Running 100 miles sounds like pure hell for most people. Not for Brian Boyle. That’s because traveling that far on foot means his heart is pumping and his lungs are working — functions we so easily take for granted.
If you remember back to when we first covered the 31-year-old from Washington D.C., he told us about his life-altering car accident when he was 18. He was in the ICU for more than two months after being hit by a dump truck on his way home from swim practice.
His heart shifted to the other side of his body, he had shattered ribs, a broken pelvis, a lacerated liver and kidney, a collapsed lung and he coded eight times in the emergency room.
He lost 100 pounds and was so weak he couldn’t even blink. He also lost 60% of his blood supply, but thanks to the American Red Cross and their legion of blood donors (he had 36 blood transfusions and 13 plasma treatments), he was able to continue fighting for his life.
That’s why on Dec. 2, Boyle will take on the Devil Dog 100-mile ultramarathon in Triangle, Virginia, running the race to get 100 people to donate blood.
“My racing over the years has been my way of thanking people for supporting my journey — family, friends and the blood donors who helped me that I’ll never meet,” Boyle said.
Out for Blood…Donors
Boyle graduated with a masters degree in health communications from Johns Hopkins University in the spring.
He’s been a volunteer for the American Red Cross for 10 years, but back in February, he was hired on full-time to join the marketing department in blood services. He’s the perfect person to help organize blood drive campaigns and incentives for donors. He’s living proof of their benefits.
Not only did Boyle regain his life after doctors discussed vegetative states and long-term nursing care with his parents, but he went on to complete the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona three years after his accident. Since then, he’s done four other Ironmans, not to mention, dozens of ultramarathons, obstacle course races and triathlons of various distances.
“Racing is like an active meditation in a lot of ways,” he said. “That’s part of why I do these races. It’s my way to reflect. My way to be in the moment and think, ‘Look how far you’ve come to be able to recover from this.’ In my day-to-day routine, I don’t really think about my accident that much.”
During the Devil Dog 100, Boyle will be running for 100 blood donors. He set up a “SleevesUp” page through the American Red Cross to encourage people to pledge to donate blood. He’s dedicating one mile to each donor who pledges.
“I’m going to write out their names before the race and carry them on my bib to have with me for motivation and inspiration during my 100-mile journey,” Boyle said.
His timing is good. In the winter months, the blood supply usually drops. Still, every two seconds, someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion.
Boyle did a similar virtual blood drive in 2015 during his first 100-mile ultra. The motivation certainly helped. About 200 people signed up for that race, but because of the unexpected cold and icy conditions, only about 70 finished.
“I think I finished 68th out of 70. It took 29 hours and 15 minutes,” Boyle said. “I’m hoping to finish in under 29 hours for this one.”
10 Years and Many More Miles to Go
Boyle wasn’t planning on doing a 100-mile race this year. After graduating, stepping into his new position with the American Red Cross and greeting his first child all within a matter of months, taking on such a big challenge didn’t cross his mind.
Then he realized it’s been a full 10 years since he started endurance racing and raising awareness for the importance of blood donations, and he wanted to honor that.
“Every endurance event I’ve taken on over the past 10 years, I’ve been able to finish, and that goes back largely to the people who have supported me,” he said. “I wanted to end the year on a good note, and help others along the way because so many have helped me.”
Boyle started training specifically for this race in July, logging about 70 miles per week. It sounds like a lot, but he enjoys the training.
“To me, it’s knowing I’m out there with my heart and my lungs. Those were once signs that I was dying. Now those are signs that I’m living, and I’m just so thankful for that,” he said. “That’s why I cherish every single mile of the journey.”
And now he has a new cheerleader on the sideline — his daughter Clara Lynn Boyle, named after American Red Cross founder Clara Barton.
“To reflect back on my life 13 years ago when I was in the hospital on my death bed, and my mom and dad were in the room, they were begging me to stay strong, to keep fighting; to fight for myself, my future wife and future children. These are all very big statements for an 18-year-old to hear. Now being a dad myself, it’s all come full circle. I have Clara, one of the people I was fighting for.”
The power of a blood donation. Its benefits endure, affecting future generations.
If you’d like to pledge to become a blood donor, hold space on Brian Boyle’s bib and maybe even save a life, visit his SleevesUp page.