Iron-willed inspiration from IronMan athlete

Ruvi Arinos doesn’t let Stage 4 cancer stop him as he and his sons compete in Tiberias triathlon.

 RUVI ARINOS (right) and his sons, Or and Din, pose overlooking the Kinneret during their training for the IRONMAN 70.3 Tiberias, which took place on Friday.  (photo credit: Courtesy)
RUVI ARINOS (right) and his sons, Or and Din, pose overlooking the Kinneret during their training for the IRONMAN 70.3 Tiberias, which took place on Friday.
(photo credit: Courtesy)

Most people would shudder at the prospect of competing in an IronMan competition, a type of triathlon consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.9km) swim, 112-mile (180.2km) bike ride, and a 26.2-mile (42.2km) run. Now, imagine trying to compete in such a race after having been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer!

Well, that is precisely what Ruvi Arinos will be doing on Friday, when the 57-year-old Ra’anana native will take part in the IRONMAN 70.3 Tiberias, which is a half-distance version of the 140.6-mile  (226.2km) version and combines a 1.2-mile (1.9km) swim course in the Sea of Galilee, a 56-mile (90km) bike course and a 13.1-mile (21.1km) run.

Through the initiative of Comtec Group, the Sylvan Adams Foundation, and with the support of the city of Tiberias and the Ministries of Tourism, Culture and Sport, preparations for the prestigious triathlon competition are all set.

Approximately 2,250 participants will compete in the event, which will take place through a glorious route around the Sea of Galilee.

But none of the other participants have quite the story that Arinos has.

“I started on this path 12 or 13 years ago,” Arinos said this week from Tiberias in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. “First I started with a half-marathon, then full-marathon, then half-IronMan and then my first full IronMan was in 2013 in Austria. I have done a few more full ones, and many more half-Ironman's, including Eilat, Haifa Majorca and more.”

The backdrop for the conversation with Arinos – who will be competing together with his sons Or (32) and Din (27) – was the inspiring message he imparts.

“This is the most important part of the interview,” exclaimed Ruvi while flanked by Or and Din. “We are not proclaiming to be the best athletes, the quickest or the strongest, who will take part in this race. But I want to make clear two main points and I think they can apply to anyone in their own life."

“I was diagnosed with cancer in June 2016. It began in my thyroid, but by that time, it had spread to other parts of my body. During training for an IronMan, about 10 days before the race, I noticed that I was having trouble speaking. At first, I thought it was just because of altitude and the training, but then after a day or two I got it checked out and it was clear it was something much more serious."

“I took a full-body CT scan, and it revealed that I had tumors throughout my body. The cancer was already at a later stage."

“A few days later, after many doctor consultations and approval, I decided to go to Austria to take part in the IronMan, as I felt pretty good and had trained extremely hard already. For the running part of the race, I was advised not to run so I was able to jog at a slower pace and still reached the finish line.”

In the ensuing five years, Ruvi has undergone numerous surgeries and many different types of treatments and after an extended process, his ability to speak – albeit somewhat reduced – returned.

He made a promise to himself to not let his disease debilitate him, and set the goal of competing in another IronMan, this time with Or and Din.

“The message I want to pass on is that we, as IronMan participants, learn how to manage the different difficult parts of the race. And based on that, I was able to learn how to manage my cancer. I decided to take control of my sickness, rather than let the sickness control me."

FOR THE first time, Israel will host an official IRONMAN competition, with the race set to take place on November 12 in Tiberias (credit: Courtesy)FOR THE first time, Israel will host an official IRONMAN competition, with the race set to take place on November 12 in Tiberias (credit: Courtesy)

“I may not be able to change the fact that I have Stage 4 cancer, but I can choose what I do with it and how I live my life with the sickness. Whatever I have the ability to still do, I want to do.”

Trying to explain the difficulty of the grueling race – for any competitor – Ruvi explained a crucial distinction.

“I would divide the difficulty in half,” he said. “First, there is a physical difficulty, which is extreme, though anyone who is in good health and trains properly, I believe can meet the physical demands of an IronMan."

“Then there is the mental strength that is needed, which in some ways is much harder. Most IronMan competitors will agree that the mental aspect is more difficult. It is very natural at a certain point for your body to say ‘ok, I’ve had enough, it’s time to rest.’ That is where the mental strength needs to kick in and allow you to push through and reach the finish line. But really it is a huge combination of the physical and mental.”

Or has finished one full IronMan, and a few half-Ironman's, while Din will be competing in his first half IronMan on Friday.

“For the three of us, the swimming is our favorite and easiest part while the running is the hardest.”

The Tiberias route is one of “rolling hills” for a good part of it. There is about 50% that is flat, but the rest has inclines. It is considered a quick track by IronMan standards.

“The views and the backdrop of Tiberias and the Kinneret are among the best that Israel has to offer,” noted Ruvi. “This is a wonderful exhibition and representation of our country and a great example of how beautiful it is.

“Sylvan and Comtec know what they are doing.”

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, dealing with the many restrictions on flights and crossings between countries, alongside other challenges, led to complex conditions for negotiations to get the race set up.  For over a decade, various groups in Israel have been trying to secure a franchise with the global brand IRONMAN, which makes the upcoming competition an exciting achievement for Israeli sports.

“I am happy to welcome the first edition of Ironman to Tiberias, on the iconic Sea of Galilee,” said Adams. “I myself will be competing in the bike section of this half Ironman. I welcome all the competitors to what will be a great race.”

The Arinos trio expounded on the nature of training for such a daunting race.

“To compete in a full IronMan, you really have to make a decision a year in advance to train properly,” said Ruvi. “Then you have to build a program that escalates throughout the year. You start at perhaps 4-5 times a week for about 1-2 each time and then gradually increase your regimen monthly until you are doing simulations of about 80% the entire race, about 10-12 hours.”

“You have to base your training on the conditions of the race, including weather, equipment, elevation etc.”

“More than racing against anyone else, every IronMan competitor – except at the highest level of professional athletes – is really competing against themselves and their own personal goals of reaching the finish line, whether that is in 11 hours or 14 hours.”

Or added: “There is also the family aspect. You really need to enjoy the people you are training with, as the preparation is intense, up to 30 hours a week. And if you are able to approach the time with your teammates as time that you enjoy, you will be much better off.”

Ruvi noted how much he cherishes taking on this challenge with his sons.

“I am blessed to be taking on this amazing adventure with my family. I have chosen to continue my life as a sportsman and to take advantage and enjoy every second I have together with my children. Five-and-a-half years after I was diagnosed with this disease, I have been able to train for many months together with my kids and, please God, will cross the finish line with them. This unity between us and the time we spent together will ultimately be my legacy and how my children remember me.”

Ruvi made sure to make clear that “I want this to be an optimistic message, a message of strength and possibility rather than a message of despair or weakness.

“I hope that everyone who reads this interview can take away the message that while we can’t change facts that we are given, we can choose our approach of how to handle those facts and how to live our lives.

“None of us know when we will die. Within that understanding, I have chosen to live my life by continuing to enjoy every day with a smile and as much strength as possible. Not with depression and sadness. It is very easy to be sad, very easy to not want to get out of bed in the morning. But precisely because of that, I choose to appreciate the strength I have and to choose life! As long I can, I will never give up on life!”