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The man who is in the arena: my experience on the US Triathlon team

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b2ap3_thumbnail_David-carfagno-us-triathlon-team.jpgThis originally appeared as a guest post on Jen Arricale's blog.

Being an athlete my whole life has motivated me to get into sports medicine. When my family moved to Arizona in 1978, at the age of 11, I had come from already playing 6 years of Youth soccer at a high level. On a travelling, perennially State cup champion team, soccer was non existent in Arizona. After playing a couple years in the Paradise Valley Soccer Club, a group, lead by my dad Vincent Carfagno, Joseph Youseffi, Joe Salomon, and Dr Paul Steingard, who ended up being my mentor, had created a new soccer club called Sereno Soccer Club. Many in the soccer community now know that Sereno is a multimillion dollar club and competes nationally.

Fast forward through High School Soccer and Football at Brophy Prep, I walked on at University of San Diego's Division 3 football team. Wanting to be home I came back to Arizona State University and wanted to major in an area I liked, physical fitness. So, I studied Exercise Science. I had a passion for Physiology and Nutrition. I walked on at ASU's football team, tried out for Coach John Cooper and made the scout team. After a short stint, I decided I was focused on my academics and also proud to have made the team, which that year they went on to win the Rose Bowl over Michigan and Jim Harbaugh. I have always been a competitor, still am. Sports have created a venue to compete and excel. It's a different arena than excelling in academics in my opinion. But, it's still exciting to compete. During college, I was able to apply a principle I stand by today, train the mind and body at the same time. In the classroom during the day, learning physiology for which I could apply in my personal training at night. In fact, the mid 1980′s, I was training at a one-on-one gym called Fitness for Life. A relatively new concept in training, bootcamp style, whole body workouts with minimal recovery.

I got into a residency program at the world reknowned Cleveland Clinic Foundation. What influenced me there, was that every physician was a competitior in academics and also was highly compassionate. Like my dad would always say, put yourself in a situation where you can thrive and rise to the occassion. I stayed for an additional year of sports medicine fellowship.

In my medical practice I've had the opportunity to be the team internist for the Milwaukee Brewers, US Olympic Baseball team, ringside physisican for professional MMA and boxing, NCAA football, and most recently over the last decade, medical director for Ironman Arizona and PF Changs Marathon in AZ. The culture swallows you a little bit. 4 years ago, a dear friend Ken Lewis motivated me. He and I would always talk about sport and competition. I had been playing soccer up until 2008, hanging by a thread after 2 ACL reconstructions. I was looking for another avenue of competition. I had done a couple sprint triathlons and half marathons for fun. In 2009, Ken proclaimed to me that the US Nationals Sprint Tri championship was in Alabama. It was an open event, which meant you can compete in it and if you excel and place in top 16, you can MAKE the US Triathlon team. I said why not.

I trained a couple months and went out and did it. I placed 16th out of 40 something on a wet and rainy day. I made the team and it was an awesome feeling. I got to travel to Beijing, China, and race with the US team representing our country. The city welcomed all nations. Had an opening ceremonies and parade, literally shutting down a large part of the downtown area.

We raced at the same venue where the Olympics triathlon. A stadium-like run surrrounding a lake reservoir and a 2 loop track at the Base of the Great Wall. I came in 26th in the World and 3rd in the US. It was just the feeling of being there and competing. Lining up for the swim, it was a chilly 45 degrees. I had the Mexican team on my right and some of the Brits and an Italian on my left. These were athletes that have been racing most of their lives. Here I am, a newbie to the sport in Beijing at this point in time. The swim was brutal. No wetsuit, meaning it was a slow swim. All triathletes love wetsuti legal because the wetsuit creates buoyance and speed. I had always practiced in a wetsuit. Nevertheless, it helped a bit coming out late, because on the swim turn exit towards transition, I saw 2 bicycle accidents on the first turn, slick wet and rainy surface. So I took it easy. After the bike, I took off on the run. Finished strong, in fact on the finish straight-away, I urged a Danish and a Brit to sprint with me to finish up. At the end, WonTon Noodle soup was our finish area food .

Since 2009, I've been competing in Sprint Triathlons to Half Ironmen, due for my first full Ironman in Mont Tremblant, Quebec this August. I enjoy doing it for the camaraderie with my friends and patients. I'm empowered and enjoy motivating my patients. I've always been in the fitness field and always will be for the rest of my life. I challenge my patients to find their arena and at least compete in it. My favorite quote by my mentor at Cleveland Clinic is "The Arena", by Theodore Roosevelt.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

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