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Tim Don’s sponsor On running teamed up with Emmy-award-winning director Andrew Hinton to create a must-see 28-minute film about overcoming adversity called The Man With the Halo.
One year ago today, British triathlete and three-time Olympian Tim Don set a new Ironman record of 7:40:23 at Ironman Brazil. Four-and-a-half months later—and three days before the Ironman World Championship—he was hit by a truck in Kona, fracturing his neck, and forcing him to decide how to let his bones heal. He chose the option with the most mobility—and a lot of pain: a halo, a contraption screwed directly into his skull and supported by his shoulders. It was put on Friday, October 13, a day before Kona, and came off January 3, followed by two more months of different neck braces gradually lessening in stiffness.
In the best example we’ve seen—perhaps ever—in our sport of a sponsor supporting an athlete through a horrific setback, On running decided to document Don’s recovery starting just over a month after the accident.
“More often than not the general public see these Ironmen and Ironwomen as superhuman—we can’t relate to them because they’re doing things most of us wouldn’t dare do,” says Feliciano Robayna, On’s head of sports marketing who drove the effort to make it. “To see Tim in this light, it made him more approachable and human.”
On top of that, Robayna and the On team thought creating the film to help tell Don’s story might give Don, 40, more exposure, ultimately leading to opportunities outside the sport to make up for the tens of thousands of dollars—or potentially more than $100K—he possibly missed out on by not racing Kona.
On was right in both regards.
The film follows Don from when he flew home to Boulder, Colorado after the crash, through the Boston Marathon this April. The New York Times picked it up, running the story on the front of the sports page two days before Boston with the title, It’s Pure Torture. But It Works, drumming up interest far beyond the triathlon world; the trailer now has more than 1.3 million views.
And just this month Don flew to Ecuador to give a 50-minute talk in front of 700 people at a motivational convention dubbed “Inspire.” Among the other speakers: Climber Aaron Ralston, who cut off his own arm to survive after a boulder pinned him down in Utah in 2003; a Chilean miner who was trapped 2,300 feet underground for more than two months in 2010; and Carla Perez, one of only seven women in the world who have summited Everest without supplemental oxygen. Don focused his talk on how his perspective on his athletic life has changed.
“I had more time on my hands to reflect,” Don says. “As professionals all we want is excellence, that performance, and we get caught up in it. We get quite selfish—I think in a good way, though I’m sure my wife will say at times not—but we do get obsessed, and it gave me time to reflect and focus on different things. That helped me get through the process of the halo, not training, not racing.”
Without giving too much away about what he learned through the process, we will say that what makes it work is Don. His candor and capacity for self-reflection is something not always found in top-level athletes while they’re still very much in the prime of their competing days. And his sense of humor carries what otherwise would’ve been a melancholic film.
At 40 years old, Don’s nearing the end of his career—this setback is doubly more difficult given he doesn’t have years to make a comeback. It’s now or never. But he takes everything in good humor, making his story uplifting to watch.
“It’s all about Tim’s eternal optimism in the face of insurmountable adversity,” Robayna says. “He was cracking jokes in the ambulance on the way to the hospital—this guy’s dreams had been shattered, and he’s making jokes.” That was the starting point for the vision of the film. Check it out above.