A thick fog hung over Mission Bay. Still dark out, it was early morning in San Diego, and Ryan Leighton was nervous. A lot was on the line that December day in 2013. Chaos broke out in the frigid water a short while later. People climbed over each other. Feet and elbows flew. Leighton was claustrophobic as the sprint triathlon got underway; a blow to the face disoriented him. He thought of tapping out but silently talked himself into continuing. Quitting, he knew, would haunt him. A bunch of bikes were still sitting around when he got to the first transition area. Leighton was freezing. His feet were numb and his hands wouldn’t work as he struggled to rinse sand off and put socks on. Wheeling away, he made his first mistake. He had forgotten to take off his wetsuit and had to stop and change. Finally ready to go, the then-40-year-old pedaled off. Two laps around Fiesta Island zipped by. Leighton passed one cyclist after another. By the third lap, his mind was racing. This is for everyone who said it would never happen. This is for everything I fought for. In his excitement, he forgot to take off his helmet before the five-kilometer run, his second miscue. It was understandable; besides, his goal had been just to finish. His feet were still numb from the water. His legs felt like Jell-O. Compared with the cycling, the first half of the run was like slow motion. The triathlon was the most sustained exercise Leighton had done since the night he nearly died more than a year earlier. Leighton started worrying: Maybe that was it. Maybe he had hit his breaking point. Maybe he had nothing left. Just don’t walk. Now, Leighton was the one getting picked off. Somehow he wasn’t done, though. There was a little something left in his legs. He all-out sprinted the last quarter-mile. Tears flowed down Leighton’s cheeks when he crossed the finish line. He placed third in his age group at San Diego’s Beach Blast Sprint Triathlon. After a decade of pain and self-destruction, Leighton was finally one step closer to getting his life back. Ryan Leighton is 6-foot-1 and built like a lumberjack. He has short brown hair, a disarming personality, and a thing for crawfish étouffée and