The average IRONMAN time is 12 hours and 49 minutes. Thirteen hours of being alone with your thoughts and pushing yourself to the limits of endurance. I have spent thousands of hours training for my first full 140.6-mile IRONMAN competition, and I've had ample time to reflect on what's most important in life.
As a busy ophthalmic surgeon in Jacksonville, I routinely treat Navy service members, veterans and their families. Regrettably, I am well aware of the somber statistics around veteran mental health. Roughly 20 veterans die by suicide every day. This figure has likely been exacerbated by the pandemic.
These statistics have generally stayed at an arm’s length until recently when I lost a friend — a veteran and a member of our local eye care community — to suicide. I know his mental state was greatly affected by the stressors of the pandemic. And as I think about all the thousands of patients I’ve treated, I can’t help but wonder: Might there have been more, had they received help?
These thoughts are often where I have found my mind wandering while training. That is why I am partnering with K9s for Warriors in my first IRONMAN competition to raise awareness of veteran suicide.
Staying Fit for Change
Training for the IRONMAN started years ago as a personal bucket list goal of mine. Pushing myself to the limit of endurance was a critical outlet in achieving balance in a hectic life. But it’s become much more than that. After witnessing my friend’s struggle, I realize how important it is to raise awareness for our mental wellbeing. It is well known that physical activity has been found to improve mental health. We need to encourage each other to stay active, to check in with our loved ones regularly and to take time for ourselves.
K9s for Warriors and Veteran Mental Health
K9s for Warriors is an innovative program with a mission to end veteran suicide. Local to Northeast Florida, it provides highly trained service dogs to military veterans suffering from mental illness. Since it was established 10 years ago, the program has helped restore the lives of veterans across the country. My late friend cared for his own dog and was a huge supporter of K9s for Warriors as well. There is no better cause to help honor his memory and support deserving veterans currently in need.
Help Fundraise for K9s for Warriors
Please consider supporting my fundraiser when I compete in my first full IRONMAN on Nov. 21. Whether you donate $10, $1, or even pledge 10 cents per mile, my whole team at Florida Eye Specialists will appreciate your support. I know our community will come together to help reach our goal of raising $5,000.
The epitome of the IRONMAN is proving that anything is possible. While this started as a very personal endeavor, now it’s about raising awareness for everyone who struggles with maintaining their mental wellbeing. The idea that everyone is working to care for themselves and each other will push me to cross the finish line.
Donations to support the fundraiser for K9s for Warriors will be accepted at bit.ly/patel_ironman.
Dr. Ravi Patel, M.D., is a board-certified ophthalmologist at Florida Eye Specialists. He specializes in cornea, cataract and comprehensive eye care. For more information on Dr. Patel, visit FloridaEyeSpecialists.com or call 904-564-2020.
If you are in crisis or you think you may have an emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. If you're having suicidal thoughts, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to talk to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area at any time (National Suicide Prevention Lifeline). If you are located outside the United States, call your local emergency line immediately.