’s Kevin Mackinnon reviews the new book by Jacques Steinberg

YOU ARE AN IRONMAN: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World’s Toughest Triathlon follows six first-time Ironman athletes as they pursue their dream of completing Ironman Arizona in 2009. The athletes are all “weekend warriors” (you can see their profiles below) who experience all the normal highs and lows we all go through as we prepare for a day that includes a 2.4 mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile marathon run.

There are certainly the dramatic life-and-death stories we’ve come to expect in Ironman coverage. Bryan Reece was told by his doctor that he was “a heart attack waiting to happen,” and Ironman fans will be all-too-familiar with Scott Johnson’s story. (Johnson was born with Cystic Fibrosis and almost died on September 11, 2001 when, in desperate need of a double lung transplant, surgeons couldn’t get hold of a pair of matching lungs because all air traffic had been closed down.) Johnson’s wife, Leanne, is one of the athletes Steinberg follows in the book, which allows us to learn more about Scott’s incredible life journey, too.

But that’s just part of the story. What Steinberg manages to do in You Are an Ironman is capture the dramatic life-changing effects an Ironman can have on “regular” people.

“Every Ironman has a story,” Steinberg said in an interview yesterday. “In so many instances they are gripping and moving. I think the best non-fiction writing is when it reads like fiction writing, but the facts are true. I knew I didn’t want to write a memoir. I thought ‘What if I could write something suspenseful about an Ironman?’ That’s why I chose first-time competitors – I thought it would be fun for the reader to ride along with them as they trained and then competed.”

The book doesn’t pull any punches about the realities of Ironman training. Steinberg spent a year in constant touch with the athletes and provides an up-close and personal view of their journeys. We learn about the financial and familial sacrifices required to become an Ironman. There’s the typical litany of injuries we all experience as we prepare for the big day. And, of course, there’s the reality check we all go through: can I really do this?

It’s important to note that other than the support provided by Ironman’s media and public relations departments, Steinberg’s book is not associated with the company.

“It’s not my job to sell an Ironman,” he pointed out in yesterday’s interview. “That being said, it will become obvious to the reader that I think this is an awesome, life changing pursuit to become involved in. My contribution to this community was singing its song. My job was to capture this culture and this experience for an audience that might have been curious about what it takes.”

Jacques Steinberg does all that and more in this book. We’ve all had the experience of trying to explain to people just how magical the finish of an Ironman is … and feeling like we can’t do it justice. You Are An Ironman comes pretty close.

Steinberg, Jacques,YOU ARE AN IRONMAN: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World’s Toughest Triathlon, Viking, 2011. On-sale date: September 19, 2011

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