Words like “inspiring,” “perseverance,” “overcoming,” and the like get thrown around a lot in endurance athletics, but – for some athletes – they aren’t just stoke-bro hyperbole. Tommy “Rivs” Puzey is one of those athletes, and we’re unironically and very sincerely stoked to announce a partnership with him.

On Not Getting Dead

Anyone familiar with Tommy knows him as an athlete who’s hit the highest highs and the lowest lows. For the former, he’s a top-20 Boston finisher, multiple marathon winner, and national representative in ultrarunning; for the latter, he’s a lymphoma survivor.

Considering the polarity of his experience as an endurance athlete, his most impressive accomplishment may be his 9-hour finish in the 2021 New York City Marathon, just a year after getting his diagnosis. For most endurance athletes, phrases like “don’t get dead” and “rage on” (echoing Dylan Thomas’ famous villanelle) are aspirational mantras or – again – stoke-bro hyperbole. For Tommy, they’re simple statements of intention.

On Suffering, Illness, and Endurance Athletics

In the summer of 2020, Tommy checked into an Arizona hospital with what he thought was COVID; instead, he was eventually diagnosed with lymphoma, began chemo, and ended up in an induced coma. During his treatment, his lung function dropped to a mere fraction of what it was. He lost 75lb. In a word, he suffered.

Endurance athletes have a funny relationship with suffering. We befriend it with cutesy euphemisms like “type-2 fun” and “pain cave,” and we defang it with abstractions about “mental toughness” and “overcoming.” In this framework, suffering is an obstacle, something that can be defeated through force of will, drive, and desire. It’s also volitional, something we can opt out of by DNF’ing.

Conversely, lymphoma meant suffering had become foundational for Tommy. No powering through it, no DNF option, no broom wagon. Though he was told that he wouldn’t have survived had he not been in the shape he was, even someone as physically gifted as Tommy acknowledges that he couldn’t merely overcome through force of will what he experienced; instead, he saw it as a new mode of being, an opportunity for self-discovery by accepting the unchangeable nature of his situation and taking ownership of what he could still control.

Photo credit: Paul Nelson @trailjunkiephotos

On Running into Himself

That revelation came to redefine Tommy’s understanding of suffering, both in life and in endurance athletics, as a training ground for hardship. For him, suffering during the run is an opportunity to feel out the shape of himself, to test the scope of his limits, and apply that knowledge of malleable, surpassable boundaries to aspects of his life outside of training and competition. That includes aspects like lymphoma – or simply learning to perform basic motions again.

In the course of a year after being declared cancer-free, Tommy went from relearning how to swallow, use his hands, and walk to completing the New York City Marathon. He may have finished north of 4x his PR, but he finished.

It was a reminder that, though he wasn’t invulnerable, he was in charge of making decisions in whatever circumstances he found himself. “Humans are incredible,” he wrote on Instagram following the race. “We are truly good, and powerful, and strong. At least we are always capable of those things. Every day and every moment the positive aspects of our universal humanity are within our reach. Individually and collectively, there is always goodness and greatness within our potential.”

For Tommy, the key is simply recognizing and exercising the choices available to you within the scope of that potential. Lymphoma and its aftermath? Out of his hands. Dedication, attitude, rising pre-dawn and getting out on the road? Absolutely in his hands. And through those controllable factors, he confirms his own capabilities. “If you are moving,” he recently told the New York Times, “you are still alive.”

Photo credit: Paul Nelson @trailjunkiephotos

On First Endurance

We’re honored to note that Tommy has been a First Endurance user since 2012, when he got serious about endurance training and realized that many of his peers were using FE products, even while they were sponsored by other nutrition companies.

“I saw these guys buying it off the shelf, and I dug deeper,” he told us. “I realized that FE had the goal of creating the greatest fueling, maintenance, and recovery products in the industry. Professional endurance athletes dedicate their entire lives to pursuing greatness in their craft. They know there are no shortcuts to their success,” he said. “You simply get out what you put in.”

He sees the same ethos in First Endurance: “There were no shortcuts. There was no R&D cost too high. Their aim was simply to use evidence-based science to create the highest quality products available and to continually reassess and improve based on the newest research and findings.”

Though he uses the full FE system, his crucial rec for any fitness-curious athlete is Ultragen, which he credits with such an impact that “it makes a noticeable difference in my recovery, one that I can feel the next day if I’ve somehow missed it the previous day.” His preferred flavor? “My go-to is chocolate, with life in general, but also with Ultragen.”

Even the hardest of hard men are occasionally subject to a little hedonism.

Photo credit: Paul Nelson @trailjunkiephotos

On Moving Forward

Despite – or rather – because of how lymphoma has affected his life, Tommy is eager to keep testing his ceiling. “Years have passed and new challenges have arisen, my body is different,” he said, with understatement typical of how he discusses his experience, “but my goal is still the same: dedicate this new life to reaching my own greatest new potential.

“I’m stoked to continue working with FE to discover what that might be.”

We’re stoked, too, Tommy. Rage on.

April 07, 2022 — First Endurance
Tags: news

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