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FIXATIONS

New Parts Up and Running, Ironman Puts His Mind to It

November 22, 1994|JIM WASHBURN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

IRVINE — Everyone should have a creed. "Give me liberty or give me death" was a pretty good one, as was JFK's "Ask not what your country can do for you."

Andrew Durham also lives by a creed. "It's that you can never be too thin at the waist, or too broad at the shoulders or able to utilize too much oxygen," he says.

OK, so it's not Founding Father's stuff. It works for Durham. His measure of adherence to that creed is what he calls "the Terminator index."

"It's named for Arnold Schwarzenegger," he said. "You take your jacket measurement and subtract your waist measurement, and the larger the result the better. I've gone from a 7, which is fairly wimp-like, to a 12, which is respectable: a 30-inch waist and a Size 42 jacket."

Not many people know their resting pulse, content just to have one. Durham clocks his at 60 beats a minute, up from his prime of 53, but a good sight better than the average adult resting pulse of 72.

He looks a bit like a young, innocent Peter Sellers. He may not have the chiseled, bulked-out appearance of a mirror-worshiping bodybuilder, but he's got credentials.

A weighty iron medal hangs on a wall in his Irvine condo, a hard-won memento from his participation in the 1982 Ironman triathlon, the world's premier hard-guy contest held each year in Hawaii. He swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles and raced 26.2 miles on foot to finish 453rd in a field of 780.

Now 38, he's steadily gearing up to tackle the Ironman again someday. It isn't age that's slowing his approach to the event. Rather, it is because this Ironman might more aptly be called Titanium Man. Durham is the sort of guy who drives metal detectors nuts.

He used to log 20,000 miles a year on his custom-made bike, often spending a Saturday riding to San Diego and back. One day in 1987, while riding in Santiago Canyon, a car hit him, and, as he puts it, "the car won." The bike was totaled, and Durham was scarcely in any better shape.

He spent the next three years and two months hospitalized, the first eight weeks of that in a coma. "I was in several different hospitals, in various states of consciousness. I was functionally dead for a long time. My life was ruled by doctors. It was not a fun time, though given the alternative you really can't complain too much," he said.

When he finally got out of the hospital in May of 1990, it was in a wheelchair, with a titanium tube where his left femur (the long bone of the thigh) had been. "The doctor said it wasn't even worth saving the pieces as a souvenir," Durham recalled of his original femur.

He progressed to crutches and then a cane, which he abandoned two years ago. His gait now is uncomfortable even to watch, yet he walks more than 40 miles a week, most of that to and from the gym, for which he departs at 4:30 a.m. every 48 hours. He makes a point of swimming twice a week, even though he loathes the water, likening it to sensory deprivation.

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Prior to his accident, Durham had already had several surgeries for bad shoulder joints and knees. He prefers to take a lighthearted attitude to his situation.

"Everybody has certain jobs in life, and one of mine is to keep orthopedic surgeons employed," he says.

He was born without a section of shoulder joint that keeps the arm from popping out, hence his did. He had his first surgery while an undergrad at Yale. "My right arm got so loose in its socket that I'd raise my hand in class and my arm would pop out. My professors thought I was being rude by not putting my hand down. And I couldn't! So there's piece of metal in there now that holds it."

There's a symmetrical scar on his left shoulder where he underwent surgery on that joint two years later, followed by microsurgeries on his knees for conditions worsened by his running. "You'd think I'd qualify for a quantity discount by now," he quipped. He is considering yet another major surgery, to replace his new femur, because when he attempts anew to run with it every day, he loses his balance.

His dining-room table is covered with neat piles of stuffed Manila folders, his files for a doctoral dissertation he expects to soon be undertaking. He holds an MBA from Stanford. Prior to retiring as a result of his accident, he'd been project manager with a general contracting firm that built a number of country tracts, including the one in which he lives. He's now planning a career jump, to marketing professor.

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Is he perhaps driving to have such physical and mental control of himself to make up for the lack of control he had over his life following the accident?

"No, that's just my general nature. I'm an incredible A-type personality. I have this notion of showing up for my first day of class with my dissertation already written. I'm very driven, and I like to live life just the way I want to live. That has been screwed with for a while, but now it's just back on track. You'd have to kill me before I'd give up.

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