John Young: Ironman/Math Teacher

by Grace Talusan

John Young smiles during a race

John Young's first priority is his family: his wife and 14-year old son. But when he's not with them at his son's marching band performances, football games or karate, John uses his time to train for triathlons. A swim, bike and then a run. Most recently, John made history as the first person with dwarfism to enter the Ironman. This is a 2.4 mile swim in open water, a 112 mile road bike course, and a 26.2 mile run.

Soon after John started teaching math at Pingree, his wife worried about his health. He wasn't sleeping well. John went to a new physician and when he stepped on the scale, he was sure it was broken. He had never seen his weight so high. He was diagnosed with severe sleep apnea and began treatment, losing 10 pounds almost immediately. Feeling inspired, he kept pushing towards good health and got back into swimming, which he had done years ago. He later added biking to his routine, commuting from the train station to Pingree, and found that he really loved it.

"I'd never run in my life except maybe around a track," he says. Medical professionals had advised him and others with his condition not to run due to the risk of severe back problems. But John's desire to participate in a triathlon overshadowed the caution. After running his first one, he was hooked, going on to complete three more that first year.

John started to run longer distances, too, and eventually finished a half marathon. He has since completed the Boston Marathon four times and the New York Marathon twice. That's a lot of running for someone who was told he shouldn't run. His story has inspired countless others, who'd never before considered running as an option. When John attends meetings like the National Convention of Little People of America, he is often recognized for his advocacy on the benefits of exercise. "Do not be afraid," John urges. "Pain from injury and pain from use are two very different things. If you're injured, that's different, but once you recognize that difference, you understand and even embrace the pain."

John feels lucky to be in such good health. Since that day in the doctor's office, he has completely transformed his body, losing a total of 40 pounds.

As he trains for the Ironman, John thinks about those who are suffering. "I get strength from them," he says. He carries a photo of Vivian, a girl who also has achondroplasia, but with more severe medical issues than him, and when he feels it flapping against him as he runs, he thinks of her. "When my body hurts," John says, "I just think of Vivian and the pain goes away."

John entered his first Ironman in Maryland in October, competing despite difficult, stormy conditions. The course for the 26.2 mile run was so flooded in areas that the water rose up to John's thighs, and the lake water was so choppy that the swim portion of the race had to be cancelled. But John persevered and finished, proving himself as a true ironman.