Bruno Prado is an Ironman, in and out of the sporting arena.
When we sat down to talk, I knew he'd overcome tremendous challenges to become an Ironman athlete. However, I didn't know that one of his challenges was simply being able to breathe. Early in our conversation, he told me about his latest race, the 70.3 Hawaii Ironman. As he spoke, I noticed his breathing was unusually labored, as if he had just run a race.
When I asked him why he seemed short of breath, Bruno explained that he lives with a debilitating condition.
"I have only 30% of capacity to breathe," he said. "It is really, really hard to breathe. So, this is why my voice, it is a little strange."
Watch the video to see how Bruno overcame challenges to become a true Ironman
At 16 years old, Bruno was diagnosed with cancer on his thyroid gland and cervical spine, which required multiple surgeries. Unfortunately, one of the surgeries cut some nerves and damaged his vocal cords. Bruno also lost 70% of his ability to breathe normally.
Bruno eventually defeated cancer with treatments and surgeries, but not without some additional lasting effects, including a significant weight gain.
"Four years from the surgery, I was like 400 pounds, 460 pounds, something like that," said Bruno. "So, it's big. And then I decided to change my mind completely because my daughter was born, and then I said, "Hey, look, if I don't change my mind right now, I will die."
He decided that sport was the inspiration he needed to get his life back on track. And, characteristically, he chose one of the most challenging and rigorous sports of all. He began training for a half-ironman, a race that involves a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run which equates to a half marathon.
Training for an ironman race is difficult for any athlete, but Bruno had to train in a way that allowed for his breathing difficulties, especially when it came to swimming.
"I tried a lot of techniques," he said. "But all my teachers don't have the capacity to understand what is going on with my body inside the water. I started a self-study understanding what I can do to breathe well in the water. And then I discovered a new technique that I just put my hand on the front and try to keep my head out of the water a little bit more time. A regular swimmer puts the head outside of the water to breathe and comes back in a half-second. I need like three seconds to breathe."
Bruno got into a rhythm that worked for him and began competing in half-ironman races across the country. Gradually, his stamina began to build, and he found himself getting faster and stronger the more he trained and raced. Additionally, it had a positive effect on other aspects of his life including his job and his family. He says, “My mind is really more open and I have more discipline to do whatever I want to do, and I have more focus.”
Over two years, he completed six races. But then disaster struck.
Early one morning, outside his home in Sunny Isles, Florida, Bruno was training on his bike when he was hit from behind by a truck. The driver had been distracted by his cellphone. Bruno suffered significant injuries, including a broken clavicle and four broken ribs. Once again, he needed surgery and intensive therapy to recover.
After a few months, Bruno overcame his injuries and once again began preparing for Ironman events. The training and competitions are obviously grueling, but Bruno sees the effort as rejuvenating, helping him to become the best version of himself in all aspects of life.
"I like to challenge myself and my mind to think big," he says. "This is what I do in my business, in my life, with my family. I like to think big and, OK, I don't have a great condition. My body is not perfect, but why not?"
Bruno's resilience is admirable. But he's not resting on his laurels as he's currently training to compete in a full Ironman race at the end of the year in Panama City, Florida.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cancer and a near-death accident won't stop this Ironman athlete.