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Indigenous athlete goes the distance in turning his life around

Mike Alexander beat the odds last weekend by completing the Elk Lake Triathlon.

In and amongst over 600 athletes, volunteers, family and friends Alexander, a 43-year-old Ojibwe male, finished his first standard distance triathlon (1.5 kilometres swim, 40km bike, 10km run).

No one there knew his story, save for his partner. That’s the thing about a triathlon, you see someone in their fancy new triathlon kit, maybe they’re even on a flashy bike, but you don’t know the state of transcendence they’re experiencing.

But it was only three years ago Alexander hit rock bottom. After the suicide attempt, and the fallout, he was able to move forward.

“Once that happened, dealing with that, why that happened, that changed a lot of things for me.”

And that’s how it is for Alexander, who arrived in Victoria three years ago. At the time he was a 320-pound smoker who drank heavily to cope with deep depression.

“I came here for a fresh start but I didn’t know I’d be getting sober,” said the James Bay resident. “I knew something was wrong with me, I felt tired and awful all the time.”

Anticipating a life-changing medical diagnosis he got on a bike and started pedalling. It wasn’t easy but, by the time he was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, it came with a recognition that he was no longer the fun, hilarious person he used to be, his determination snowballed into results. He began biking the 20km distance to work, quit drinking, quit smoking, changed his diet and lost 115 pounds. Along the way he became a ‘grassroots rider’ for Easton Cycling and Lusso Bikes.

And he can now say he’s officially finished a triathlon.

“I’m just so amazed at myself, at what this means,” he said over coffee. “What else can I do? This changes everything. this opens doors.”

The diabetic.

Alexander is not on any medicine and is able to keep Type 2 diabetes in check with diet, exercise and sobriety.

“I was scared to get the diagnosis. I knew something was wrong. I didn’t feel well. I [even] started bike riding before I got diagnosed.

“Now I feel better emotionally, physically and spiritually.”

The swimmer.

Like many triathletes, the swim is the hardest. Alexander trained in the pool but the idea of open water was intimidating.

“The first 5oo meters of the triathlon swim [1.5 kilometres] did not go well. I kept thinking ‘I don’t belong here. I’m too slow. They’re going to pull me out.’ I coulnd’t find a rhythm. But I finished. I never looked back.”

The cyclist.

Once he transitioned to the bike he knew he would be OK. It was his comfort zone.

“I started passing people. I felt good. My heart [wasn’t racing].”

Weight loss, sobriety and a commitment to being an artist all started with cycling.

From his home in James Bay, Alexander commutes daily, 20km to work and 20km back home. Sometimes he adds kilometres taking the long way. In total it’s 160 to 180 km each week, 7,000km last year. He rode the Tour de Victoria 90km route in 2016 and the Tour de Victoria 140km route last year.

“Who am I? I’m the guy riding home along the the Pat Bay at 2 a.m. in the fucking rain, that’s who I am.”

This year Alexander will miss the Tour de Victoria to participate in a drum-making workshop.

The runner.

“Faster than I thought. I cut off five minutes [from my training time]. I’m okay with that. I’m not injured. That was the concern.

“I don’t know what I’m doing. I was concerned with injury. I looked at books on triathlon. I run in a way that probably isn’t right. I just had to trust in what I was doing.”

The artist.

To pay the bills Alexander is a ‘builder’ who works nights at Portofino bakery in the Keating industrial area, assembling orders for restaurants and grocery stores. Otherwise, he’s an emerging artist inspired by Victoria’s Indigenous artist in residence, Lindsay Delaronde, and by local artists Carey Newman and Moy Sutherland Jr.

“I have to create, I have to make art.”

(Tweet: Newman’s design of Triathlon Canada’s skinsuit caught Alexander’s attention, and the two connected from it.)

Alexander is in the midst of a series of healing workshops with other Indigenous males. He’s carved a canoe paddle with Sutherland. He’s spent time in Newmans’ workshop learning. He’ll attend a drum making workshop Aug. 18 and 19. And he’ll soon share the experience of a sweat lodge after that.

“There’s something I can relate to about being with other natives, the healing.

The person.

“I’d like to encourage more Indigenous people to try this sport. I hear about how the homeless population here is a third Indigenous, that’s hard to hear.

“People here are friendly but, there’s this attitude of sympathy for Indigenous, or, ‘wow, that’s an unfortunate [situation] for them.’ These are unceded lands. There should be more support, there should be more recognition that these are people trying to fit into this system [who never came from this system.]”

reporter@saanichnews.com

Travis Paterson

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Travis Paterson

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