Star Staff Reports
After winding through a maze of windowless offices and cubicles on the first floor of the Whitten Building on the NSA Millington Base, I arrive at Lieutenant Commander (LCDR) Andy Domina’s cubicle.
He is standing at his terminal poring over spreadsheets and answering emails. As I look around, I notice several of his colleagues are also standing at their desks.
When I ask him why he is standing instead of sitting, he looks at me and states, “Sitting is the new smoking.” I start to snicker but quickly stop when I realize he is serious. I make a note to myself to investigate a standing desk for my office.
LCDR Domina is a submarine detailer who has been stationed in Millington since the fall of 2013. He is responsible for working with and writing orders for submarine officers who are going back to sea for their second tour. As I look around his cubicle, I see the standard arrangement of wooden plaques you see on most military cubicles documenting each previous tour. Among the plaques are half a dozen medals representing various triathlons Andy has participated in, including several half ironman medals. “All training events, getting ready for the big one,” he says. The “big one” he is referring to is Ironman Chattanooga, his first attempt at a full Ironman.
Ironman Chattanooga will have Andy swimming 2.4 miles in the Tennessee River, cycling for 112 miles through the rural countryside surrounding the town of Chattanooga, and then running a full marathon… all back to back to back.
“Why would anyone want to do this?” I ask myself. My eyes continue to scan his cubicle. I see a picture of a woman and small boy, and assume this is his wife and son. “I am doing this to raise money for charity,” he comments, as if reading my mind. “We have raised over $25,000 for charity to date.” I then learn about his son, Tristan, who recently turned 2 and was born with a birth defect known as esophageal atresia and tracheoesophageal fistula (EA/TEF). Basically, that means born without a complete esophagus. There was no path for Tristan to get food from his mouth to his stomach and there was a path for stomach acid to get to his lungs (bad). At four days old, Tristan underwent major surgery to correct/repair/rebuild his esophagus. After the surgery, Tristan spent three weeks in the NICU at Kapi’olani Hospital in Honolulu, Hawaii before being discharged. During his first 18 months of life, Tristan had to periodically return to the hospital to receive additional procedures to continue to help shape his esophagus. Several of these procedures occurred at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital here in Memphis after Andy received orders to Millington. The esophageal atresia also left Tristan with a weakened respiratory system, making him more susceptible to viruses and infections. Tristan has been hospitalized on four separate occasions in the past eight months for respiratory infections, all at Le Bonheur.
“Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital has been like a second family to us,” Andy tells me. “Each time we go, we are greeted by the doctors and nurses the same way you would be greeted at your favorite restaurant that you like to frequent. We have many friends there and, often, nurses will come from different floors/wings to check in on Tristan once they hear that he has been admitted.”
“How are you going to do this?” I ask him, trying to lighten the conversation. With what sounded like an eastern proverb, he replies, “You can do anything with the right teacher.” Shortly after deciding to commit to completing an Ironman, Andy ventured out looking for a new bicycle and found Victory Bicycle Studio here in Memphis. He met the owner, Clark Butcher, and was impressed. After getting fitted for a new triathlon-specific bike, Andy emailed Clark proposing that Victory Bicycle Studio partner with him on his journey to the Ironman. “I told Clark, ‘Look I am not going to win any races. My face isn’t going to be on the cover of any magazines. But I will wear your jersey at every race I participate in, and I will tell as many people about my experience.’” To Andy’s surprise, Clark agreed, and a partnership was born. “I used to think that the single greatest component that would enable me to complete this Ironman was equipment. I have to have the fastest bike, the fastest swimsuit, the lightest shoes. I now see that Clark’s tutelage is the greatest investment I have made. His tailored training programs, his knowledge of the sport, his analysis, and his encouragement have all been vital in building me up for this event. If you live in the Memphis area and you haven’t checked out Victory Bicycle Studio, you are missing out.”