ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Minda Dentler - Athlete, activist
A record-setting triathlete, Minda Dentler is a polio survivor committed to inspiring people to move beyond their fear of failure and achieve their goals.

Why you should listen

Minda Dentler's life is one of inspiration, courage and determination. As an infant in India, she contracted polio, resulting in the paralysis of her legs, and was left at an orphanage. When she was three, she was adopted by an American family which enabled her to receive the medical care necessary to be able to walk with leg braces and crutches.

Undeterred by her disability, Dentler became an independent woman with the intention and drive to face and overcome the many obstacles she has encountered throughout her life. As an adult, she discovered athletics and threw herself into the sport of triathlon. In 2013, she became the first female wheelchair athlete to complete the Ironman World Championship, in Kona, Hawaii.

Dentler is an athlete, speaker, advocate and mother. She has been featured on CNN, Forbes and NBC. She has written for Huffington Post and TIME, advocating for the eradication of polio. She was a 2017 Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow. She works for a large global insurer and, with her husband, is raising a young daughter. She's committed to inspiring people to move beyond their fear of failure and achieve their goals.

More profile about the speaker
Minda Dentler | Speaker | TED.com
TEDWomen 2017

Minda Dentler: What I learned when I conquered the world's toughest triathlon

Filmed:
1,167,711 views

A 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and then a full-length marathon on hot, dry ground -- with no breaks in between: the legendary Ironman triathlon in Kona, Hawaii, is a bucket list goal for champion athletes. But when Minda Dentler decided to take it on, she had bigger aspirations than just another medal around her neck. She tells the story of how she conquered this epic race, and what it inspired her to do next.
- Athlete, activist
A record-setting triathlete, Minda Dentler is a polio survivor committed to inspiring people to move beyond their fear of failure and achieve their goals. Full bio

Double-click the English transcript below to play the video.

00:12
It was October 13, 2012,
0
936
3415
00:16
a day that I will never forget.
1
4375
2114
00:18
I was on my bike, pushing up what seemed
like a never-ending barren hill.
2
6892
5516
00:24
And it wasn't just any hill:
3
12432
1814
00:26
it was a 15-mile climb
up to a town called Hawi
4
14270
3730
00:30
on the Big Island of Hawaii.
5
18024
2181
00:32
And it wasn't just any ride:
6
20776
1945
00:34
it was at the Ironman World Championship.
7
22745
2578
00:37
I can still feel my muscles burning.
8
25926
2936
00:40
I was struggling, tired and dehydrated,
9
28886
2548
00:43
as I could feel the heat
10
31458
1626
00:45
emanating from the asphalt,
measuring almost 98 degrees.
11
33108
3730
00:49
I was near the halfway point
of the bike portion
12
37727
2318
00:52
of one of the most prestigious, longest,
13
40069
2959
00:55
single-day endurance race
events in the world.
14
43052
2635
00:59
Every year, during my childhood,
15
47346
1754
01:01
I watched this very race on TV
in our family living room.
16
49124
2977
01:04
I sat next to my dad on our 1970s-style
orange and brown sofa,
17
52680
4874
01:09
and I remember being in utter awe
18
57578
1882
01:11
at how these athletes
pushed themselves to their limit
19
59484
3024
01:14
in this grueling race.
20
62532
1331
01:15
And just so you don't get the wrong idea,
21
63887
1969
01:17
my family members weren't just spectators.
22
65880
2426
01:20
They were incredibly athletic,
23
68330
2151
01:22
and I always participated
from the sidelines,
24
70505
2998
01:25
cheering on my three siblings
or handing out water at local races.
25
73527
4436
01:29
I remember wanting so badly
to be able to compete, but I couldn't.
26
77987
4405
01:35
Even though I couldn't play sports,
27
83475
1794
01:37
I decided to be active in my community.
28
85293
2214
01:39
I volunteered at the local
hospital in high school.
29
87531
2863
01:42
In college, I interned at the White House,
30
90418
3151
01:45
studied abroad in Spain
31
93593
1326
01:46
and backpacked through Europe
all by myself
32
94943
2507
01:49
with my leg braces and crutches.
33
97474
1698
01:51
Upon graduating, I moved to New York City
for a job in management consulting,
34
99807
4425
01:56
earned an MBA, got married
35
104256
1953
01:58
and now have a daughter.
36
106233
1856
02:00
(Applause)
37
108457
3354
02:03
At age 28, I was introduced
to the sport of hand-cycling,
38
111835
4366
02:08
and then triathlon,
39
116225
2011
02:10
and by luck, I met Jason Fowler,
an Ironman World Champion,
40
118260
4039
02:14
at a camp for athletes with disabilities.
41
122323
2733
02:17
And like me, he competed in a wheelchair.
42
125080
2794
02:19
And with his encouragement, at age 34,
43
127898
3216
02:23
I decided to go after Kona.
44
131138
2204
02:26
The Kona, or Hawaii Ironman
45
134291
1876
02:28
is the oldest Iron-distance
race in the sport,
46
136191
3368
02:31
and if you're not familiar,
it's like the Super Bowl of triathlon.
47
139583
4126
02:35
And the Ironman,
for a wheelchair athlete like me,
48
143733
2358
02:38
consists of a 2.4-mile open-water swim
in the Pacific Ocean,
49
146115
4186
02:42
a 112-mile hand cycle ride
in lava fields --
50
150325
3627
02:45
now, that sounds exotic,
51
153976
1405
02:47
but it's not as scenic as it sounds,
and it's pretty desolate --
52
155405
3159
02:50
and then you top it off with a marathon,
53
158588
3048
02:53
or a 26.2-mile run in 90-degree heat
54
161660
3621
02:57
using a racing wheelchair.
55
165305
2133
02:59
That's right, it's a total distance
of 140.6 miles using just your arms
56
167462
6571
03:06
in less than 17 hours.
57
174057
2063
03:08
No female wheelchair athlete
had ever completed the race
58
176596
3906
03:12
because of the strict,
seemingly impossible cutoff times.
59
180526
3745
03:17
And so there I was,
60
185034
1195
03:19
putting it all out on the line.
61
187102
2179
03:21
And when I finally reached the top
of that 15-mile climb,
62
189967
3545
03:25
I was discouraged.
63
193536
1610
03:27
There was no way I was going
to make that swim in my time limit
64
195170
3881
03:31
of 10 and a half hours,
65
199075
1151
03:32
because I was almost two hours off pace.
66
200250
3745
03:36
I had to make the agonizing decision
67
204365
3348
03:39
to quit.
68
207737
1150
03:41
I removed my timing chip,
and I handed it over to a race official.
69
209300
4166
03:45
My day was done.
70
213490
1672
03:48
My best friend Shannon
and my husband Shawn
71
216377
2856
03:51
were waiting at the top of Hawi
to drive me back to town.
72
219257
3555
03:54
And on my way back to town,
I began to cry.
73
222836
2640
03:58
I had failed.
74
226191
1150
04:00
My dream of completing
the Ironman World Championship
75
228111
3754
04:03
was crushed.
76
231889
1699
04:05
I was embarrassed.
77
233612
1414
04:07
I felt like I'd messed up.
78
235050
2380
04:09
I worried about what my friends,
my family and people at work
79
237454
3501
04:12
would think of me.
80
240979
1222
04:14
What was I going to put on Facebook?
81
242225
2635
04:16
(Laughter)
82
244884
1150
04:18
How was I going to explain to everyone
83
246058
1968
04:20
that things didn't go the way
I had assumed or planned?
84
248050
3046
04:23
A few weeks later I was talking
to Shannon about the Kona "disaster,"
85
251796
4579
04:28
and she said this to me:
86
256399
1262
04:30
"Minda, big dreams and goals can only
be realized when you're ready to fail."
87
258546
4921
04:36
I knew I had to put that failure behind me
in order to move forward,
88
264033
3913
04:39
and it wouldn't be the first time
that I had faced insurmountable odds.
89
267970
4057
04:44
I was born in Bombay, India,
90
272752
1941
04:46
and just before my first birthday,
I contracted polio,
91
274717
3762
04:50
which left me paralyzed
from the hips down.
92
278503
2753
04:53
Unable to care for me, my birth mother
left me at an orphanage.
93
281970
3888
04:58
Fortunately, I was adopted
by an American family,
94
286538
2730
05:01
and I moved to Spokane, Washington
95
289292
1973
05:03
just shortly after my third birthday.
96
291289
1982
05:05
Over the next few years,
I underwent a series of surgeries
97
293753
3048
05:08
on my hips, my legs and my back
98
296825
2809
05:11
that allowed me to walk
with leg braces and crutches.
99
299658
2920
05:15
As a child, I struggled
with my disability.
100
303432
3162
05:19
I felt like I didn't fit in.
101
307196
2174
05:21
People stared at me all the time,
102
309788
2234
05:24
and I was embarrassed
about wearing a back brace and leg braces,
103
312046
3477
05:27
and I always hid my chicken legs
under my pants.
104
315547
3094
05:30
As a young girl, I thought thick,
heavy braces on my legs
105
318977
3430
05:34
did not look pretty or feminine.
106
322431
1975
05:37
Among my generation, I am one
of the very few individuals in the US
107
325465
5174
05:42
who are living with paralysis
by polio today.
108
330663
2468
05:45
Many people who contract polio
in developing countries
109
333690
3111
05:48
do not have access to the same
medical care, education,
110
336825
3548
05:52
or opportunities
like I have had in America.
111
340397
2809
05:55
Many do not even live to reach adulthood.
112
343880
2691
05:59
I have the humbling knowledge
that, had I not been adopted,
113
347362
3556
06:02
I most certainly
wouldn't be in front of you today.
114
350942
2599
06:05
I may not even be alive.
115
353565
2659
06:09
All of us, in our own lives,
116
357541
2260
06:11
may face seemingly insurmountable goals.
117
359825
2961
06:14
I want to share with you what I learned
118
362810
2150
06:16
when I tried again.
119
364984
1150
06:19
One year after my first attempt,
120
367851
2802
06:22
on a sunny Saturday morning,
121
370677
2580
06:25
my husband Shawn
122
373281
1235
06:26
dumped me into the ocean at the Kona Pier
123
374540
2275
06:28
and, with 2,500 of my closest
friends and competitors,
124
376839
3538
06:32
we started swimming as that cannon
went off promptly at 7am.
125
380401
3462
06:35
I focused on one stroke at a time,
staying in between bodies,
126
383887
3245
06:39
counting my strokes --
127
387156
1214
06:40
one, two, three, four --
128
388394
2944
06:43
and lifting my head to sight
every so often
129
391362
2033
06:45
just so I wouldn't get too off track.
130
393419
1985
06:47
And when I finally reached the shoreline,
131
395428
1954
06:49
Shawn picked me up,
and he carried me out of the water.
132
397406
3320
06:52
I was so stunned and thrilled
when Shawn had told me I had managed
133
400750
4111
06:56
a one-hour-and-43-minute swim time.
134
404885
3813
07:00
On to the bike segment.
135
408722
2024
07:03
I had eight hours and 45 minutes
to complete the 112-mile bike course.
136
411554
5904
07:09
I broke up the course
in seven- to 10-mile segments in my mind
137
417968
3674
07:13
just to reduce the enormity of the race.
138
421666
2303
07:15
The first 40 miles, they clipped by
as we benefited from a little tail wind.
139
423993
4595
07:20
By 4pm, I had made it to mile 94,
140
428612
4159
07:24
and I did the math and I realized
I was in serious time jeopardy
141
432795
3974
07:28
because I had 18 miles to go
and less than 90 minutes,
142
436793
3270
07:32
and that included
a few sizable hill climbs.
143
440087
3246
07:35
I was stressed out, and I was scared
144
443357
1735
07:37
that I wasn't going to make
that time cutoff again.
145
445116
2607
07:39
At this point, I pushed
my internal voice aside that said,
146
447747
3801
07:43
"This hurts. Quit."
147
451572
2197
07:45
And I told myself,
"Minda, you better focus.
148
453793
2640
07:48
Focus on what you can control,
149
456457
1622
07:50
and that is your attitude
and your effort."
150
458103
2591
07:52
I resolved to be OK being uncomfortable,
151
460718
3604
07:56
and I told myself, "Push harder,
152
464346
1580
07:57
forget about the pain,
153
465950
1309
07:59
and keep that laser focus."
154
467283
2380
08:01
For the next 90 minutes, I cranked
as though my life depended on it.
155
469993
6094
08:08
And when I rolled into town,
156
476971
1723
08:10
I heard on the loudspeaker,
157
478718
1674
08:12
"Minda Dentler is one of the last
competitors to make the bike cutoff."
158
480416
4388
08:17
I did it!
159
485701
1150
08:19
(Applause)
160
487289
4857
08:24
By only three minutes.
161
492170
1778
08:25
(Laughter)
162
493972
1401
08:27
It was 5:27pm,
163
495397
3199
08:30
and I had been racing
for 10-and-a-half hours.
164
498620
3332
08:34
The first 10 miles of the run
went pretty quickly,
165
502696
2628
08:37
as I was so excited to finally pass people
166
505348
3381
08:40
with my three wheels to their two feet.
167
508753
2985
08:43
The sun quickly went down,
168
511762
1333
08:45
and I found myself pulling up
to the bottom of Palani hill,
169
513119
3760
08:48
looking straight into a half-mile hill
that looked like Mt. Everest
170
516903
3270
08:52
at mile 124 of the race.
171
520197
2405
08:54
My friends and family
were ready at their stations
172
522626
2421
08:57
to talk me up that hill.
173
525071
2357
08:59
I was struggling, tired,
174
527452
1508
09:00
desperately gripping those rims
just so I wouldn't tip backwards.
175
528984
3461
09:04
When I finally reached
the top of that hill,
176
532469
2674
09:07
I turned left onto a very lonely
15-mile stretch onto the Queen K Highway,
177
535167
5983
09:13
totally exhausted.
178
541174
1565
09:14
I pressed on, focusing
on one push at a time.
179
542763
4675
09:20
By 9:30pm,
180
548386
1897
09:22
I made that final right-hand turn
onto Ali'i Drive.
181
550307
4072
09:26
I heard the crowd's roar,
and I was overcome with emotion.
182
554403
3648
09:30
I crossed that finish line.
183
558075
3112
09:33
(Applause)
184
561211
7000
09:43
(Applause ends)
185
571037
1215
09:44
And my final time
was 14 hours and 39 minutes.
186
572276
4841
09:49
For the first time in the 35-year history,
187
577823
3326
09:53
a female wheelchair athlete
188
581173
1961
09:55
completed the Ironman World Championship.
189
583158
2564
09:57
(Applause)
190
585746
6893
10:05
(Applause ends)
191
593879
1150
10:07
And it wasn't just any female athlete.
192
595053
2459
10:09
It was me.
193
597536
1151
10:10
(Laughter)
194
598711
1333
10:12
A paralyzed orphan from India.
195
600068
3348
10:17
Against all odds, I achieved my dream,
196
605297
3694
10:21
and through this very personal
commitment to myself,
197
609015
3357
10:24
I slowly realized
that completing the Ironman
198
612396
3318
10:27
was about more than conquering Kona.
199
615738
2379
10:30
It was about conquering polio
200
618588
2053
10:32
and other disabling
but preventable diseases,
201
620665
3931
10:36
not only for myself,
202
624620
1537
10:38
but for the millions of children
203
626181
1580
10:39
who have been and still will be
afflicted by vaccine-preventable diseases.
204
627785
5269
10:45
Today, we are closer than ever
to eliminating one of those diseases
205
633539
4747
10:50
everywhere in the world.
206
638310
1367
10:52
In the mid-1980s, polio once paralyzed
more than 350,000 children a year
207
640286
6705
10:59
in more than 125 countries.
208
647015
2649
11:01
That amounted to a staggering
40 cases an hour.
209
649688
3858
11:05
By contrast, so far this year,
210
653570
2267
11:07
the last endemic countries
have reported a total of only 12 cases.
211
655861
4174
11:12
Since 1988, more than 2.5 billion children
have been immunized against polio,
212
660997
6009
11:19
and an estimated 16 million children,
213
667030
2356
11:21
who otherwise would have been
paralyzed like me,
214
669410
2656
11:24
are walking.
215
672090
1265
11:25
Despite this incredible progress,
216
673875
2101
11:28
we know that until it's eradicated,
217
676000
2452
11:30
polio remains a very real threat,
218
678476
2544
11:33
especially to children
in the poorest communities of the world.
219
681044
3839
11:36
It can reemerge in some of the most remote
and dangerous places,
220
684907
3977
11:40
and from there, it can spread.
221
688908
2230
11:43
And so this is my new Ironman:
222
691987
3437
11:47
to end polio.
223
695448
1833
11:50
And I am reminded every day,
224
698005
2293
11:52
when I look at my
two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Maya.
225
700322
3747
11:56
She is able to climb a ladder in the park,
226
704093
2508
11:58
push her scooter
or kick a ball across the grass.
227
706625
3127
12:01
Almost everything
that I see her do at her age
228
709776
3296
12:05
reminds me of what I could not
do at that age.
229
713096
3522
12:08
And when she was two months old,
230
716642
2112
12:10
I took her to get her first polio vaccine.
231
718778
4189
12:15
And when the doctor came
in the room to prepare the shot,
232
723791
3524
12:19
I asked him if I could take a picture
to document the moment.
233
727339
4327
12:24
When we left the room,
234
732879
1463
12:26
I could feel my eyes
welling up with tears.
235
734366
3209
12:29
I cried the entire way home.
236
737599
3216
12:33
It was in that moment that I realized
237
741774
2524
12:36
that my daughter's life
would be very different from mine.
238
744322
3071
12:39
She will never be faced
with the crippling disability of polio,
239
747417
3064
12:42
because a vaccine was available,
and I chose to get her immunized.
240
750505
4605
12:47
She can do anything she wants,
241
755134
2817
12:51
as can each of you.
242
759066
2307
12:53
(Laughter)
243
761397
1074
12:54
Now I'd like to leave you all
with one question:
244
762495
2610
12:57
what is your Ironman?
245
765950
2642
13:01
Thank you.
246
769874
1151
13:03
(Applause)
247
771049
7000

▲Back to top

ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Minda Dentler - Athlete, activist
A record-setting triathlete, Minda Dentler is a polio survivor committed to inspiring people to move beyond their fear of failure and achieve their goals.

Why you should listen

Minda Dentler's life is one of inspiration, courage and determination. As an infant in India, she contracted polio, resulting in the paralysis of her legs, and was left at an orphanage. When she was three, she was adopted by an American family which enabled her to receive the medical care necessary to be able to walk with leg braces and crutches.

Undeterred by her disability, Dentler became an independent woman with the intention and drive to face and overcome the many obstacles she has encountered throughout her life. As an adult, she discovered athletics and threw herself into the sport of triathlon. In 2013, she became the first female wheelchair athlete to complete the Ironman World Championship, in Kona, Hawaii.

Dentler is an athlete, speaker, advocate and mother. She has been featured on CNN, Forbes and NBC. She has written for Huffington Post and TIME, advocating for the eradication of polio. She was a 2017 Aspen Institute New Voices Fellow. She works for a large global insurer and, with her husband, is raising a young daughter. She's committed to inspiring people to move beyond their fear of failure and achieve their goals.

More profile about the speaker
Minda Dentler | Speaker | TED.com