How Exercise Saved This Man's Life

(Image credit: Unknown)

When injury brought Luke Tyburski’s footballing dream to an end, he sank into depression. But rather than giving up on sport completely, he turned his attention to a different kind of exercise: endurance marathons.

We caught up with Luke after he’d completed the Ultimate Triathlon, a gruelling slog from Morocco to Monaco that saw him swimming through dangerously busy shipping waters and tearing a muscle in his leg so badly that he was forced to cycle one-legged to the finish line.

The sheer determination that kept Luke going until the end is the same mentality that helped him overcome his depression. We asked him how exercise helped him fight his demons, and how mindfulness helps him achieve his goals.

How should someone go about achieving their personal goals?

You need to know exactly why you are doing something. Your goals will be easier to achieve if you have a crystal-clear understanding of what they are. It’s also super important to keep your mind open so you can adapt when things inevitably don’t go to plan. Most importantly, enjoy the journey – it’s more important than the actual destination.

You’ve mentioned that you’ve struggled with depression. What made you turn to exercise and adventure to overcome it? How does it help, mentally and physically?

I had a three-year battle with injuries when I played football and was barely able to drag myself out of the house due to the resulting depression. I finally decided to retire from playing and immediately signed up to The Marathon des Sables (a 250km, seven-day ultra marathon through the Moroccan Sahara desert). During the race, I felt my most alive in years and soon had a new purpose – to be an endurance adventurer. By testing myself through these events, I’m able to inspire others, which helps me push my own boundaries and keeps that flame burning.

How do you stay motivated when you’re feeling down?

When I go through dark days and feel flat, I simply stop. I do as little as possible for that day, just the necessities, and the rest of the day I try to be kind to myself, without judgement.

You’re an advocate of mindfulness. Why is this important and what other areas of life can it help with?

It’s more important to concentrate on the process of the journey itself than worrying about the destination. Mindfulness helps you do this by making you more aware of your present surroundings and of your own mental state. I practise mindfulness by meditating for as long as I can each day.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to overcome physically?

In November 2015, I completed The Ultimate Triathlon from Morocco to Monaco, which involved swimming the Gibraltar Straight (one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes), cycling 1,300km along the south-eastern Spanish coastline and running 14 marathons in six days. However I faced huge adversity when I severely tore my quadricep with 400km of marathon to go. Just like in life when things don’t go to plan I had to adapt, so being completely unable to walk I jumped back on the bike and rode with one leg to the border of Monaco, where I stumbled over the line on two feet.

What advice can you give others about overcoming such physical stress?

Your mind is a lot stronger than your body. For three of the days during The Ultimate Triathlon I pushed my body to its limit, and then my mind kept pushing it even further until it shut itself down. I passed out as I was coming to the end of the triathlon, with no recollection of the final hours I was cycling or running, and no memory of how I was scraped off the side of the road and put in my support van. I just woke up in a hotel room the following morning thinking “how did I get here?”. Your limits are much greater than you think, so when I’m going through tough times – physically, mentally or emotionally – I remember just how strong my mind has been throughout this journey and that I’m capable of so much more than I know.

Do you stick to a strict diet plan to keep fit for big adventures?

I eat real, unprocessed food – it’s as simple as that. No strict or special diet. I eat the way I do at home but in bigger amounts. Oh, and loads of superfoods like spirulina, raw cacao powder, maca powder, seeds, nuts, coconut oil and olive oil with plenty of seeds and nuts.

How do you use endurance races to help others?

I’ve become a Peace Mover for an organisation called Peace and Sport. They use sport to create sustainable peace for those affected by extreme poverty and conflict. I’m looking forward to working with them on a few things throughout 2016 and into the future.

Follow Tyburski on Twitter and Instagram.

Sam Razvi wrote for Men’s Fitness UK (which predated and then shared a website with Coach) between 2011 and 2016.