Andy Holder lives one mile at a time, encouraging others to live without limitations, even when faced with a chronic illness.
Andy, his wife Jude, and their two sons Nico and Luca, live just outside Philadelphia. When I catch up with Andy on the phone, he’s putting on Luca’s pads for football practice (Luca plays both quarterback and cornerback). While it seems like a routine daddy-function, a few years ago, Andy wasn’t sure if he would be healthy enough to be the father he wanted to be.
Andy was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at age 36; a disease that is normally diagnosed in children. His body produces no insulin.
Determined to not let the disease stand in the way of living a healthy life, Andy decided to get up and do something. He didn’t own a bike. He didn’t know how to swim. But, Andy, as he describes it, “surveyed the land for the most challenging feat that he could find.”
He found the longest and most intense triathlon in the world: Ironman.
Ironman triathlons consist of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, and 26.2-mile run.
The disease can be managed. Or it can be debilitating. He said: “Once your body stops producing insulin, you get really sick.” His goal was to be healthy for his children, and to show others it could be done.
The reality is, that it has reshaped his entire life.
Andy grew up in Long Island, in Levittown, the original one (Levittowns are described in urban planning history as the model for suburban pre-fabricated neighborhoods). He left Long Island for college and visits occasionally.
He walked on the football team at the University of New Hampshire, but transferred to Syracuse his sophomore year to wrestle. In his words, he “took full advantage of the college party,” while only minimally applying himself to a degree in psychology.
“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Boiler Room’?” he asks. That’s what his life became after college. Despite a lack of finance knowledge, Andy’s career strung together a web of highly speculative stockbroker jobs. Among them: Charles Schwab, where he worked when he met his wife.
When diagnosed, Andy quit his job and created the Iron Andy Foundation.
“I try to inspire from a distance,” said Andy. Perhaps he intended the pun. Andy has competitively swam, biked, and run more than 2,072 miles; that’s quite a distance (nearly the distance between NYC and L.A.). And, that’s not including training miles. He has completed eight full Ironman triathlons, twelve half Ironman and four marathons.
Imagine a 140.6-mile race. Now imagine doing that with diabetes. Andy completed his first full Ironman triathlon at Lake Placid, N.Y. in 13 hours and 39 minutes. During the course of that grueling day, he checked his blood sugar levels over 20 times. He finished –and has done so many more times since.
He speaks publicly nationwide, spreading the message to others at national conferences and expos.
Andy is a inspiration to endurance athletes, people living with diabetes, and to all of us.
The Iron Andy Foundation underwrites scholarships, for kids living with diabetes so they can attend summer camps throughout the country. “There is one week out of the year where I can just be me” said Shamus Hall, a 12-year old recipient of an IAF “campership.” That’s Andy Holder’s goal in raising awareness and money: to give kids a week out of the year where they “don’t have to think about diabetes 24/7.” The camps, most of them, incorporate sports fitness into the programming. Andy continues to inspire others to live beyond boundaries: to mentally and physically challenge themselves beyond the disease.