Local doctor goes from not knowing how to swim to competing as an Ironman

Published 12:38 am Wednesday, December 7, 2022

During the most trying times of the pandemic, Dr. Thi Nguyen wanted to put his words to action. The Port Neches native has long told patients to focus on being active, especially as they get older.

Nguyen is a doctor for First Response Urgent Care in Port Arthur and Lumberton.

What started as a hobby evolved into what Nguyen refers to as a movement.

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“It is something I have been involved with since COVID,” he said. “I was working hard with nowhere to go to relieve stress but the wilderness. I got involved in a challenge. I am not a young guy. I run marathons, and my brother-in-law told me that I just needed to learn how to swim and ride a bike and you can do an Ironman. It sounded that easy.”

His belief in himself and his ability to grow led him to sign up for a triathlon, even though he did not know how to swim or bike at the time.

“I figured five months should be enough time to learn to swim a mile and a half,” he said laughing. “I could do dog paddling, but not swim like they do for these kind of races. I put the pressure on myself. I didn’t realize it was that crazy.”

Despite working 12-hour days, Nguyen would find time before and after work to train.

“At first it was self taught,” he said. “I was YouTube-taught. Then I found other Ironman participants that retired or had been doing it. I connected with a beginning coach to make sure I was doing the right thing. She became my teammate. I trained in the pool for about three months and said that I was ready for competition.”

Nguyen said he would not soon forget his first race in the water.

“It was a 500m swim in the retention pond in the community area in Katy,” he said. “That changed my life. It was dirty. You can’t see anything. It is cold and muddy and everyone is splashing everywhere. I freaked out. For a moment, I thought, ‘what in the world am I doing here.’ I was thinking about giving up, swimming to shore and walking out of there.”

Nguyen decided to finish the race and realized it was all fun and games.

“It wasn’t that bad after all,” he said. “I realized I needed to change my training ground, though. I needed to go from the nice and easy swimming pool that was clear to the lakes and other dirty water in the environment.”

A month and a half later, Nguyen competed at the Ironman competition in Waco with three other local athletes. Nguyen, along with Shay Douglas, of Lumberton, Melanie Ingram, of Nederland, and Kento Anjima, of Port Arthur, started training together in the summer for the October race.

The team has other members who compete in Ironman competitions and upcoming marathons.

“I realized that I am practicing what I am preaching to patients all of the time,” Nguyen said. “I realize that in our area, there is not a lot of motivation for people. I am doing this for fun and I want patients to see. I want them to go out and do stuff. I don’t expect them to do an Ironman, but they should be active.”

Locals can find Nguyen at local running clubs and participating in nearby 5k and 10k events.

“We have a marathon team that will run in the Houston Marathon in about a month and a half,” he said.