Aaron Gabriel was feeling fit and fine when he set out on a run June 24, 2000, from his Danville, Calif., home.
It was another sunny day, perfect for working out. The 35-year-old enjoyed exercising, his fitness level such that he had never been to a hospital.
Less than two miles into the run, though, he developed a headache. This wasn't your typical, annoying headache. This one hurt like hell.
"It was the worst headache of my life," he said. "It just got worse and worse."
But not enough to make him stop.
"I thought I could just jog through it," Gabriel said.
He was wrong.
The headache intensified.
"It overwhelmed me," he said.
What happened next was a blur, a flash, then lights out as he collapsed on the side of the road and crumpled to the ground.
He needed help, quickly, and got it, when a good Samaritan stopped and called 911.
Gabriel was rushed to the hospital. It was later determined he had suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm and Grade IV brain hemorrhage.
He spent 10 days in intensive care. He underwent a six-hour brain surgery to insert a titanium clip in his head.
Most important, he beat the odds. He survived.
According to MedicineNet.com, brain aneurysms are deadly. About 10 percent of patients with a ruptured aneurysm die before receiving medical care. If untreated, another 50 percent will die within a month, with 25 percent of patients sustaining another bleeding episode within a week. Aside from the bleeding issues, there is significant risk of artery spasm leading to stroke.
The website says survival rates are increased by early presentation to the hospital, early aneurysm repair, and control of potential blood vessel spasm with medications.
That happened with Gabriel.
"Surgery was a success and I was ultimately sent home with a newly shaved head, a nice scar and some debilitating headaches," he said. "Before I was released from the hospital, though, I remember struggling to shuffle one loop around the nurses' station - with my IV and all. That was my Ironman for that day."
On Sunday, the husband and father of two will tackle another Ironman, this one a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and 26.2-mile run.
When he first learned Ironman Coeur d'Alene was June 24, 2012, he knew that would be his first try at the daunting distance.
It would be a double celebration, the 47-year-old said, exactly 12 years from the day he nearly died. One of life, one to raise awareness of brain aneurysms.
He's glad to be in North Idaho, and despite the cold water, is ready to dive into Lake Coeur d'Alene.
"It will give me the most pride knowing I've shown my children or perhaps any others, just keep trying and no matter what goal you set for yourself, learning to read, learning to walk, don't give up," he said.
Gabriel, who will arrive in Coeur d'Alene for the first time today, has always loved exercising both mind and body.
Following the surgery, he was determined to bounce back, to show that he had not lost a single step, that he was the same Aaron Gabriel.
"I needed to prove to myself I was just as good as before," he said.
Over the next four years, he studied close to 2,000 hours, earning a master's degree in business administration, along with earning a few industry designations.
"I exercised my brain as a great way to recover," the certified financial planner said.
He also began climbing the triathlon ladder, starting with shorter distances and working up to a half Ironman. Training 8 to 14 hours a week the past year steeled him for Ironman Coeur d'Alene.
"I achieved my mental goal, if you will. Now let's see what I can do physically," he said.
The former high school cross country runner was in reasonably good shape on the day he nearly died. He had never been seriously ill, never had a broken bone. He didn't know what an aneurysm was, and didn't know how to spell it, either. There were no warning signs of what was about to happen.
"I was an arrogant 35-year-old," Gabriel said.
According to MedicineNet.com, a loop of arteries at the base of the brain sends out smaller branch arteries to all parts of the brain.
"The junctions where these arteries come together may develop weak spots. These weak spots can balloon out and fill with blood, creating the outpouchings of blood vessels known as aneurysms," the website says. "These sac-like areas may leak or rupture, spilling blood into surrounding tissues.
Aneurysms have a variety of causes including high blood pressure, trauma, heredity, and abnormal blood flow where arteries come together.
Doctors don't know what caused Gabriel's aneurysm.
"It can happen to anybody," he said.
What he also knows is that he lived, and for that, he is thankful.
Today, he and his wife, Roberta, have two sons, Jonah, 8, and Josh, 11. Just having sons, he said, is a gift.
"When I look at them, it's a little overwhelming to me. They're here because I'm still here," he said.
"I feel like I've been given the precious gift of perspective," he added
While his wife, parents, a brother and sister will be at Sunday's finish line - "The joke is, that hopefully, so will I"- he sees the completion of Ironman Coeur d'Alene as more than the longest race of his life.
"It will also serve as a wonderful message to share with our children - and others - to just keep moving forward and never give up, no matter what obstacles life throws your way," he said. "Because when you put your mind to it, anything is possible."