Melanie Boyd/Times-Georgian

Justin Parks has battled a life-threatening diagnosis head-on and continues to defy the odds as a professional triathlete.

The lifelong dream was dead in his sights.

Each lap represented one step closer to the destination. Down the stretch he came; victory literally felt within his grip. As he rounded what proved to be one of the final turns of his amazing prep career — everything went dark.

And in the blink of an eye, it was all gone. Justin Park collapsed violently, and chaos ensued.

The multi-sport star had been legging out the sixth of eight laps in the 3,200-meter run at a regional track meet outside Greensboro, N.C., when his body completely shut down. Not only were his athletic dreams shattered, his life teetered toward the brink of disaster, all on that fateful day during his junior year of high school.

Medical personnel and meet officials quickly scrambled to Park’s side, and there were several tense moments as he lay motionless. At that point, he was there in body only; his mind and incredible competitive spirit were nowhere to be found.

Even after temporarily coming to, everything remained a complete fog.

“My vision was poor and blurry and all that kind of stuff. I don’t actually remember the event itself,” Park said.

Fortunately, Park survived an experience that, for many people who share his condition can result in death. Even so, the months — and years — that followed were anything but soothing for a competitor who had dedicated the majority of his life up, until that point, to athletics.

Diagnosing the Disorder

Park spent his childhood and teenage years as a top-level swimmer and distance runner, but his true passion was soccer. He was all set to suit up for Duke University in the fall, but that goal hit the proverbial crossbar to a life-altering medical condition upon being diagnosed with a heart disorder known as Long QT Syndrome.

Essentially, it meant a future in athletics was no longer an option.

But for Justin Park — now a 35-year-old professional triathlete who calls Carrollton home — it marked the start of an inspirational journey of defying the odds and following his dreams, fueled by the heartbeat of a champion.

One of the more difficult aspects to Park’s condition, first and foremost, became discovering what it actually was that caused him to collapse not only once, but twice, between the end of his junior and the start of his senior years in high school.

Following the original scare, Park chalked it up to being an anomaly. After all, this is a guy who had competed in numerous athletic events since he was a small child. So, initially, he wasn’t restricted from strenuous activities.

But when a similar incident occurred just a few months later, during cross country season, that’s when his family realized something wasn’t right.

“Not only did I have the issue of realizing that it’s a real issue and not a one-time thing, but then I also didn’t qualify for the state championship because I didn’t finish the race,” Park said.

That would soon become the least of his worries.

Park endured a battery of tests, visiting a specialist twice a month until they could put a finger on the root cause of his blackouts.

“It was one of those things where a negative was just as good as a positive. They were just trying to narrow down what the issue was. They went from everything from potential tumors to all sorts of stuff.

After undergoing a myriad of MRIs and stress tests to determine if the condition was brain-related, Park eventually had a cardiac catheterization performed at Duke University. From there, he was referred to a specialist in Salt Lake City.

And that’s when Dr. Edward Vincent ultimately made the diagnosis of Long QT Syndrome in the summer prior to Park’s freshman year of college.

A disorder of the heart’s electrical activity, Long QT Syndrome can cause sudden and uncontrollable arrhythmias in response to exercise or stress. The fast, chaotic heartbeats typically trigger a fainting spell or seizure, which can become fatal.

“There’s an electrical impulse that causes the heart to beat, and then it has to re-polarize itself to beat again,” Park explained. “For people with Long QT Syndrome, that sort of segment of the heartbeat takes a little longer to happen, which at super-high heart rates creates a problem. You essentially run into a situation where the heart can’t keep up with the demand of the body, and that’s where you get an event such as I had.”

Long QT Syndrome is actually a genetic disorder and Park quickly discovered that not only did he suffer from the condition, but, upon further testing, so did his mother and one of his three sisters.

Looking back, Park quickly realized he was lucky to be alive.

“I was in decent enough shape that, once I collapsed and stopped, my heart slowed down enough to not cause an issue. But for many people, it’s an event that causes death,” Park said. “And, unfortunately, the condition itself, a lot of people don’t know they have it until it’s too late because it’s not something that affects you on an everyday basis.”

Mending a Broken Heart

Park is the first to admit that he didn’t handle the diagnosis or aftermath all too well. As an 18-year-old college freshman, what was supposed to be the best time of his life suddenly snowballed into a nightmare when staring down the sobering reality of not being cleared to engage in any form of athletic activity.

Park went on to attend Duke and pursue his undergraduate degree, but he couldn’t bring himself to watch many Blue Devil soccer games. It proved too painful to be on the outside looking in.

“I would assume it’s not the most wonderful news, regardless. But when you have the objectives that I had, I had worked my whole life to play Division I soccer. And it’s all there. It’s all ready. And it’s just taken away from you,” Park said. “I guess that’s probably what you’d expect. When you’re on this path and you’re disciplined enough to pursue it, and it all gets taken away, it makes it very difficult to be like, ‘What’s the point of doing anything else?’ I didn’t take it well and I really struggled for probably the first two, two and a half years of college, trying to settle into a life that wasn’t what I thought I was going to be doing.”

What kept Park motivated was his course work. He felt the only thing he could do to stave off depression was bury his head in the books.

And so he did.

Park earned his degree from Duke and headed off to law school at UCLA, where he spent the next three years working to become a corporate lawyer, specializing in mergers and acquisitions.

All the while, that itch was still there.

Following nearly a decade of abstaining from athletic activity, Park decided it had been long enough.

It was 2007, and Park was working for a law firm in California when two fellow attorneys actually swayed the former star athlete into a sport he’d never heard of before. On a bet.

And on that friendly wager, a triathlete was born. Or born again, that is.

“Once I heard it was swim, bike, run and I had grown up swimming and running, I figured I was two-thirds of the way there,” Park said.

Park never received medical clearance to compete again.

“But I was an adult, so I could choose to assume the risk - which is essentially what I’m doing to this day,” Park said.

From Corporate Lawyer

to Professional Triathlete

To the casual observer, it was a question of which is crazier: giving up a lucrative career as a corporate attorney to become a professional triathlete, or to put your life at risk to become a professional triathlete?

For Park, it wasn’t a career path he had ever envisioned.

The original plan was to test out the triathlon waters (and terrain) while continuing to work in the legal field. After all, Park had invested three years of his life to law school and another three and a half practicing law in California - so he wasn’t going to flush it all down the tubes for a sport he knew very little about.

But given his athletic upbringing and competitive drive, it wasn’t a huge surprise to discover that he was a natural to the triathlon world.

“I would win some races here and there, but I didn’t know whether that was that good or not that good. Then I got an invitation to go up to the Olympic Training Center, and that’s kind of when I realized that what I was doing was at least on par with pretty good,” Park said.

So after juggling dual careers for a period, Park ultimately made the life-changing decision to go all-in as a professional triathlete.

With that resolution, he felt it was best to move back to North Carolina, where he could train on native soil and be closer to his family.

Of course, the concern for Park’s health and well-being is something his parents and siblings dealt with on their own terms, but he believes the fact that his father was a competitive runner when he was younger helped them all come to peace with his choice to chase his dreams, regardless of the potential pitfalls.

“I think he was just shy of the Olympic Trials qualification for the marathon back in the running heyday of the ‘70s and ‘80s. I think he sort of always wondered what his running career would have been if he had pursued it full-time,” Park said. “So both of my parents were always very supportive. Even in the face of the risk, I think they saw enough of how much it tore me up not being able to do what I wanted to do in college. They knew that they probably weren’t going to be able to stop me from doing it, so if they had concerns, they never really voiced them.”

With an air of confidence, Park was back on the grind. But he also understood the dangers that came with this decision. He became an expert on Long QT, especially as it relates to endurance sports.

“You can just imagine that if you take it like a car, and the heart is actually the engine block. If that’s not operating well, then chances are other things aren’t operating well. And that’s kind of the way it works with me,” Park said. “I’ve got other issues that relate to it. Endocrine problems and stuff that are all impacted by the fact that I have this faulty heart. So I made a point to really study up on human physiology and how the body works and how stress in any capacity affects the body so that I could do it in the most intelligent manner possible.”

In the end, the reward simply outweighed the risk.

“The weird thing about Long QT is it’s also the leading cause of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Really, anything that triggers a quick cardiac response in the body can cause the issue (including) being scared. A lot of people with Long QT can’t wake up with an alarm and stuff like that, so I didn’t really want to miss the forest for the trees. Yeah, I was probably creating a risk myself by participating in endurance sports again. But if you’re also at risk watching a scary movie, you can’t live your life in fear the whole time,” Park said.

A ‘Very Special’ Athlete

Making a living as a professional triathlete can be just as painstaking as the extreme endeavor itself.

There’s not necessarily a set salary as in other professional sports. Landing sponsors is the name of the game, while prize money is the other avenue of boosting the annual income.

But with the season typically running from March through November — averaging out seven-to-eight races a year — you can’t solely rely on prize money.

“There’s a lot of things that can come up in a race. A flat tire here or there, or you can just have a bad day. So it’s tough to be just dependent on the prize money at races. It’s really the sponsors and the sponsor backing that allow you to earn a living in the sport,” Park said.

Park tries to keep his sponsors local and somewhat minimal, maintaining four-to-six at a time so he can be active with the organizations. One thing working in his favor is his legal background, which allows him to negotiate his own contracts and to not have to deal with an agent.

“I just prefer to have a more intimate or involved relationship with all of my sponsors. To me, sponsorship is not just a name on a uniform. I like to be much more involved. I think using an agent sort of separates that a little bit,” Park said.

There are different variations of triathlon competitions. For the amateur triathlete who is more of a weekend warrior type, there are courses designed for a 500-yard swim, 10-to-15 mile bike ride and 5K run.

When it comes to the professional setting, it’s a much more grueling undertaking.

Park specializes in the half-Ironman distance, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run. And for the “truly crazy” folks there is the full Ironman, doubling the aforementioned distances — 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and marathon run.

Park competed in four events during the 2016 season, placing fourth in both the Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga and Ironman 70.3 Raleigh, followed by a sixth-place finish at the Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant in Quebec, Canada, in late June and a ninth-place performance at the Ironman 70.3 Vineman in Windsor, Cal., on July 10.

One of the many compelling elements to Park’s journey is that he’s not just a professional triathlete with an interesting background. He’s truly among the elite of the elite, owning several course records and podium finishes throughout his career.

When John Harris was first introduced to Park at a Carrollton High School football game a few years ago, he was told they had quite a bit in common. That proved to be true, since they shared a legal background and interest in triathlon.

Harris, who has been a partner at the Carrollton-based law firm of Tisinger Vance, P.C. since 1998, is an amateur triathlete and quickly realized that he and Park were on entirely different levels when it came to their involvement in the sport.

“Justin, when I first met him, was very understated. I knew that he was a triathlete, but I had no idea he was a professional triathlete. I learned that from other people. This was after I got to know Justin for a little while, because I would run into him at some of my workouts over at the pool and he’d be in there working with the kids,” Harris said. “He originally told me he was a lawyer.”

Harris is an age-group athlete in the sport, but he gets to compete on the same courses and under the same conditions as the professionals. He said it doesn’t give the professionals justice until you see them up close and personal. Only then do you begin to understand just how incredibly talented and dedicated an athlete like Park is, especially given all the extra baggage he carries with him to the starting line.

“It’s at the end of the day you realize that God just makes some people very special. Just to be able to do what they do in the times they do it compared to the times that us mere mortals, it’s a special gift that they have,” Harris said. “I just respect the heck out of him.”

Perhaps even more than his athletic ability, what Harris really admires about Park is his humility.

“He is just a humble guy and very likable. He’s willing to spend time with you, give you training tips, help you with the mental part of your game. He’s very approachable, and sometimes you don’t get that with professional athletes,” Harris said. “So he’s a guy that just sort of brings out the best in you because he’s willing to share some of his gifts and talents and help you get better at your own game. He’s in a select group of people, and he’s just unique.

“If you’ve never seen him run or bike or swim, I think it’s hard to appreciate it. But if you’re ever side-by-side or watching him do it, you would realize that he’s got a gift. It’s just special.”

Although Harris certainly respects Park and everything he brings to the table on and off the course, he doesn’t necessarily envy the workload it takes to keep his head above water.

“I’m sort of a realist and I know all the glitters isn’t gold, in terms of what he goes through in his training,” Harris said. “It seems to have the allure that if you could sort of put down the law books to spend our day training, what fun that would be. But the reality is, he probably spends as much time in front of a computer as I do. Plus professional triathletes, they’re sort of their own HR department, marketing department, they’ve got to get sponsors. They’ve got to go out there and get podium finishes. I know it’s a tough lifestyle that he lives. When I first got into it I thought, ‘Wow. If I could train all day, I’d be a pro.’ But it just doesn’t work that way. The thing that really intrigued me about him being a professional is how does he maintain balance in his life? How does he make himself go through the rigors of the daily training to stay at the top of his game?”

That very question became a recurring theme late in the 2016 portion of Park’s season, when, around mid-August, he started having bouts of atrial fibrillation on a weekly basis. Once again, his future in the sport was put on hold. And, once again, he forged through, although it meant the plan of competing in events through October was cut short.

“I had four or five instances in four weeks. So it required a full work-up to see if anything had actually changed with the structure of my heart, whether my heart condition had caused some sort of problem with it,” Park said.

After meeting with Dr. Chris Arant, a cardiologist with Tanner Health System, Park was referred to a specialist at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta for a series of stress tests.

“All of it checked out. It’s certainly not normal, by any means, but I’ve sort of created a situation between the type of training that I do that enlarges the heart and also the type of training that I do that lowers my pulse rate,” Park said. “Given my heart condition, I’ve sort of created an environment where I’ve made it right to deal with atrial fibrillation and the associated cardiac heartbeat problems.”

Park’s medical advisers left his future up to him, and he’s stayed true to the course.

“I mean, what I’m doing is certainly not making it better. It was questionable to whether a couple more years of doing this would really create more risk. But they just said that, what I’m doing is causing the issue and it’s up to you whether you want to decide to do it or not. So much like the first time I had dealt with that, I chose to continue on,” Park said. “It ended my racing for the fall because of all the tests that needed to be done, but I’ve been back in the swing of things since the first of November.”

Park’s 2017 competitive calendar isn’t set in stone just yet, but he plans to compete in a half-Ironman in Puerto Ricow and the North American Regional Championships in May in St. George, Utah.

The 2017 season is ultimately building toward somewhat of a local event given the significant stature of it with the Ironman 70.3 World Championships coming to Chattanooga, Tenn., this fall.

“In previous years it’s been in Austria and Australia and those kinds of places. So to have it so close, I’m pretty much gearing my whole season around that one race on September 9th,” Park said.

No Days Off

When it comes to training, there are no days off. Park honestly can’t remember the last day he’s taken completely off. He literally trains seven days a week, 12 months a year.

A heavy week usually consists of up to 35 hours of training, and a light week is closer to 20, but it’s typically somewhere in between.

Five of the seven days are what Park refers to as the “meat and potatoes” days of four-to-six hours of training, while the other two feature a lighter regimen.

The normal week lends itself to 12-to-15 miles of swimming, 50-to-60 miles of running and 220-to-300 miles of biking.

“It’s gotten to the point where you’re so used to moving that a day off is not as positive as you’d think. It sort of clogs the engine a little bit. Whereas just taking a little bit off with easy swimming, easy running, kind of keeps you going,” Park said.

Nutrition is another key element to a triathlete’s way of life. And while consuming 8,500 calories a day may sound fun now and again, it becomes another brutal part of the profession.

“You feel very uncomfortably full a lot of the time. Training itself is useless if you’re not taking care of yourself outside of training. I know a lot of people don’t look at exercise this way, but exercise is actually a negative. It tears the body down. It’s only the response the body makes at rest, which is to build itself stronger, that you actually increase performance,” Park said. “So all the elements outside — the nutritional, sleep, other recovery modalities like massage — are super-critical.”

Simply put, there are no days off for a professional triathlete.

“I haven’t had a day off in who knows how long,” Park said. “I’ll definitely take easier days where I’m only swimming like a half-hour and that’s my only workout of the day or I run for a half-hour. But days off are virtually non-existent.”

Married to a Professional Triathlete

When Heather Park first met her future husband in 2007 at a Christmas party, she wasn’t quite sure what to think of dating a triathlete, let alone a “professional” triathlete.

“I guess when we met he was sort of in the very early stages of doing it professionally. He was kind of phasing out of his law career. At that point, I had never heard of anyone being a professional triathlete. I honestly still really haven’t outside of him,” Heather said. “But it was definitely intriguing doing something athletic as a job, especially with his story of coming from and leaving a law career. It definitely made him an interesting dating prospect.”

As their relationship blossomed and eventually led to the couple tying the knot, Heather became Justin’s No. 1 fan and supporter.

Despite a career in the medical profession as a vascular surgeon, it’s never really bothered Heather that her husband makes a living doing something that put his health in jeopardy. It’s all she’s ever known him to do, and she is perfectly fine with his career choice.

“I guess that’s something that I have sort of always taken for granted. Certainly, the heart condition on paper puts him at more risk to do what he does. Even now from a wife’s standpoint, it’s not something that causes me to lose very much sleep,” Heather said. “I mean, he seems to have a pretty good handle on what he’s doing and his level of risk. From that standpoint, it’s not something that I would ever contemplate not wanting him to do.”

Justin noted that his wife has served as a major source of encouragement and support when he’s not feeling 100 percent or struggling with certain aspects of his training or health from time to time.

“She is on board. We met in 2007, so she didn’t have to see any of the real bad incidents or anything like that. I think she probably feels a little bit of concern, but I think she knows that I’ve done what I can the best way possible to control the outcome,” Justin said. “She’s also super-supportive. Even when the issue causes some other health problems that I’ve battled over the past three years or so, I’ve had some big problems health-wise and I’ve often wondered whether it’s still worth the pursuit. But she’s always been the biggest supporter and the one that even if I’m not believing in myself, she’s there believing in me. So it seems to work out.”

Attending a triathlon competition was unlike anything Heather had ever seen, and she thoroughly enjoys getting to travel with her husband when their schedules permit to take part in the festive atmosphere.

“For most of these races, there is an amateur field of thousands and thousands of people. So it’s a huge production,” Heather said. “The professionals start the race ahead of everybody else. So they have a great crowd of spectators to spot the amateurs who know all them and are big fans of the pros, especially doing it themselves. So the atmosphere of the race is sort of different everywhere you go, but it ends up being a whole lot of fun.”

Justin has been able to compete all around the world and enjoy some beautiful backdrops for a race. One of the most memorable courses was ‘Escape from Alcatraz’ in 2010 when he swam across San Francisco Bay with the iconic prison looming over him. He’s also soaked up the sights in the Pacific Northwest and Canada.

“It’s just gorgeous. Pristine water, rolling terrain and the heavily wooded area. It’s great,” Justin said.

One of the other courses that left a lasting impression was Hamburg, Germany, where roughly 400,000 spectators were on hand to cheer on the participants.

“They were lining the course and it was so loud that if you were running next to somebody and they tried to say something to you, you couldn’t hear them. That was impressive just for the sake of how passionate they were,” Justin said.

Justin has competed in at least a dozen different countries and all across the United States, but he said you’d be surprised by how little he gets to take in while he’s there.

“You’re kind of in and then you’re in a hotel room resting up. You do the race and then you want to get back and start training as soon as possible,” Justin said. “So I don’t really get to see as much as I want to. My last race of the season I try to put in a unique location where I can spend several days afterward and see it. But yeah, fly into Europe, race in France and how little I see. Just because when all is said and done, it is a job. You’ve just got to get back and get back to work.”

Heather tries to make sure she accompanies her husband on the few extended trips he gets to enjoy, which is usually the final race of the season.

“If we’re going some place good, and especially if he’s got a little break in training afterward, we try to spend a couple of days. If he’s traveling by himself, he sort of regards it as going to work,” Heather said. “You know, he goes to work, he comes home. When we have a chance to travel together and both have a little time after the race, it’s nice to be able to relax in a nice spot.”

Where the Parks spend most of their time is Carrollton, a place they’ve called home since August of 2012 when Heather was hired by Tanner Medical Centero of Carrollton.

“We love it. I’m very happy in my practice and Justin is really happy with the facilities and his ability to train here. In spite of being hit by a car last year, he raves about the roads for biking and all that stuff,” Heather said.

Giving Back to the Community

When Park isn’t competing or training, he makes a point to give back to the community.

Park has volunteered with the Carrollton High School cross country and track and field programs, as well as the Carrollton Bluefin swim team for the past three years. He lends his expertise to the distance runners when it comes to cross country and track, and serves as the strength and conditioning coach for the Bluefins.

In each endeavor, Park’s unique ability to relate and teach beyond the sport itself is a testament to his knowledge and understanding of how to properly train athletes of all ages and skill levels, according to CHS head cross country coach Eric Simmons.

“The kids respect him a great deal because he’s competed at such a high level. So he brought an instant feeling of credibility. It was just amazing to watch how quickly the kids took to him. He really stresses a lot of the maintenance things such as stretching, adequate rehydration. Just different drills and exercises in addition to the knowledge that he has about the sport. He really has helped the kids to understand that it’s a little bit more than just working during the practice window. It’s taking care of your body and making sure that you’re primed and ready to go.”

Likewise, Bluefin head coach John Pepper said the results speak for themselves when evaluating Park’s influence on the swim program. Whether it’s teaching proper workout techniques, or different forms of training, there’s a visible difference from where the program was three years ago to where it is today.

“He’s helping the team out in ways that I couldn’t or any other coach couldn’t by doing the dryland, kettlebells and physical labor that they have to do to train their bodies,” Pepper said. “As they’ve gotten older, you can see the day-to-day work that they do is really starting to pay off and they’re starting to get those cuts. Body cuts. Six packs and all. Of course, now they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah.’”

Simmons recalled the manner in which Park addressed the track and field team prior to the 2015 spring season after the Trojans fell one point shy of a state title the previous year. Rather than beating themselves up about how that one point was lost or gained during the three-day state championship weekend, Park wanted the guys to reflect on that state title point — or even points — being earned well before that.

“He said, really, that one point comes in January, in February, in March. Way before the state meet is even contested. So he’s kind of reinforced and brought about that long-term thinking where he’s having the kids think long-term,” Simmons said.

“To go ahead and figure out your goals. What is it that you want to accomplish? What is it that you want to do? Not only the big goals, but the little goals along the way that will help show the progress that you’re wanting to make as you get to that goal. A lot of kids are in the here and now and a lot of kids just want to be Division I athletes or all-area and all-region performers, but they only want to be that between the practice window of 3-5 or whatever you want to call it. He is preaching that it’s a lifestyle. If you want to accomplish these things, you need to live them and breathe them. It needs to be an on-going process. At nighttime, you need to be whatever you need to be to make that happen. During the school day, you need to be whatever you need to be to make that happen. It’s not just during the practice window. The kids have been really receptive to that methodology.”

As far as Park’s personal journey, it’s not something he really delves too deep into with the younger athletes. Some of them know his background and Simmons has discussed it with him from time to time, but when he’s training, it’s all about the kids.

That being said, it serves as an inspirational backdrop to Park’s powerful message and mentality.

“It’s a tremendous story that anybody who ever has a setback or ever has anything that they feel like they can’t achieve the goals that they would like to … that if you put in the work and investigate and do the things that you need to do, then you can still achieve those goals,” Simmons said. “He’s been a tremendous testament to that way of thinking that, ‘Hey, if you really want to do something bad enough, it’s not over because something says it’s over. You really can make it happen if you choose to.’”

Wellness in the Workplace

Another passion Park has developed through the years revolves around wellness in the workplace. In fact, when he retires from the triathlon circuit, he plans on making it the next path of his career.

After returning from California and beginning his training in North Carolina, Park helped found The Carolina Clinic at UNC, an executive wellness program and division of UNC Hospitals.

Park has received various certifications for his healthy lifestyle initiatives and consultant work while living in Chapel Hill.

What originally began as a way to keep his own health in order, Park soon realized, could be something that could help others, as well.

“It was really for my own good until someone at University of North Carolina Hospital at Chapel Hill asked me to help. They thought I was sort of uniquely positioned as a professional athlete who had a career in law to develop their executive wellness program,” Park said.

The Clinic hosted executive teams and put them through different degrees of medical testing that Park referred to as the “Healthy Lifestyles Program,” which was essentially preventative care. The idea being that a corporation is only as healthy as the executives who run it.

“So everything from nutrition to sleep to managing stress. People really underestimate the impact of daily stressors on their lives. And so I consulted with them and it sort of snowballed to some of those companies wanted me to come in and speak to their employee base,” Park said.

When Park’s wife accepted her job at Tanner, he left the Clinic and turned to consultant work, where he helps organizations either build a new employee wellness program or refine and improve an existing one.

“A lot of companies nowadays are adopting employee wellness programs for health insurance savings, but it depends on employee satisfaction,” Park said. “With a lot of those programs, it is not always high. I think it’s because you’re trying to put an entire program on a group of employees whose lifestyles and occupations are very different.”

Park believes there’s a missing element with certain wellness programs that companies view as health insurance savings, but they don’t necessarily see it as an employee retention tool.

“Whereas if you have a program that’s very well done that has a lot of satisfaction with their employees, then that actually drives people to stay with the organization and also is an attractive piece for a new person to come in,” Park said.

Since most of Park’s consulting work requires travel, he sets it up in blocks and keeps his client list relatively small for the time being. Along with the corporate consulting, Park also reaches out through speaking engagements that focus on well-being in your personal and professional life.

“As I transition out of triathlon, which is probably going to be in four or five years, this will become a much more significant portion of what I do,” Park said.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Due to all of Park’s health-related setbacks, he often feels like he’s already behind the pack when he steps to the starting line. But it’s the career path he chose, and he accepts it for what it is.

His final race of the 2016 season in California served as a prime example of what he’s up against when his heart problem leads to endocrine issues and lower hormone levels, onsetting heavy stages of fatigue.

“It was a really bad day and there’s no rhyme or reason to why. It just feels rough. You feel like you wake up with the flu, but you don’t have the flu,” Park said.

When you factor in the trials and tribulations of Park’s health to everything he’s accomplished, it’s quite mind-boggling to fully encapsulate it all.

“So many of us participate in that kind of lifestyle because it is such a healthy lifestyle. And here he is trying to overcome health-related issues to participate in that lifestyle. It’s a little bit ironic,” attorney Harris said.

The fact that Park has reached this peak of the profession is an incredible feat in itself, health issues or not. But given his age and everything he has to overcome just to get to the starting line, he realizes the light at the end of the tunnel is drawing near.

Park is hopeful of pumping out four more years of prime performance and potentially a few more years beyond that before retiring.

All of that, of course, depends on how his health holds up between now and then before transitioning into the world of workplace wellness and spreading his inspirational message of never giving up on your dream.

Park lives and competes by the creed, ‘Change the game,” and it’s a mantra he intends to keep using in hopes of motivating others.

“It’s not telling people that they should quit their jobs and go pursue triathlon. It’s more about doing something to better yourself each day. Not accepting the status quo,” Park said. “Complacency is a bad thing, in my opinion. Complacency is different from being content. You can be content, but not be complacent. You can always try to improve yourself in some way, shape or form.”

A career in endurance sports forced Park to challenge himself to improve every day. As it turns out, that manner of thinking isn’t just limited to sport.

“It’s just a different dynamic. I think people get very comfortable in the positions that they’re in and the ‘Change the game’ concept is more like figure out how to make yourself more indispensable and just find something each day or each week that you can definitively say, ‘I’ve bettered myself,’” Park said.

In both life and sport, Park has been knocked to the ground. He’s felt the pain and frustration of being down and out. But the legacy of his life isn’t about how he went down. It’s about how he never feared getting back up.

“I don’t hide behind my issues. It’s unfortunate they were given to me, but it is what it is. So you can’t really sit around and worry about it. You have to develop strategies to maximize your potential with that,” Park said.

“It’s what I’m trying to do day-in and day-out. It’s kind of what I hope to inspire people to do in their own professions, hobbies, family life. Find a way to better your life a little bit each and every day.”

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