there were things that I'd have to give up. I gave up TV. I gave up going out with the boys during the week. You'll never catch me watching Monday Night Football or anything during the week because mornings is when I do my training. I work during the day. The night belongs to my family, my kids. The weekend is for my kids. All five of my kids are in sports. I got three and travel sports on top of that. We average six soccer games every weekend. It's all about time management and tradeoffs. Figure out what means the most to you in life. If it doesn't fit on that list, you don't do it. One of the most empowering things I've ever done is learning how to say no. Many people unintentionally steal your time, “Can you grab lunch? Can you do this? Let's go watch this.” I’m like, “Sorry.” There are some of those I can do to try to help somebody get ahead. You have to limit it because people will inadvertently steal your time. Before you know it, you're off the path to reach your goals.
Dustin
I'm curious as to your mental fortitude, as a guy who can take the pain. We talked a little bit about sports. I want to go back there. Being in sports makes you visible and especially when you're younger, it's very easy for kids to pick on you. You very easily, and it would have been accepted, could have gone out, tried your thing, experience what you experience and then just said, “I'm not going to do it.” What made you? Was it for the love of the sport? You said you wanted to fit in. You wanted to be normal but when people are calling you names, when people are looking at you especially at a young age, over the years you can you can build that up no matter the situation but especially when you're young. What kept you going and wanted to do the drive to continue a sport
Shay
Part of it is when I was competing in sports despite not being very good, at first it did allow me to escape and feel normal. I was able to do things albeit not as good as everybody else, but I can still do it. I can still throw a baseball. I could throw a sidearm. I could still play football. We had to customize my shoulder pads because I have no fat tissue, no nerves on the right side of my body. Being able to do the same activities without anybody assisting me meant so much to me. It wasn't about if I was an all-star on the team. At first, it’s about, “Can I physically do these activities and not be given any special treatment?” That’s all I ever want in life. I want to live without someone having to do things for me. My wife will tell you it drives me crazy. I've had so many surgeries, torn both my rotator cuffs in the past years and she'll see me outside pushing a lawnmower with one arm. She was like, “What are you doing? You can hire someone to do it.” I said, “I can do it. It'll take me three times as long but that's the way I am.” When I go to the mall, I will park far away so that I had to walk farther to get into the store. I believe it's truly a blessing to be able to walk. It drives my wife nuts. She’s like, “There are spaces,” “Yes, we’ll save those to the people that really can't walk. Let’s park farther away.”
To me, to put in perspective, imagine as a kid somebody said, “You can never have ice cream again.” I don't even care if you liked ice cream. If I said you can never have ice cream again, all of a sudden, I'm craving ice cream. That's what I felt like when they said you can never be competitive in sports again. I was like, “What do you mean I can't be competitive in sports? Why can't I?” Your brain becomes fixated with proving everybody wrong. That’s how I lived my whole life, “Tell me something I can't do. I'm going to prove you wrong. I'm going to go out of my way. I don't care how much I suffer. I will show you it's possible.” I've learned there's so much we can do but sadly we shut ourselves down. We put limitations on what we're capable of doing because it's too painful. One of the things I always ask people is can you do an IRONMAN? It’s a 2.4 four-mile swim, a112-mile bike and then a 26.2-mile marathon run at the end all within seventeen hours. The first response is always, “No, I can't do it.” I said, “Really? How do you know? Have you tried? Did you physically tried it? You failed, and you almost died so there's no way you could physically do it?” They said, “I just know I can't do it.” I said, “Can you do a run-walk for fifteen minutes? I don't care how fast. Can you run-walk for fifteen minutes?” They said, “Of course, who can’t?”
“What if we met the next day? Could you ride a bike for 30 minutes? I don't care about your speed. Can you physically ride a bike for 30 minutes?” Everybody’s was like, “Absolutely, who can’t?” 30 weeks of those daily builds, you’d be an IRONMAN, I promise you. Many people get their head so fixated around the 30-week goal, they don't know how to start. When you break it down and say, “Here's what you need to do now, here's what you need to do tomorrow,” they absolutely can do it. I can tell you as a father of five, if anybody was to ever tell me all the crap I'd go through, you'd say, “No way in hell I'd ever become a parent.” Once you start doing the work, you couldn't think of any more rewarding experience in the world than being a parent. You just do the work. You don't question it. That's true with so many things. If you’ll just start it and do it, don't think of why you can't do it. Think of why you can do it. The biggest thing is don't let all your friends talk to you out of it. I can tell you from all of my racing, people want to project their fears on you and say, “That's crazy. Do you know what can happen?” I said, “No, I don't want to know what can happen because I’m going to tell you what's going to happen. I'm going to do the work. I'm going to finish.” I've done over 70 races and never not finished. When you have the mindset that no matter how tough times get, you always finish. Life's pretty easy.
Dustin
I'm curious as to your path into IRONMAN. Was it marathons then triathlons and you've just been adding on top? What's the story there?
Shay
I was working in a high rise in downtown Atlanta in 2008 and would go down there every day at lunch. I would work on my biceps and chest, the gun show. That's what all guys think is important. This big barrel-chested flat-top military looking guy comes up to me, he's 65 and he goes, “Tough guy.” I said, “Are you talking to me?” He goes, “I'm talking to you. Why don't you come and do my little boot camp class? It’s me and a bunch of ladies. It shouldn't be anything for a guy like you with all your muscles.” I was 40 pounds heavier than what I am now. We get into class and true to form, it's all women. I'm the only guy in there and we're doing jumping jacks, pushups, squat thrusts and then we get into doing core exercises like planks. I'm in tears. These women are putting it to me and this guy, Henry, drops down beside me. He goes, “Eskew, Ponytails is kicking your butt. You better pick it up, boy.”All I could say was, “Yes sir.”
There's nothing I can do. I went home and I told my wife, “I'll be damned if some 65-year-old man is going to embarrass me like that.” I was back in his class every day and in two months, I had dropped twenty-five pounds. I was back in what I call fighting shape. During this time, I learned he was one of the original IRONMAN from 1978. He was also a Marine drill sergeant. During this time, Henry came down with stage four pancreatic cancer. Every day, he and I would talk about the uncertainties of life, that it doesn't matter all the good you do, bad things happen to good people. He said, “Shay, I studied the good book. I loved my country, I loved my wife. I raised three amazing kids and I’ve got cancer. I've got three months to live. Tell me how that's fair?” I said, “Henry, I was eight years old. What could I possibly do to deserve getting burned? This is how life is. Things happen. We have to play with the hand we've been dealt.” He and I became very close. Right before he died, me and a group of people said, “Henry, we're going to the next big triathlon. We don't care the distance, we're going to do it in your honor.” He passed away in November 2008.
We signed up for a half IRONMAN. The furthest I'd ever run in my whole life was five miles. I did that one time. I did not own a bike. I didn't know how to swim. I had the next five months to whip myself in shape. I finished the half IRONMAN, five hours and 38 minutes. After the race, me and a couple of the buddies were talking and someone goes, “Let's do the IRONMAN, the same course twice in five months.” I was only one dumb enough to sign up. I did it. I finished ten hours, 31 minutes. That put me top 15% and all this by reading a book. That's how I did my training. From there I start saying, “What else could I do?” If I really was willing to suffer, do the research and learn the science. This took over from there. One other thing, the day of the IRONMAN happened to be Henry's one-year anniversary of his passing. I didn't know that when I signed up. His daughter came up to me the day before the race and said, “You know daddy’s going to be watching you tomorrow. It's his one-year anniversary.” You can't make that up.
Dustin
It's amazing how life works that way.
Shay
There're so many instances in my life. I truly believe it's because I'm willing to put myself out there. I'm willing to take a calculated risk. I’m willing to do what most people think is crazy but to me, if you want to have a life that nobody else has, you got to be willing to do what nobody else is willing to do.
Dustin
I want to move us into you being a motivational speaker. It's one thing to go through what you've done, get the proper mindset and even go to the next level and compete and be in the top in the world in IRONMAN. However, it's another thing to get on the stage and some people may say, “If a guy can recover from that and be at the top in the world, speaking should be pretty easy.” People, they say would rather die than get up there. I'm curious as to what pushed you over the edge now to get up on that stage and start sharing your message with others. What was that pushover point?
Shay
My whole life, I never told anybody my story. The biggest driver was that I didn't want to burden people. I was raised, we don't talk about our problems. We just do the work. Nobody wants to hear excuses. Don't complain, get over it. I've never seen a psychologist ever about what I went through and how to deal with that. Public speaking was something that always scared me as a kid. I saw in high school the opportunity to become the senior class president. I ran for senior class president and got elected, even though I was terrified of public speaking. That's the way I've seen myself is when I see something and I want it bad enough, I'm willing to endure being uncomfortable to get there. One of the things I realized is that as I achieve success, I equally enjoyed watching other people achieve success. I want to help people break through those barriers. I realized as I began to share my story, others could relate to it because one of the things we know is we all struggle physically, mentally, spiritually and financially. The struggling is all same. We all go through the same process. For me, being able to help others push through that and get comfortable with being uncomfortable opened doors for me. It’s everything. The more you do it, the more comfortable you get.
When you feel like you can't do it, if you tell yourself, “Just one more day, one more time, run one more mile,” that's when you have those breakthrough moments. It's what launched my speaking career. At first, I wondered if anybody even cares. They'd be like, “Another story of somebody overcoming.” The feedback has been empowering. The more feedback I get, the more I feel like it's my mission to help others unlock their potential. That’s a big driver of why I wrote the book. I'm on a mission. One of the things I'm doing now is every week while I'm traveling, I try to find one person, a complete stranger. As they open up and share some of their struggles, I give the book to them. I share their story on LinkedIn. It’s amazing how as I've made this a mission of mine, more people are presenting their stories to me. I have a feeling these stories have been around me the whole time. Once you start training your brain to look for people with amazing stories, the brain starts focusing in on daily things that go on. Filter out all the distractions and say, “You need to talk to this person.” This person may have said nothing to me whatsoever but there’s something about their body language. The next thing I know, they're opening up and telling me, “These are things that are keeping me back.” That's how the journey started. I'm along for the ride. I'll keep doing this as long as I'm having an impact.
Dustin
I’m very curious as to your own personal goal. Let's call it in running. Are you going to be doing Ultramarathons or are you going to do Badwater? Is that something that you aspire to? Are you happy to continue dominating in IRONMAN? I'm very curious.
Shay
To say I'm happy is different. Am I content? I get bored. My goal every year with IRONMAN is to be rank top 1% and to qualify for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships. That's my goal every year as it relates to IRONMAN. Badwater is one. I may do it to check it off the list. I tell people, “I don't enjoy running but I love that feeling I get from running.” I love cycling. I hate swimming and why I compete in triathlons is crazy. I tell everybody I swim to the start line. If I was a smarter athlete, I'd just compete in duathlons, which is bike and run. The one that I did, I crushed it. I won the overall race but for me, doing a triathlon is more challenging even though I know I'm going in with a deficit because I hate swimming. I'm constantly looking for something that would challenge me and allow me to compete at the next level but not take away from family time. I tell everybody at the end the day, my kids don't care about all these medals and competing in world championships. They just want their daddy around. What I'm trying to do is teach them how to live a healthy life and why it's important to be healthy and exercise daily.
My wife has fully embraced this and I take them with me on these travels that we do for the races. I took all five kids as I raced in Edinburgh, Scotland. My bigger goal is to create a legacy for them, to teach them to not take their health for granted. I can tell you when you're lying in a hospital bed, nobody thinks about all the money they've made. They’ll say, “I'll pay any amount of money if I could run or walk again.” If you were to ever see me the night before my surgery, you'll find me exercising in my hospital room. I tell myself if I wake up and I can't do what I did before the surgery, I'm okay with it. I made the most of every moment that I had. Eight years ago, I was told I'd never run again. They said, “Shay, your knees are shot.” I've got a torn ACL, torn meniscus twice. Arthritis on both knees, plate and seven screws on one leg. He said, “You're done running.” I've done 50 races since he told me I was done running. That's all I think about. This guy told me I was done. I would never run again. Maybe the average person would take that advice and not run again but I feel better today. At 44 years old, I ran my fastest half marathon at the end of a 56-mile bike ever.
Dustin
You continually amaze me with your mindset and how just keep persevering. That should be your middle name. To move us into WealthFit Rapid Fire Round, what's been your most worthwhile investment?
Shay
I break it down two ways. Number one, invest in yourself. Investing in yourself starts with investing in your fitness because health wise, it leads to a sound mind. That's the way I start my day. I get up at 4:00 and then I'll put in an hour and a half to two hours of working out every day, three to four hours on a Saturday morning. The second was investing in surrounding myself with people that are extremely successful. I find them, they don't come to me. I reach out to them. I will just drop by their office and leave a handwritten note, “Could I buy you a cup of coffee?” The more you can do to surround yourself and spend time with successful people, the better you're going to do. As far as investment, for me, it was in my career. I've been very successful aligning myself with entrepreneurs that have a track record that has a team focus. I've done very well working with some good startup companies in Nashville where the leadership team had a proven track record.
They've also had some failures because one of the things that we know is sometimes you learn more from your failures than you do from your successes. Aligning yourself with a leadership team that's not going to panic when things go south because one of the things I know in business, there are going to be periods where you're struggling to meet payroll. When that happens, are you going to be the type person that caves in and throws the chips in? Maybe you changed your strategy because things aren't matching up to your business plan. Are you going to be aligned with that type of leadership team that says, “We will do whatever it takes. If it means working 70-hour weeks, we will do that.” If it means going without a paycheck for six months, which I've done. I had to work nights at Home Depot in the hardware to make ends meet. When you can align yourself with those people, you'll always be successful. I don't think business is rocket science. So many people are looking for shortcuts and fast-tracking to success.
Very few are willing to put in the hard work and do the work that nobody else wants to do. One of the things I try to do as far as like mental toughness is put myself through pain every day. For instance, I do all my training inside. I will run eighteen to twenty miles on a treadmill. If you haven't tried that, try that sometime. It's horrible. You feel like you want to shoot yourself. After doing that for eight years, I love it. I can tune out. I can run for hours on a treadmill and ever get bored. I can ride three to six hours inside on my bike. It makes yourself mentally tough when I do my traveling. I will get in the car, cut the radio off and drive the complete silence for three to four hours. These are things I do daily to make myself mentally tough, to focus and to block out all the unnecessary distractions.
Dustin
I feel you are not only an inspiration, but you have tactical things that a lot of us aren't considering, especially the WealthFit Nation, myself included. I appreciate you coming on and I know that the WealthFit Nation’s going to be incredibly inspired and moved by the words you shared with us. For those that would like to continue the conversation, where can they find the book? How can they keep tabs with you? What's the best way?
Shay
The best way is to go to my website, What The Fire Ignited. You can order the book there as well. You can reach out to me and would be happy to continue the dialogue and help you get mentally tough because once you're mentally tough everything else builds on that.
Dustin
Thank you, Shay. I truly appreciate you being on the show.
Shay
Thanks, Dustin. It’s been a pleasure.
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