If you haven’t seen actor Sean Astin recently, he’s a transformed man. Gone is most of the stomach that he carried around in The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. Astin has been undergoing intense training since April, spending grueling hours in the water, on the bike, and running in preparation for the 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
The 44-year-old was invited to be a celebrity ambassador for the Oct. 10 Super Bowl of Triathlons after he competed in the Boston Marathon earlier this year. He’ll join more than 2,000 top age group competitors and pro triathletes from around the world as they embark on the grueling 140.6-mile journey around the island of Hawaii. Astin is competing for his own charity, Run3rd.
“It’s a hashtag (#Run3rd) for people to make dedications for me to run for in my next race, whether it’s your sick grandma or someone you know with cancer; and then I’ll run on behalf of thousands of people who do that on Twitter,” Astin said.
His organization is also raising money through charity races like the recent Run3rd 5K this past March that donated $10,000 for an after school running program at underserved primary school in Mesa, AZ.
“The kids go out and ask their friends and family who they want to run for and they put those names on the back of their shirt, so when they go out they’re not just running for their own fitness, they’re running for someone else,” Astin said. “They’re doing community outreach and they’re leading in that way we’re able to raise money for kids to get shoes, and have race entrance fees covered, or get a van to take them to a half marathon.”
Talking to Astin for an hour, it’s immediately obvious he’s a humble and down-to-earth guy – not unlike Rudy Ruettiger, the real-life Notre Dame student who was a walk-on addition to the team and inspired the entire school. Rudy is five-foot-six, Astin is five-foot-seven. And there are other similarities.
“I’ve always wanted to live a big life,” Astin said. “I’ve believed for a lot of my life that the stuff I do has meaning that’s bigger than me. When this (Ironman) opportunity was put in front of me it felt like it was supposed to happen. I’ve done these movies that have meant something to people like Goonies, Lord of the Rings and Rudy. The parallels with Rudy on this one for me are just so clear. I’m not somebody who is endowed with the genetic or talent skill set to be able to do this kind of thing in any really competitive way at all, but I can do it.”
Astin isn’t heading into the most elite Ironman competition in the world with zero experience. He was a cross-country runner in high school and he’s run in everything from the Los Angeles Marathon to the Marine Corps. Marathon to the Dopey Challenge (an intense four-day series of events at Walt Disney world that starts with a 5K on Thursday, a 10K on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday). But he admits to falling off the fitness wagon at different points in his life.
“My body goes through huge swings,” Astin said. “If I have a mission in front of me I can get incredibly fit, but if I lose my way and I’m not sure what’s going on or I just have a down period, my body just balloons up. And it’s not healthy from a physical level and it’s not healthy for your heart or for your soul to go through those. My body goes to extremes, and I’m sure doing this Ironman extends the pattern as far as it can possible go in terms of extremes, but I like that my family sees me commit to something. I’m not resting on my laurels.”
Astin has been married to Christine Harrell for 23 years and they have three daughters. He had to first clear this fitness endeavor with them before committing so many hours every day to intense training in the pool, on the bike and running on the road. Although he has competed as a runner for many years, he’d never endured an Ironman before saying yes to this invitation.
“This is the most challenging physical thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Astin said. “It’s months of incredible output, just so many miles running and cycling and swimming and learning. I have these coaches and they teach me stuff, and I just don’t know how people do it. I have so much respect for these people that they have to qualify (for this event). They have to win their age group in an Ironman event in order to get into it and I’m invited, so it’s an honor. They have a lottery system and then they have a handful of invited people that they do each year, so I look at these other people who are training and what they do to their bodies and how they take care of themselves and what they put themselves through, and it’s incredible.”
Astin has put his own body through a complete health change. In addition to all of the coaches he has for each aspect of the triathlon, he now eats healthy, which fuels his ability to wake up at the crack of dawn for training. And this Hawaii event has completely changed the notion of “vacation destination.”
“I have a bike coach, Paul Buick, who is known as ‘the bike whisperer,’ and we would go on the Big Island of Hawaii for eight hour bike rides in the 115 degree heat with 30 or 40 mile an hour winds blowing at you for the whole time, and he was teaching me all the techniques,” Astin said. “At one point he said, ‘You have no idea what you’re capable of,’ and you always hear that in movies, but with this experience and having set my intention on doing this task I’ve really been inspired by that.”
Astin has also kept his day job and family duties in place and worked daily training in around his schedule.
“I travel a lot and I’ll have appearances, or all of a sudden I’ve got this Adam Sandler movie in Savannah, Georgia and I still have to train,” Astin said. “Quintana Roo sponsors me so they shipped my triathlon bike to Georgia. So I’m up at 4 in the morning doing a 90-minute ride through the streets of Savannah, Georgia and then I take a shower and go for 12-hour work day on set and then come back and run for an hour. It’s exhausting.”
All of that work has already paid off for Astin. He’s helping others through his fitness charity. He’s shown his daughters how important committing to something is. And he’s a far healthier person than he’s ever been before in his life. Come Oct. 10, he’s also likely to inspire an even bigger TV audience. For anyone who’s ever thought about taking on an Ironman, or even a half Ironman challenge, they might think, “If Sean can do it, so can I.”