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Chappaqua Doctor Completes Ironman Triathlon

Michael Bergstein completed an Ironman triathlon, despite suffering fractured ribs and a bruised hip.
Michael Bergstein completed an Ironman triathlon, despite suffering fractured ribs and a bruised hip. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Michael Bergstein

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y. -- Chappaqua Dr. Michael Bergstein was going to do whatever it took to complete an Ironman triathlon, even if it almost killed him.

The 55-year old ear, nose and throat doctor, who has offices in Yorktown and Sleepy Hollow, completed an Ironman triathlon last month in Lake Placid, despite getting hit with a tent and fracturing his ribs and bruising his hip.

An Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.5 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and then a marathon.

A "mid-life crisis" is what prompted Bergstein to want to try running a triathlon. Bergstein was also set to run in the 2013 New York City Marathon which was cancelled after Hurricane Sandy.

As he ran some smaller triathlons and got up at 4 a.m. every morning to train, Bergstein had his sites set on completing an Ironman.

"That would be the pinnacle," Bergstein said.

Many of Bergstein's colleagues and family supported him, but also wondered what he had gotten himself into.

"They thought it was an impossibility, unless you're psychotic," Bergstein said. "What the hell? I'll give it a shot."

Bergstein trained with a company that trains people to compete in triathlons, working with Doug MacLean, a nationally recognized triathlete, for eight months.

"I thought I was in shape," Bergstein said. "Little did I know."

Bergstein went up to Lake Placid with wife and two of his children.

At first things went well, as he completed the swim 9th in his age group.

The bike race is when things started to go awry.

While biking, a gust of wind caused a tent to become uprooted and fly through the air.

"It was almost supernatural," Bergstein thought as he pedaled.

To his horror, Bergstein realized the tent was coming right toward him. He let go of his bike while going 16 mph, covered his head and waited for impact

One of the poles impaled his bike, and he hit the pavement hard.

"That one second felt like an eternity," Bergstein said. "I just waited to get hit."

After he fell, 30 people descended on him and pulled the tent off of him. His ribs and hip were badly injured, but Bergstein didn't realize the extent. He got on his bike and continued to pedal.

"All I could think about was how I wanted to continue," Bergstein said.

It took some time for Bergstein to get his bike and body back together, but when he got back on his bike, the Lake Placid crowd went crazy.

His bike wasn't fully repaired though, and the gears on his bike kept shifting as he biked the remaining 50 miles. He got through by talking to his bicycle.

"You're hurt, I'm hurt, let's get through this together," Bergstein said. "Then I'll leave you alone."

He made it through the bike portion, only to have a marathon staring him and is injured hip and broken hips in the face.

"This is going to hurt and going to suck," Bergstein said.

He got through the first three miles but then the pain started to increase during mile four. By mile 18, he could barely walk, and began dragging his left leg.

It was taking him 20 minutes for each mile, and he had a midnight deadline staring him in the face. If he didn't complete the triathlon by midnight, it'd be recorded as a did not finish.

Friends began to get concerned when Bergstein had not finished the race. His friend, Lisa Hamroff, a fellow Chappaqua resident, found him on the course and helped him, walking with him the rest of the way. Bergstein's daughter Suzannah spotted him at mile 23, and also joined him for the final few miles.

With a half mile to go and at the Olympic oval where speedskater Eric Heiden made history, Suzannah told Bergstein that he could not limp to the finish line.

"I did the best I could and ran in the half mile," Bergstein said, with tears welling in his eyes.

Bergstein completed the Ironman in 15:03:33, at 10:03 p.m.

"Do what it takes to complete your goal," Bergstein said. "Whatever it takes."

In Bergstein's competitive nature, he actually was initially unhappy it took him so long to finish the race, but soon became grateful that he wasn't killed by the tent.

"I soon felt a sense of exuberance," Bergstein said. "That's what the Ironman is all about. It is both a mental and physical challenge."

After the Ironman, Bergstein didn't go to the hospital and instead went out for ice cream with his family. He was later diagnosed with traumatic bursitis in his hip.

"I was physically prepared but that mental aspect was just as important," Bergstein said. "It's not all going to go well and you need to be ready for that."

While Bergstein cannot compete in this year's New York City Marathon, he is hoping to compete in Boston next year and intends on doing the Ironman again.

"It's a unique significant challenge in one person's life," Bergstein said. "There is a sense of accomplishment that you can't really describe."

The doctor said he lives by a motto that drives him to compete.

"If you say you can or you say you can't, you're right," Bergstein said.

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