You do not have to be a triathlete to take something useful away from "Born to Perform - How sport has shaped my life", the recent autobiography to hit the sports shelves of Irish bookshops written by Gerard Hartmann. The author is today best well-known as perhaps the best physical therapist in the world having seemingly worked miracles with world-class stars such as Paula Radcliffe, Kelly Holmes and Sonia O'Sullivan as well as Irish GAA heroes Seán Óg Ó hAilpín and Henry Shefflin.
Ger begins his account with the end of his former "life" when an armadillo on the road abruptly ended a Florida training session on the bike. When he hit the asphalt, having travelled at more than 50kph, Gerard Hartmann, the seven-time Irish triathlon champion "died" by the roadside, his right leg only barely saved. This was a cruel twist of fate for an athlete at the peak of his powers who looked ready to rise onto podium positions on the international triathlon scene. Yet, having qualified as a physical therapist only three months earlier, Hartmann reinvented himself and applied the same zeal to his new profession as to his old. One year later he was sought after by the biggest stars in sport and the rest is history.
The book goes back in time from the accident to trace Gerard Hartmann's route from talented youngster to disillusioned college runner who accidentally falls in love with the sport of triathlon. From here the majority of the chapters focus on how Hartmann establishes a virtual hegemony over Irish triathlon and becomes one of the movers and shakers of the fledgling sport in Ireland laying the framework for much of the sport as it exists today.
There are several great lessons to be learned from the accounts of the training necessary to dominate an event: like all great champions Hartmann trained more than most (perhaps any) competitors and showed incredible ingenuity in fitting his training in around his normal life harbouring no excuses like so many of us would:
"The more you do the better you get." It involved getting out for a ten-mile run or two-hour bike ride at 6:00 a.m., to be back home for breakfast at 8.154 a.m. - a big double bowlful of Alpen to fuel the day - then a quick shower and straight back out to open the jewellery shop at 9.00 a.m. The shop closed for lunch from 1.00 p.m. to 2.00 p.m., and most days I'd lock up the shop, jump on the bike and tear up the city to St. Enda's Sports Complex to squeeze in a one-mile swim. Then I'd rush back down to Patrick Street to make it back just as Cannock's Clock struck 2.00 p.m. At 6.00 p.m. it was gear on and straight out the door for a two-hour cycle, followed by a six-mile run out by the river bank, arriving home by 9.00 p.m. for a meal covered in tinfoil, which my mother had up and laid out for her now triathlon-focused son.
Sporting success followed and Hartmann's performances impress throughout and triathlon fanatics will be particularly interested in the full chapter dedicated to his participation in the Hawaii Ironman. Like most autobiographies from the 50s-80s tales of inept administrators and bureaucrats also pepper the pages. We can only hope things have improved since those days.
As an oft-injured runner I bought the book particularly for the later chapters focusing on Hartmann's methods as a physical therapist. While he does not pencil out his treatments in minute details (an editorial choice that lends an easy flow to the whole read, I finished the book in two days), much can be discerned particularly two central principles:
Hartmann is no great believer in a passive approach, he prefers an extremely aggressive approach often including daily 3-6 hour therapy sessions aimed at breaking down the collagen that has formed on damaged tendons and restoring them to normal
Hartmann's pre-habilitation and rehabilitation regime is oftentimes harder than the athlete's normal training, extreme commitment and working the body to the limits is part of the programmes that return athlete to full function in record time
It is clear that Hartmann also carries great talent for making the people who seek out his services believe in the method and to inspire and uplift them to do the work needed to repair the damage done. This answer is perhaps not what many would have hoped to hear but it is a sensible one: it takes massive forces to rip and tear tissue, so it stands to reason that a similar force is needed to mend it back again.
The final chapters include some very useful ones on how to make the transition from sport to life and how to achieve positivity in the face of adversity. Shaken by his traumatic crash on the bike (of which their are many in the book, it may put you off biking!) Hartmann still comes full circle with another go at the Ironman Hawaii, as a special guest at the 25th anniversary, providing a nice wrap to a well-written and enjoyable read.