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Get Inspired By Our Triathlete Fit Contest Winners

The winners of our Triathlete Fit contest say the multisport lifestyle has helped them achieve their best selves—in body and mind.

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The winners of our Triathlete Fit contest say the multisport lifestyle has helped them achieve their best selves—in body and mind.  

Growing up, Dean “Dino” Bruno, 46, often used running as a way to clear his head. But he only took up the sport with discipline as an adult. He trained for the 1994 Long Island Half Marathon and subsequently the full marathon the following year. He was hooked.

When unusual sluggishness and fatigue derailed Bruno’s preparation for the 2010 Boston Marathon, he chalked it up to overtraining and withdrew his entry. Unfortunately, that proved a Band-Aid fix; Bruno soon faced a diagnosis of stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. “I was like, ‘You’ve gotta be kidding me. This isn’t right. This is BS,’” he says. “I was stunned. I always took care of myself. But I never felt sorry for myself. I just wanted my life back.”

Bruno’s prognosis was good (an 80 percent chance of survival) but the treatment—six months of intensive bi-weekly chemotherapy—wreaked havoc on his body. The one-time 3:03 marathoner struggled to walk around his neighborhood, aided by a cane. But a week after his final chemo treatment and officially in remission, Bruno ran again. A single mile. He felt like vomiting.

Day by day, a doggedly determined Bruno built on that mile until he was back to racing, with his sights set on a redemptive return to Boston. “Motivation’s never been an issue for me,” says the financial services executive. But post-chemo fatigue was still a factor. “I struggled big time,” he admits.

In 2014 Bruno turned to Laura Hartman, a long-time yoga teacher, USAT-certified triathlon coach and founder of New York-based Infinitri for help. Immediately, he saw improvements; though he was initially skeptical of Hartman’s eastern philosophy-infused approach. “She kept throwing yoga at me, two or three times a week,” recalls Bronx-born Bruno. “She kept repeating, ‘Be mindful of your surroundings. Be happy that you’re alive. Be patient. One day at a time.’” Bruno began to notice the benefits of relaxation and ultimately bought “all in” to the practice of mindfulness. Now, he says, “I’m in the best shape of my life, physically and mentally.”

Under Hartman’s tutelage, Bruno earned a place on the Boston 2016 start line. She also introduced him to triathlon, teaching him to swim. Bruno raced his first tri four months after meeting his coach; he went on to finish Ironman Lake Placid 2015 in 13:38:39.

Along with structured training and relaxation, nutrition plays a big part in Bruno’s wellness plan. The self-proclaimed “poster child for Paleo” eats a diet of clean, nutritional food “with a purpose.” He eats a lot, with a focus on quality protein and good carbohydrates. For training and racing, he fuels with the full range of Hammer Nutrition products. His wife, Cathy, has likewise adopted the Paleo diet; Bruno’s weekend chore list includes chopping 10 pounds of sweet potatoes to feed the couple for the week ahead.

Bruno’s employer, like his supportive spouse, has stood by him in sickness and in health. Currently the Chief Operating Officer at American Portfolios Financial Services, Inc., he’s been with the company since 2001. While undergoing chemo, he could only tolerate half days before heading home to bed. Now, he takes liberties with his schedule to enhance his health, rather than fight for it. “I typically take Fridays off from May through Labor Day to train, which is a huge help,” says Bruno, who averages 10-plus hours a week in the early season (including 2 swims, 3 runs, 1–2 bike sessions, and twice weekly strength and yoga sessions) and up to 20 hours in peak Ironman training. “When it gets to 15 hours a week, I’m getting up at 5 a.m.,” he says. “And I always go to bed at 9 or 9:30. I have to for my well-being.”

With Boston 2016 in the bank (his 25th marathon overall), Bruno is now tackling several triathlons—all with an appreciation for where he’s been and what he’s now able to accomplish. “A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about cancer,” he says. A recent suspicious scan (which since proved clear) only reinforced his passion and purpose: living one day at a time, driven by the mantra, “I want my life back.”

A Day in Dino’s Paleo Diet

Breakfast: 2–3 scrambled eggs, organic sauerkraut and a grass-fed beef burger patty, plus cod liver oil, apple cider vinegar and an array of vitamins

9 a.m. at desk: Some chicken

Lunch: Spinach salad with black olives, tomato and avocado, a turkey or grass-fed beef burger patty, sweet potato and fresh berries

3 p.m.: 1–2 homemade Paleo muffins

Dinner: Turkey or grass-fed beef burger patty, sweet potato and vegetables such as red peppers or peas

“I’m not anything special. I’m just highly motivated and stubborn,” Bruno says of his post-cancer tenacity.

RELATED VIDEO: Behind The Scenes With Our Triathlete Fit Winners

“I’m not sure if I fell in love with the idea of triathlon first, or him,” says Dana Dambrauskas, reminiscing on her first encounter with now-husband John. The pair met at a fitness center when John was on his way to the pool. He told Dana about triathlon; that was eight years ago and the couple has been training and racing together ever since.

Dambrauskas exudes positivity and a clear passion for the sport that is a departure from her gymnastics background (she competed from age 5 through her sophomore year in college). In gymnastics, says Dambrauskas, “everyone looks like me—around 5’1” and muscular.” She recalls the pressure that was placed on gymnasts regarding their size. “I remember having weigh-ins. It was really negative in that way,” she says. But a shift in her outlook as she approached her 30s helped her deemphasize body image and instead focus on living a healthy, active, feel-good lifestyle. “When you do that,” says Dambrauskas, “everything just falls into place.”

Judging by her triathlon race times, things certainly have fallen into place for the Lake Mary, Fla., resident. She placed third in her age group in her debut Ironman (Florida 2013), clocking 10:39:02. Then, the physical therapist took a season off from the sport “to let my body recover, to give it a break from the same motions that we do in triathlon day in and day out.” Instead, she took up CrossFit with a fervor. She still jumps into classes on occasion to complement her triathlon training. This season her focus is on the 70.3 distance (she’ll race Chattanooga in May and is considering Miami in October). She also intends to tackle another full Ironman once her work schedule settles down.

Since launching Transitions Physical Therapy in 2015, Dambrauskas’ days are hardly routine. Her patients—95 percent of who are athletes with equally demanding schedules—come first; she often books early morning or late evening appointments. To fit her own training in, her alarm sounds between 4:15 and 5:30 a.m. She logs two weekly one-hour swim sessions (“I’m waiting in line when the pool opens at 5 a.m.”), a standing Tuesday night ride at D2 Cycling Center in Sanford, Fla., and runs whenever she finds an open time slot. “I approach each day one by one, look at what I’ve committed to with my patients, my husband or my friends, and then decide where I can squeeze in my training.” Weekends make up for lost time during the week and include long rides and runs (plus some sleeping in).

“If I’m tired, I rest. Or if something’s important to my family or my friends, I make sure I’m there and engaged, so I’m not falling asleep at the table because I logged too many hours that morning,” says Dambrauskas, stressing the importance of balance in her life. Her holistic approach includes a full social calendar and “just as many friends on the less active side as on the active side.” A group of her friends pitched in for a special 40th birthday gift last June—a “Fit & 40” photo shoot and spa day to honor her hard work and commitment to health.

A natural born competitor with Type-A drive, Dambrauskas welcomes frequent reminders from John that triathlon is a hobby, intended foremost as fun. “I always try to keep that tucked in my head,” she says. “Otherwise it’s too easy to get so captivated by the sport and by what everyone else is doing in training.”

As for her triathlon success, Dambrauskas credits visualization as a key part of her race preparation. She mentally rehearses every race day detail (“Even taking off my watch and holding it in my mouth post-swim so that it doesn’t catch on my wetsuit sleeve,” she says). Drawing on techniques she learned as a gymnast, Dambrauskas imagines herself racing strong and feeling good. “I try to share this with my patients and my husband,” she says. “Always go to a race expecting to do well. You have to trust your training and believe that you’ll deliver. If you’ve trained, then race day is just the opportunity to bring it all together.”

In her cooler:
Almonds
Fruit
Veggies
Protein bars
Low-sugar oatmeal
Hard-boiled eggs
Single servings of peanut butter (a staple), hummus and guacamole
Occasional Greek yogurt (she mostly avoids dairy)
Lots of water

Her training/racing nutrition:
GQ6 hydration
Bonk Breaker bars
Nature’s Bakery bars

Her splurge:
“It’s always going to include chocolate! Anything chocolate.”

RELATED: Announcing Our 2016 Triathlete Fit Contest Winners