Rising above adversities, Ironman, burn survivor, and motivational speaker Shay Eskew believes obstacles are opportunities in disguise. Today, host Robert “Fireman Rob” Verhelst interviews Shay who is also an All American / All World ranked triathlete, former black bear researcher, and best-selling author of What The Fire Ignited. Listen to Shay’s story as he shares how he allowed his perspectives control his life for the better and how he did not allow negativities to stop him from becoming an athlete. He shares three strategies that has helped him shape his reality and do daily things. Don’t miss this podcast episode and let his words inspire you to be thankful for everything that you have right now.
Listen to the podcast here:
What The Fire Ignited: Rising Above Adversities With Shay Eskew
We’re about to talk to Shay. He is an amazing individual. I had the pleasure of meeting him in 2012 at the IRONMAN World Championships. I didn’t see him on the course because he’s way too fast but got to hear about a story and become friends with him. Shay, this is great to have you on the show. I love your story. Thanks for being here.
It’s an honor. I’m excited to share my journey with your audience.
You wrote a book, didn’t you?
Yeah, I did. It’s called What the Fire Ignited. It’s been out and it’s an Amazon bestseller.
It’s all about your story. Your story is miraculous at eight years old. Tell us more about what your story is about.
I was eight years old in 1982 and my mom asked me to warn my neighbors about an aggressive yellowjackets’ nest because the previous day, I went to visit them and these yellowjackets swarmed my entire bike. I recruited my seven-year-old friend, we walked across the street, knocked on the door, and the dad wasn’t at home but the fifteen-year-old daughter was. As we proceeded to tell her about the yellowjackets, she asked us if we would help her get rid of them. I preface this by saying I had the most conservative parents you’ve ever met. They didn’t drink and didn’t smoke. I was allowed to go to firework shows, spend the night parties or campouts, you name it. If there was any chance of anything potentially going wrong, I couldn’t participate.
As we tell her about the yellowjackets, she’s like, “Come down here. If you don’t mind, I need you to stand here and watch them.” We’re standing literally ten feet away and I know you’ve probably heard similar stories. She walks up to the nest which is a hole in the ground, she throws a match down and nothing happens. As we’re standing there watching her without saying a word, we feel something splashed the right side of my face and neck and the left side of my buddy’s face and it hits that match. Right then and there, we realize that she pitched a cup of gasoline. As soon as they hit that match, we were engulfed in flames. Luckily, I had the wherewithal to stop, drop and roll. She panicked. I was able to grab a water hose and put my friend out. We stood there alternating the water hose over the top of our heads contemplating what happened. One minute I’m standing there watching yellowjackets. The next minute my skin is charred. My clothes are melted to my body and you’re just going to say, “What happened?” All of that in three minutes.
That’s amazing. That’s crazy. You had 35 surgeries?
Thirty-five over the last 37 years and I still need more. The problem is, at this point in my life, there’s always a risk to reward. The danger is, as I have more skin grafts, what’s the benefit that I am going to get from it? Is there a potential that there could be a complication? I’ve had a lot of those and the complication outweighs any benefit from having the surgery.
At this point, you would think that after going through all those surgeries, being in the hospital, and having those challenges that you would want to stay away from the healthcare field but not for Shay. You went into the healthcare field.
It’s a path I felt that God had a plan for me. I wouldn’t say I had that calling coming straight out of college. Believe it or not, I spent six months living in the woods trapping bears for a living. I decided to go back, get my MBA and I spent a couple of years working in the financial sector and I got introduced to healthcare. It was right then and there that I felt, “This is it. This is my calling.” I finally have an opportunity to work in an industry and give something back that has given me so much. As you can imagine, 35 surgeries, I’ve seen my fair share of hospitals, I’ve seen the miracles they perform. Honestly, I wouldn’t have the quality of life had it not been for all these care providers over the years.
That’s an amazing perspective that you have and at the same time, being able to give back and have that wherewithal to go back into the healthcare field and go, “I know what these people go through.” In yo
ur book, some of the stories in there are crazy. Did you get attacked by a bear
Is that harder or less hard than IRONMAN?
Less hard because I didn’t plan for that. It sounds worse than it was. We were doing live capture with the bear. We would set a snare out and this bear was tangled in our snare, which was a five-foot piece of quarter-inch aircraft cable. I was worried about the bear hurting himself. The bear wasn’t moving. It was obviously traumatized. I walked up to sedate the bear and we would sedate him with a three-foot aluminum pole with a syringe mounted on the end.
That sounds super safe.
It’s very scientific. There were two of us.
Was there duct tape on it?
There might have but the one guy’s job was to distract the bear and to get the bear fully extended out five feet. The other guy’s job was to get in there, reach the bear, poke it in the hip, get back out of its reach and allow twenty minutes for the drug to work.
Nothing can go wrong there.
Absolutely not and with this bear, he was not moving. I had to get within his five-foot radius. He was tangled up and as soon as I poked him with a syringe, he immediately became untangled. I couldn’t outrun him for those first five feet so he reached out and grabbed my arm and his claw right as the cable extended.
You hadn’t been training for IRONMAN so you weren’t as fast as you are now
I’m built for the distance, not speed.
You still won’t be able to beat that bear anywhere.
I still think I would lose those first five feet.
That makes sense. I want to go back to when you were eight years old now, I can’t even imagine the amount of pain and mental turmoil that went through your mind that you had to go through all the way up until now. The biggest thing about this podcast is I want to have stories that a lot of people can relate to. Maybe people can’t relate to being burned, but the pain that you were going through. How’d you get through that
A lot of it is faith. We’re spiritual. I believe that God never gives you more than you can handle. I was fortunate that in my hospital, I was surrounded by kids with the same situation, if not worse. Anytime I was tempted to complain or cry about it, I’d look around and see these other kids. I’m like, “What am I complaining about?” I had kids next to me that were missing a leg. One kid was missing all his fingers, his nose and his eyelids. I’m like, “If they can be happy, why can’t I?”
It’s an amazing perspective
To me, that’s what life’s about. It’s always the perspective you take. I tell my wife, “We’ve got five kids, and there are days that you’re like, ‘I can’t take this.’ They’re pushing me to my limits,” but then I remind myself, what about those parents that can’t even have kids? What about those parents who have kids with special needs or in a hospital? They would give anything to have five bratty kids who refused to eat their dinner or go to bed. It’s always a matter of perspective. I don’t know if I shared this with you, but I did in the book for sure.
In 1982, we didn’t get pain medication. The strongest thing we got ever was extra-strength Tylenol. We were never put into induced coma. We didn’t get any opioids. They amputated half of my ear while I was awake with a pair of scissors. It’s one of those things for better or for worse you became tougher. I can tell you distinctly twice a day I would hear half the hospital screaming and you knew it was dressing change. Now, I look back and think about the pain tolerance I have. I don’t have any addictions to painkillers because I don’t believe in it. I had surgery for a torn rotator cuff. I refused to take my painkillers because I knew I didn’t need them. One of the big things that it is hard to prepare for is the depression that comes with these kinds of traumas. I went from being a good-looking, doing well in school and a good athlete.
You’re still good-looking.
I tell myself that every day in the mirror. Here I was a kid that was disfigured, scars in 65% of his body and everywhere I went in public, kids would stare and they would point. You could even hear them make comments like, “Mama, look at him. Where’s his ear?” I would even see parents turn their head and discussed. As an eight-year-old, that’s hard to process. I was fortunate that at the same time, Freddy Krueger or Wes Craven’s movie Nightmare on Elm Street came out. I even had kids call me Freddy Krueger. When I looked in the mirror, that’s what I saw. I saw a Freddy Krueger. I did not see a good looking eight-year-old in the mirror.
I cried myself to sleep for months because I saw that horrible beast as me. After several months, I finally said, “This is you. It’s not punishment, it’s not something you did wrong. You had to be in a bad accident. You will get better but you need to focus on being the best you can be.” That’s when I decided I can’t take away the scars but I can reclaim my life as an athlete. I devoted myself. I made that prayer several times at the hospital. I said, “God, if you get me out of here and allow me to get back on the playing fields, I will do everything I can to become a great athlete again and I promise not to waste my talent.”
That’s why for me, sports have always been a healing mechanism and it was never about me being the best athlete. I wanted to be the best I could be and wanted to be like everybody else. I didn’t want special treatment. I didn’t want you to give me special handicap scores or points. Give me a chance to compete. It’s hard to look at me now and believe this but for many years, I was the worst athlete and I use that word loosely. To me, it was a competitor, not an athlete but I was the worst athlete on the team. I was always the last one picked. Nobody wanted me on the team. Over the years of pushing myself doing what I could, I eventually graduated into a top-level competitor.
You are now an all-world athlete with IRONMAN, which is the top 1% of our men worldwide. You’ve accomplished amazing things.
Thank you and I appreciate that. To me, it’s not a reflection of my athleticism. I truly believe anybody can be a good athlete. It’s, “How hard are you willing to work? I think IRONMAN is one of those sports that is not who’s the fastest but it’s who slows down the least.
You’re exactly right.
I’m willing to do the training.
That’s the hard part. It’s dedicating yourself to something and I look at your three strategies and I love your three strategies because it speaks to what you were talking about from a young age having to go through all those challenges. Thirty-five surgeries, I can’t even imagine and at the same time having children look at you differently than everybody else and trying to process that through your brain. You lay out three great strategies. It’s trained my brain, shaping my reality and doing the daily things. Talk to me more about those.
In training my brain, I’m a big believer that bad things are going to happen. It’s not a matter of if it’s when. The sooner in life that you accept that life’s not fair, the easier life is. I was lucky enough, I learned that at eight. One of the things I do is every day, I spend the first 30 minutes of my mornings, reading books on adversity and overcoming challenges. You will never catch me reading a Nicholas Sparks book or watching a Hallmark movie. I want to train my brain that when something bad happens, I’m prepared to deal with it. I’ve read a book about somebody doing it. I’ve seen the movie about it so I know there is a way so my first reaction is not to panic. I’ll say, “All right, you’ve got this. Let’s do it.” That’s one of the things I do is spend 30 minutes every day training my brain on how to adapt to adversity.
What’s one of your favorite books besides What the Fire Ignited?
One of my favorites is probably Endurancewith Ernest Shackleton. You read about his two years being stranded in Antarctica. This was 1915. He was stuck there with his crew of 26 men. Imagine being stuck in Antarctica in 1915 with no cell phones and you didn’t have your goose down jacket. This guy got every one of his men home two years later. Every day, he kept their brain stimulated. They would exercise and play sports. He made them read because he knew that an idle mind would lead to disaster. If you read the book or see the movie, it was called the greatest survival story I’ve ever read about.
It’s next to the book What the Fire Ignited. I want to throw that plug out again.
If I could ever be in that company, that’s amazing. I talked about training your brain and shaped into reality. To me, that comes back to putting your life situation into perspective. As I talked about in the hospital, even though 60% of my body was covered in scars, I looked around constantly reminded there were kids much worse. I had the use of all my limbs, what am I complaining about? I tried to remind myself that daily. No matter what I’m going through, take a minute to stop and say, “This is bad but I guarantee you somebody who’s got it worse. They’ve not only survived, but they thrived.”
If you can keep resetting your perspective on what is bad, by the end of it, you will never see anything that you say, “I can’t do it.” When I approach obstacles in my life, I start saying, “God, I know you’ve got something amazing planned for me. Once I get through this, imagine what I can do next.” I look at these obstacles as opportunities in disguise. I keep reminding myself that normal adversity would cause most people to quit. These are the times where I shine and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get through the hard times and not quit. Lastly, you talked about doing daily things. That’s what most people underestimate. It’s the cumulative impact of doing small things working towards your goals.
Rarely do you have monumental breakthroughs happen in a day, a week, a month or even a year. My success in sports has always been built on not weeks, but years. You talked about IRONMAN. When I went on my first race, I went from doing a 5 hour, 38-minute Half IRONMAN to now doing a 4 hour, 27-minute Half IRONMAN and I’ve done that twice. It’s not because I’m a good athlete, I just do the daily work. I’m a horrible swimmer, mediocre runner, a pretty good biker but I do the workouts.
Mentally, you’ve got it.
Yeah, and it also helps. I did hire a former world champion as my coach so I knew if I could do his daily workouts, I was going to be the best shape that I could be. When I got to those points in the race where a lot of people may slow down, I kept reminding myself, “I’ve done the hard work. I’ve got the fitness. I’ve got to trust the workout and keep pushing.”
When you’re talking about hiring a world champion coach, I love this when you talk or go to speak that the attendees should take comfort in knowing that others have been there and they’ve not only survived, but they’ve thrived. Both in your life from when you’re eight years old and now going into that IRONMAN World, you live your message. That’s such an important message for people to know.
It’s also one where if we know they exist out there that people have survived and thrived, find them and reach out to them. Find a way to spend time with them. That’s something I do on a weekly basis. I identify successful people that I want as a part of my network. I know that if I can spend time with them, I’m going to learn something from them and over time, those habits that made them successful, I will accumulate.
Have you heard about Joe De Sena?
Yes, I have. I see you going to his camp or cabin and pulling chains up a hill. Tell me more about this friendship.
It’s one of those serendipitous divine interventions. The Shriners Hospital who treated me from when I was eight up until I was 21, reached out in June of 2019 and said, “We formed a partnership with Spartan. Would you like to be our ambassador and race in the world championships in Lake Tahoe?” I said, “Absolutely,” even though I’ve done zero training for Spartan because everything I do is specific to swim, bike and run.
Give our readers an idea. You said Spartan Race and people are like, “That’s interesting.” What does that include?
The World Championships which is the only one I’ve done was in Tahoe. We’re at a base elevation of 7,000 feet. This was going to be on the beast course, which is a little over a thirteen mile run up the mountain. There was over a 5,000-foot elevation gain. We had over 30 obstacles spread out along these thirteen miles. These are obstacles from toting an 80-pound sandbag on the shoulder, up and down the mountain, which is all loose rocks. You had to carry a 50-pound and five-gallon bucket loaded with boulders, up and down the mountain.
It all sounds so much fun.
It was unreal. They even had an open water swim, which was optional because race day temps were 40. The water temp was 50 and it had 30 to 40 mile an hour winds that morning. I felt guilty about skipping it, so I did it. I didn’t have a change of clothes. The rules are you’re supposed to keep your clothes either on or in a bag on your body. I didn’t have a dry bag so I swam in my clothes with my shoes. I literally had hypothermia for 45 minutes. I was shaking uncontrollably. I couldn’t extend three of my fingers for about an hour.
You’re talking about your pain threshold. That’s high. This is a testament to it.
Here’s what put that in perspective. When I got near the top of the mountain. There was a double amputee. He was literally amputated from the waist down climbing the mountain. He would put both arms out in front of him and drag his torso up the mountain. He had a piece of canvas or tarp covering his waist so it didn’t tear up his underside. He climbed the mountain with two arms. I told myself that morning, “Don’t you dare complain. Whatever it takes, you better not complain once. Look at this guy.” It was a matter of perspective. He would love to feel the pain that I was feeling in my legs. He would love to have that pain.
After the race, I got to meet with Joe. He loved the fact I could take my ear on and off. That became a little side trick and a way to separate myself. I got an invitation from his team. They said, “Shay, Joe is having a few athletes up at his house this weekend at his farm. Can you be here?” I was like, “Oh crap.” It was the most rewarding weekend I’ve had forever. One of the guys there was a double amputee from the knees down. He was an elite Kenyan runner who suffered frostbite when he was training in Alaska. He had to have both his legs amputated. Now he is the world record holder for the marathon as a double amputee and you can appreciate this. He ran a 235 marathon as a double amputee.
That’s unbelievably fast.
It’s a 540 pace.
It’s unreal. I can’t even go there for a mile.
I don’t know if I could do it half a mile. Those are the kinds of people I try to surround myself with and if there’s an opportunity to fly around the country to spend a day, I’ll do it. I’ll figure out a way to make it happen because I know at the end of our time together, I’m going to be a better person.
That’s such a profound thing because the more that you can network and as you said, I love how in the morning you educate yourself and educate your mind on being a more resilient person and more understanding that there are others out there that have been through this stuff. You’ve been through so much. It’s unbelievable that you came out how you did and you’re still pushing forward and helping others. I would hope that people can take away that exact story. We’re not minimizing anybody else’s story but people have gotten through tough things and they’ve survived and thrived. It’s like what you were saying, I love that you’re shaping your reality and you did change that.
It’s one of those two, Rob. It’s thinking about the things that have happened to you. It’s so easy to play that victim mentality but what if you flipped it and said, “How lucky was I to be burned?” I can say that, for instance, being in sales. When I go to make sales calls, they don’t forget my face. How many others severely burned one ear people are making calls every day? Zero.
Shay, for the audience, I’ve gone into that. You said you can remove your ear. For anybody who wants to see numerous places ears can be put that is not attached to the body, make sure you go to Shay’s Instagram, Facebook or any place that Shay is posting stuff. You’re going to see some of the most unique places an ear can be left or placed. Tell us some of those stories, the one that you left on a plane.
For the audience, I didn’t have an ear up until 2010 so my entire life, I couldn’t wear sunglasses or any glasses because they’d always fall off. I had three dental implants like screws surgically drilled into my skull. I now have a prosthetic that’s a silicone ear that snaps on and off. I see it as, “If I forgot to wear this thing, why not have some fun with it?” One of the things I’ve done is I’d taken it off going through the airport for TSA. I took it off, send it through the tray with my pair of shoes. I watch the guy freak out for five minutes trying to figure out why is there an ear in a tray? I’ve had my son knock it off into a public toilet after he puked in it. I’ve left it in a locker room in the gym after I showered and forgot. I got a call from the gym asking me to please come back and get my ear. It’s freaking people out. It was such an awkward phone call because the guy called says, “We’ve got something of yours. It’s all wrapped in paper towels.” I was like, “Do you mean my ear?” They’re like, “Yes.”
Your perspective on life is so unique. The other part that I want to go into, especially with your racing. You have five children and when I asked the questions like, what is your greatest accomplishment and I love that you put your five kids and that’s so special.
100% because I can tell you as a kid, number one, I never thought I would find a girl much less an attractive woman to overlook my scars and see me for who I am. With that, I assumed that I would never have kids. I would assume that I was going to be alone my entire life. Once I found the woman of my dreams and she shared with me that she’s always wanted a big family and I was like, “Why not?” It’s the greatest blessing. There’s nothing like having kids and as challenging as it is, it’s the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Every single day, I look at their pictures and I remind myself of how lucky I am.
It keeps me going. It reminds me why we do what we do and reminds you that no matter how tough things can be at work that quitting is never an option. It gives you the purpose that you’re looking for. That’s what I tell people all the time was like, “If you can’t get in shape and lose weight for yourself, do it for your kids. Be the parent that’s out there throwing the ball, be the parent that is not afraid to take a shirt off and swim in the pool with your kids. Be the parent that can run a 5k with your kids.” Don’t tell them how to live life, show them and that’s what I do. I don’t tell my kids to work out when they get up. They know dad’s already been downstairs for an hour running on the treadmill or biking.
Your kids look at you and it’s interesting because you go back to your youth when kids looked at you and they made fun of you or like, “I can’t see that.” Your kids have a different perspective, though.
They do. That’s one of the things I’ve shared with them all my photos from eight up until now and said, “Here’s what dad looks like your age.” I’ve got a 9, 11 and a 13-year-old and I said, “Imagine going to school looking like this. Imagine people making fun of you?”
What did they say?
This is a reality for a lot of people. They said, “Daddy, I can’t imagine.” I said, “Try to imagine.” I even have some of the braces I had to wear on my body for three years. I said, “Imagine having to learn how to write left-handed because you couldn’t use your right arm for three years.” Keep this in mind when you’re interacting with other kids. These are the people that need a friend. If you see somebody with special challenges, don’t avoid them but talk to them. Make them feel like a normal person because they are and that helped.
My older kids have read the book so they know about the emotional side involved with my healing. They understand the challenges and I said, “I get it, feeling alone and alienated. All of us experience it at different levels but talk about it. It’s not something you’ve got to deal with on your own. I promise you somebody who has experienced something similar may be on a different level, but they can share with you their experiences.” I also remind my kids, “Be careful, the people that you make fun of now, they’re going to run the world one day.” It’s the people that were not so popular in high school that are the people that are aspiring to be as adults. I keep reminding them that high school is not when you peaked, nor is college. It’s when your 40s and 50s that you start hitting your stride as a responsible adult in the world. That’s where you can make a big impact. Don’t get caught up in what you can achieve in middle school and high school.
In your book, it says and one of the things is, “Remember what’s important.” When you talk, you can tell the passion behind your voice of having those people that are going through challenges know that you can make it. People have made it through worse things and for yourself, you talk about, “People have made it through worse than what I had to go through.” For me, I look at it like for somebody to say that that’s so empowering to the people that are listening to go, “I look at my problems and I can find a way.” Your message is so powerful and it’s about resilience and that power of resilience. How do you translate that to your kids? How do you tell them and show them on a daily basis?
One of the biggest problems we have as parents is we try to make life easy for our kids. We want to give them everything that we didn’t have but what we fail to remember is, those struggles are what made us who we are. It’s overcoming those challenges. I go out of my way to make it harder by kids. If they want money, we’ll do a push-up contest. I’ll give you a quarter for every push up you can do in five minutes or come up with chores out in the yard, something that’s hard that I don’t know if they can do it but we’ll see how bad they want that money. If they’re struggling at school, “If you’re struggling, go and talk to your teacher. I’m not going to talk to your teacher. You go tell your teacher you’re having a problem and what can you do to improve your grade.”
The key is trying not to solve all their problems. Give them the tools and guidance but there’s a lot of knowledge and letting people figure things out for themselves and tell them that struggling is good. Don’t avoid it, seek it out and try to introduce it into your daily routine. I know you do the same thing. That’s why we work out as hard as we do. I introduce suffering into my daily routine. I want to get comfortable being uncomfortable. Once you start embracing that mindset, it’s amazing the amount of growth you’re going to experience.
Shay, it has been amazing talking to you. If you want to know more about Shay, go to ShayEskew.com. You can buy his book there too. It is, What the Fire Ignited. It’s an amazing book and obviously, learning from you on this blog, they get a feel or a taste of what you’re about and the inspiring message that you have. We always end the show with three questions and I’ve got a rapid-fire round for you, Shay. None of them are pass-fail so you don’t have to worry about that. The first question I’m going to ask you here is, what is one thing you haven’t done that is outside your comfort zone?
I would say singing in a concert.
Are you a good singer?
I’m horrible. I cannot carry a tune. If it’s karaoke, I’m terrified because I’m that bad.
What kind of karaoke would you sing? Country or pop.
I don’t know. I’m horrible that’s why I avoid it altogether. I’ve watched others and I’ve admired their talents and ability to humiliate themselves. I never had the courage to do it.
If you took off your ear, no one will even pay attention to your singing.
Maybe that’s it. I’ll put the ear in one side of the room and sing in the other.
Here’s the second one. Your favorite quote and why?
I like, “Embrace the suck.” It’s an old military quote because it tells you that life’s going to be hard. Embrace it, talk to it. Don’t run from it. Once you become friends with it, you’re okay with it and there is nothing you can’t do once you embrace the suck.
The last question for you here, if you could pick to have coffee with three people, it doesn’t matter living or deceased at a firehouse table, so that means nothing is off the table. You can talk about anything and everything. Who would it be and why?
I would like to sit down with David Goggins.
Does he sit down though? I don’t know if David has time to sit down.
Believe it or not, his mom lives next to us. We’ve communicated. He’s called me on the phone and he’s promised me that we would go to work out together. I’m going to corner him to make that happen. The last person I’d like to talk to is Malcolm Gladwell. I love all his books. His way of thinking things is different than what most people and how they come to conclusions. He’s one of the guys that I could talk to for days and have no agenda whatsoever going into it. On David, I’d want to talk to him and say, “Tell me what motivates you besides harming yourself? You go to have something bigger than that.” I’ve read his books and listened to his podcast. At the end of the day, how do you want to be remembered? What is the legacy you’re going to live?
Here we go, the rapid round. I’m going to give you two options. All you’ve got to tell me is which one of them. Paper or plastic?
Soup or salad?
Sleep in late or wake up early?
Wake up early.
Run or walk?
Partly sunny or partly cloudy?
Coke or Pepsi?
Coke. I’m in the south.
Shay, it has been a pleasure talking to you. If you want to buy his book, go to his website. He’s an inspiring athlete, an amazing author and if you want somebody to come out and speak for you that has a life story that will resonate with
everybody, this is the man for you. Shay, thank you so much for coming on the show.
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About Shay Eskew
Shay is an All American / All World ranked triathlete, former black bear researcher, burn survivor with scars over 65% of his body, best-selling author and sought out motivational speaker. At the age of 8, Shay was set afire by a neighbor’s child and credited with saving the life of his 7-year-old friend. Despite being told he’d never play sports again, enduring over 35 surgeries the last 36 years, Shay is a 4x IRONMAN, 4x member of Team USA, 25x IRONMAN 70.3 athlete, ranked top 1% of IRONMAN worldwide, and has competed in 11 triathlon World Championships in 7 countries on 4 continents, including the IRONMAN World Championships in Kona, Hawaii (competed at the 2018 IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship in South Africa). Additionally, Shay is a sponsored triathlete of Newton Running and First Endurance and an inaugural cohort of exceptional service-oriented athletes known as the Malama Club, long standing members of the IRONMAN Foundation ambassador team. Equally impressive, Shay is the proud father of 5 kids under 12.
We all face obstacles. Whether physical, spiritual, emotional or financial, we are all working to overcome a roadblock ahead of us. When Shay Eskew’s roadblock – a splash of gasoline and lit match that set his body ablaze – came as a child, he had the choice to either succumb to his injuries or to rise above them. Through his captivating retelling of his journey “What the Fire Ignited: How Life’s Worst Helped Me Achieve My Best”, Shay share his trials and tribulations he was forced to face while recovering from his burns and reclaiming his life as an athlete.
Shay’s message will help you realize our greatest tragedies are often our greatest blessings if we have the faith to stay the course. He will share how despite being told he’d never compete in sports again and having to learn how to walk again, he went on to compete in 11 triathlon World Championships including the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. We are all facing something; we all have the odds stacked against us in some way. Attendees should take comfort in knowing others have been there and not only survived but thrived. His message of training the brain, shaping your reality and doing the daily things empowers everyone to quit making excuses, do the hard work and “embrace the suck.”
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