Note to self: When interviewing an IRONMAN, don’t ask dumbbell questions, like “The IRONMAN is just a little longer distance than a triathlon, right?” He (or she) will quickly correct you by explaining that the IRONMAN competition is 140.6 miles long compared to other triathlons, which vary in length from (just a paltry) 25 to 70.4 miles.
For example, here’s the response I got from Michael Atkinson, multiple IRONMAN finisher and vice president of CompHealth perm division in Fort Lauderdale. “The IRONMAN is the ‘mack daddy’ of all endurance tests,” he says. “It’s a 2.4-mile swim, followed by 112 miles on the bike, and then a marathon, which is 26.2-miles.” (I stand corrected.)
It takes grit
For most of us, a race like that sounds impossible to complete — let alone compete in against other world-class athletes. But according to Mike, it’s all about managing your exertion level.
“You can’t just go hard from the beginning, because if you go too fast in the swim or on the bike, you blow up — you deplete all your energy before the run. So, it’s really about managing effort.”
And managing effort, explains Mike, is key for success by his people in his business unit.
“In physician perm staffing, you have to be able to maintain effort throughout the week, throughout the month, throughout the year to achieve results. You have to have grit, determination, and the drive to train consistently in order to be effective and achieve results on ‘race day.’”
We should trust Mike on this. He’s finished seven IRONMAN competitions on five continents and is well on his way to completing at least one on every continent. Given those aspirations, you might assume that all Mike does is train. But his business accomplishments tell otherwise.
Since taking over the Florida’s CompHealth perm business in 2016, he’s helped grow billings by 43 percent and annual revenue by 62 percent. The starting gun for Mike at CHG actually began 10 years ago, when he joined the pediatric team as an operations manager. From there, he directed a hospitalist team and was promoted to senior director over the office. Mike was named vice president of the Florida CompHealth office in 2019, which now comprises 50 sales consultants and eight leaders.
His game plan for success? “You can do anything you put your mind to,” says Mike. “Anything you choose is possible. But nothing happens in life overnight. You have to put in the work.” That’s Mike’s message to his people.
A will of iron
Work, willpower, and positive thinking has helped build Mike into what he is. Originally from South Africa, Mike arrived in the U.S. at age 26 sporting a backpack, surfboard, and virtually nothing else.
“My brother was living here, so I had a base to go to and start off with,” he explains. “That gave me a good stepping stone.”
He credits his strong mentality as a key to survival. “To succeed at anything worthwhile, you need to find a way, never give up, have total grit, and make things work. I love sharing that message with others.”
Mike started competing in triathlons when he was a teenager, but he didn’t take up the sport of IRONMAN until 2010.
“It takes four to six months of daily training, one or two sessions per day,” says Mike. “On weekends, I spend four to eight hours training on both days because I have more time. On weekdays, I work out before and after work — and sometimes during lunch.”
Stopwatch vs. wristwatch
So, how does one manage that kind of training schedule when you’re a vice president?
“It’s about time management,” says Mike. “Knowing what is most important to you and prioritizing what needs to be done first, then trying to be as efficient as possible with everything you do.”
Mike hopes his grit and training will lead him to his ultimate goal — qualifying for the world championship in Kona, Hawaii, which requires either being first in his age group at an IRONMAN or completing a dozen IRONMAN races just to get your name into a selection pool.
“Kona is like going to the Superbowl. Only the best of the best can go,” Mike shares. “It takes a lot of work to get there.”
One might think this is the ultimate motivator for Mike, but it’s not.
“My true love,” Mike explains, “is inspiring and motivating people to be their best. That is what makes me happy.”