Perseverance Personified: One Man's Quest for the Finish Line - SWX Right Now-Sports for Spokane, CdA, Tri-Cities, WA

Perseverance Personified: One Man's Quest for the Finish Line


No meaningful success is ever achieved without first meeting failure. No one knows this better than Zane Graser.

"You have to persevere if you want to succeed at something in life, because nothing ever goes according to plan," he says. "I don't believe in quitting. I like to finish what I start."

"His desire to finish is more powerful than any athlete I've ever worked with in my life," says Graser's coach, Shawn Burke.

Graser has been overcoming challenges since day one.

"I was born early and had to be airlifted for life-saving surgery, because apparently my esophagus was not fully developed. It was developed into a ball and was not connected to my intestines to get nutrients through my body, so I had to be airlifted as soon as I was born. They fixed that. A couple of years later I went back to the hospital and had a heart murmur so I had heart surgery to fix that. The doctors only gave me a 15-percent chance of survival at the time."

That was the first time he beat the odds, and it would be the first of many. Graser was also born deaf, but doesn't see his health issues as obstacles.

"All the challenges and experiences I've been through growing up with my health, hearing, everything, it's just given me another perspective."

Six years ago, his perspective changed again when he had a pacemaker put in because of an irregular heartbeat.

"It changed my outlook on life. I want to live life to the fullest, I want to go out there and try all different things in my life before my time is up."

For Graser, living life to the fullest means taking on even more challenges, including a race that will push any athlete to their limits.

"Zane came to us about three years ago wanting to do an IRONMAN race," Burke recalls. "When he started telling me about his medical challenges, it really started touching me."

After training for a year and completing IRONMAN 70.3 races, Graser was ready to try his first full IRONMAN in Coeur d'Alene in June of 2014.

"I was doing okay," Graser remembers of that day. "I got through my swim and I got out of the water, picked up my glasses and it turned out they were broken. I've gotten hit in the face so many times with a ball, and they've never broken. I've had the glasses since high school, but on race day they had to break. So I had to try to find tape, get some help to fix it up."

The time he spent trying to fix his glasses cost him. He eventually missed a bike cut-off time and wasn't able to finish the race.

Frustrated but not defeated, he spent another year training.

"That part when he came back he goes 'I want to go again,' I couldn't tell him no because you can't tell Zane no," says Burke. "You have to say, 'What can we do to make it better or make you accomplish that?'"

On June 28th last year, Zane returned to the beach in Coeur D'Alene ready for another shot, but even more daunting challenges were ahead. It was one of the hottest days of the year, with record-setting temperatures reaching 105 degrees.

"Last year, the heat was very tough. It felt like I was going through a furnace basically. It was just torture. I couldn't keep myself cool, I wore a thermal and kept pouring water, trying to stay cool, but I'd be hot within five minutes. The heat wasn't good for me, and I had to make a really tough decision to call it."

For a second time, he had come up short of his ultimate goal.

"I put in three years of a lot of training, hard work, effort, just to have a chance of finishing an IRONMAN race. It really affected me mentally, emotionally, everything. I kind of hit rock bottom a little bit. I was in a dark spot for a little bit."

Despite everything he has endured in the last few years, Graser still isn't ready to give up on his dream of reaching the finish line.

"I believe that anybody can do anything they put their mind to," he says. "Despite my challenges and drawbacks, my frustration, I just vowed to do it. I have to do it."

The biggest testament to Zane Graser's strength won't come at the finish line. It's that he'll be standing at the starting line on Sunday, ready to chase success again through the winding roads of Coeur D'Alene; perseverance personified.

"The common person, that would've stopped them," says Burke. "The first time it would've stopped them, the second time for sure it would've stopped them. But now you're looking at a third time, and he is definitely determined to finish this journey he started out with."

When Graser does finish this journey, his success will be that much sweeter. Because the hills he's climbed have been higher, the valleys lower, and the challenges tougher than anyone could imagine.

"I think about the finish line a lot. I really believe that I can do it. After overcoming my obstacles and my mental frustrations and the negativity, and feeling like a failure basically, I'm starting to be positive again because I really believe I can finish. I think it's going to be very rewarding to cross that finish line after coming up short the last two years."

"It's going to be very emotional," Burke says. "I get emotional now thinking about it, because I know how hard he's working. You think about the crowd screaming and pounding, Zane's not going to be able to hear that, but he is going to be able to hear the vibration off the ground, people pounding their feet roaring for him. And that's one thing I'm going to do, I'm going to be stomping as hard as I can, I'm going to give him the biggest hug I can. I've seen this gentleman try and try and try again. I would tell you that 99.9-percent of people would have already given up. Zane is that less than one percent of people that won't give up."

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