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Overcoming Adversity

Personal trainer Mansur Mendizabal spent six months training for the Race across America which is an ultramarathon bike race across the United States. It is one of the longest annual endurance events in the world (comparable to the Tour de France), and entrants must prove their abilities by competing in any of several qualifying events.

Every minute that Mansur wasn’t working he trained, enduring long hours riding long distances with little time for anything else. “It was a very specific kind of training,” he explained.

When he began the race he was elated; this was everything he had worked for and he was determined to complete it. Then, just a few days into the race his crew, who were mapping out the route for him and his partner, misdirected them and Mansur did not make it to the designated stop in time. In a flash, through no fault of their own, they were disqualified.

“I was bitterly disappointed. I could have come back home and wallowed in my defeat. But I felt that in life we hit obstacles and how we face them makes us who we are.”

At 38, Mansur is no stranger to navigating around roadblocks in life. As a young man growing up in poverty in D.C., he managed to put himself through college and graduated with two degrees. In the early years of his career, the pounds piled on and Mansur found himself 70 lbs. overweight and at risk for cardiovascular disease. Instead of being depressed, frustrated or defeated he chose to get healthy, eventually switching careers and becoming a personal trainer. “After going through what I did to lose weight, I became inspired to help others with their health and fitness goals.”

Completing a fitness event each year has become one of Mansur’s personal goals. It’s also a way he can practically apply what he teaches his clients. As crushing as his disqualification from the race was, he decided to focus on what he could learn from the experience. “I used that energy to start fresh. There’s always ups and downs, but there’s also always a new day. We always have a choice on how we deal with disappointment.”

He turned his attention to another race – the Spartan Ultra Beast Race in Killington, VT, one of the most physically and mentally challenging competitions in the United States. It consists of 28 running miles on a rugged terrain over a 38 degree incline mountain ski slope with 64 obstacles including open water swimming in 60°F water. “The obstacles can challenge the best athletes in the world,” said Mansur.

Training become his priority for 10 weeks. “I had done no running for six months to prepare for the bike race. The Spartan Race is very different from the Race across America.”

He did core training, functional training, strength training, high intensity interval training and cycling. He worked out six days a week. “It was important to me. I did my research about how to be successful in accomplishing my goal. I was consistent with my workouts, frequencies, nutrition, sleep and recovery. Consistency is what separates who finishes things in life and who stumbles their way through life.”

Mind over Matter
During the race Mansur said he looked upon the obstacles he faced in the same way he views obstacles he faces in life. “Life is not a predicted path in which you know every twist and turn. The challenges we face make us think, and they allow us to make choices that will have a positive or negative impact. What’s important is experiencing these challenges in a way that helps us make better decisions in the future. It’s how we respond that makes the difference.”

While Mansur trained his body to perfection, it was his mind that took him across the finish line. He saw many in the race who succumbed to the dangerous terrain with broken ankles, dislocated shoulders and sheer exhaustion. “Once you have a solid base, your mental attitude has a lot to do with your success. I had to talk to myself. I said things like, ‘Keep moving. Keep breathing. This is getting hard but I’m not going to die.’ It’s what got me through.”

“Leading by example is important for me. That’s why I choose to do these heavyweight fitness events.” His clients may not aspire to do fitness events like Mansur, but their personal goals are just as difficult for them, and his experience can help them find a path for success.

Mansur uses the same techniques with his clients that he used for the race and in his everyday life: define goals. Are they realistic? Are you willing to put in the time? “One day a week working out is not enough. You need three days to maintain what you currently have. You have to take baby steps – good things don’t happen overnight. It’s gradual, like building a house. If you don’t put in the time you won’t progress.”

While Mansur may seem to be a fitness fanatic, he could not have gotten to where he is without recognizing the importance of having a balanced life. When he’s not working or training Mansur spends as much time as possible with friends and his best friend, a French bulldog named Polo. He believes in taking breaks. For his birthday this year he traveled to Australia where he didn’t compete, bike or run. He enjoyed learning about another country, meeting new people, having fun and relaxing.

To contact Mansur email him at: mansurtraining@gmail.com. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram at: mansurtraining.


Pattie Cinelli is a holistic personal trainer who has been writing her health and fitness column for more than 25 years. She writes about leading edge professionals, programs and trends. Pattie trains clients in their homes, offices and at Sport&Health Gym. Email Pattie with column ideas or fitness questions at: fitness@pattiecinelli.com.

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