Five years ago Lee Maxwell, 36, was too embarrassed to be photographed with his kids. Now he’s their sporting inspiration… Words: Debbi Marco Images: Finisherpix

Watching his children, eight year old George and Stanley, six, heading to their school non-uniform day, Lee Maxwell was bursting with pride. Each boy was proudly wearing an Ironman T-shirt with Lee’s name emblazoned on the back, fresh from his maiden race at IM Mallorca. inspired lee

While completing an iron-distance triathlon is no mean feat for anyone, it was a particularly big achievement for Lee, who only five years before weighed in at over 18 stone and had only just kicked his 25-a-day smoking habit.

“My wake-up call came in two parts in March 2010,” explains Lee. “The first was finding out I had a hereditary cholesterol condition and my levels were 12.7, more than twice the healthy level of 4 to 6. The second was watching a home video of my boys at Christmas.

“I was behind the camera and when my wife, Charlotte, asked if I wanted a picture with the boys, I refused, preferring to stay behind the lens filming.

“The truth was I was ashamed to be in pictures with my kids because of my size. Since I’d given up smoking, my weight had gone up to over 18 stone, which was way too much for my 5’11” frame. I knew I had to do something, so I signed up for a charity 10k run in central London. If people were sponsoring me, I knew I wouldn’t back out.”

Although Lee was a prop-forward for his local rugby team, he knew that in reality the most exercise he really got was walking to the pub after the game. His mates had no faith he would be able to complete a 10k run and in truth nor did Lee.

“I was dry heaving after just 400m,” admits Lee. “But I was determined to finish and I made the line in a time of 1hr 15minutes.”

From then on Lee was hooked, and signed up for another 10k followed by a half-marathon.

“My first marathon was Brighton in 2012 and I ran it in 4.30hrs,” says Lee.

“By this point I’d got down to 12.5 stone, which is in my BMI range. Plus my cholesterol was down to 6.5.

“In less than two years I had completely changed my life. I used the Myfitness app to monitor my eating and tried to stick to 1,200 calories, but most importantly I was eating a wider range of better food like more lean meats and no more late-night eating.”

But soon the running took it’s toll on Lee’s knee.

“After Brighton I had an injury on my knee ligament and the physio said I needed to take a few months off and give it rest. I didn’t want to put the weight back on so I turned to swimming and cycling.”

For three months, Lee went out on his bike three mornings a week and did one long ride on the weekend, and got his swimming up to a decent standard.

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“The first triathlon I did was the South Coast Triathlon in Seaford in 2012. It was only a sprint distance but I loved it all from the second I started, even getting there and setting up my kit. Of course I was nervous as it was obviously a hell of a lot more planning than just a run.

“My second triathlon was a few months later at London and this time it was an Olympic distance. The weather was really bad and the organisers had to cancel the swim wave after mine, but I still completed it in a time of 2hrs 38mins. From that point on I was totally bitten by the bug.”

“Triathlon just seemed to work for me,” explains Lee. “I could rest my legs one day and go on the bike, or rest completely and swim. It was much more manageable, and my kids could get more involved and would come when I went swimming or running. I also joined RG Active triathlon club to keep my training on track.

“As I got more into triathlon I kept pushing myself and wondering how far I could go. I started to do 70.3s and then began to wonder if an Ironman was something I could do.”

Lee chose Ironman Mallorca as his target Ironman, fitting in training wherever he could. “I would get out early before the children were awake or after bedtime and fit in long rides on the weekend,” he said.

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“Finally getting to IM Mallorca was awesome. When I finished I told my wife to never let me do anything like it again, but it was such an amazing experience. Never have I had a day where I have done nothing but exercise from morning until night. The swim was fast and warm, the bike wasn’t as easy as I was expecting due to a nasty headwind, but I kept enough in the tank to climb the 12 mile hill at mile 70.

“However, it was in the run that the wheels came off. It was a combination of 34 degree heat and a quick first 10k that ruined me.

“In the last two miles I blew up pretty badly, they seemed to go on for hours. I came in at 14:04 due to a 5 hour 20 min marathon, which was an hour over my usual marathon time.

“My wife was there for the whole 14 hours and she ran part of the course with me at the end and was there when I came over the finish line.

“It was totally different to other triathlons. The community feel was amazing. Everyone is in the same boat and just struggling to get through. At my level it’s all about getting across the line. It was 34 degrees when we started running and people were ill with dehydration and heat exhaustion.

“Despite all that, the whole weekend was great and I’m so proud of myself.

“I stand back and I look at photos of myself five years ago and think of where I started. I wasn’t happy at all and now I’ve completely changed for the better and I’m proud. My wife’s proud of me, too.

“The one thing I try to do is tell people if I can do it, they can too. I was lazy, I was smoking. I’m definitely doing another Ironman next year. It might be Mallorca again as I’ve got issues with my race there but there’s and just struggling to get through.

At my level it’s all about getting across the line. It was 34 degrees when we started running and people were ill with dehydration and heat exhaustion. “Despite all that, the whole weekend was great and I’m so proud of myself.

“I stand back and I look at photos of myself five years ago and think of where I started. I wasn’t happy at all and now I’ve completely changed for the better and I’m proud. My wife’s proud of me, too.

“The one thing I try to do is tell people if I can do it, they can too. I was lazy, I was smoking. I’m definitely doing another Ironman next year. It might be Mallorca again as I’ve got issues with my race there but there’s lots of new events coming out so I might do a different one – it all depends where my wife wants to go on holiday.

“Best of all is the affect it’s had on my family. Charlotte now runs 10kms and has just done a half marathon, plus my boys come running with me and have stood on plenty of finishing lines cheering me over.

“The day we came back from Mallorca we gave them both Ironman Mallorca T-shirts with my name on them. That week they had a non-uniform day and they both wore them to school. They told everyone: My dad’s an Ironman and his name’s on the back of my shirt.

“It’s things like that, which makes it all worth it.”