Raymond Braun

Raymond Braun was at rock bottom. For most of his life, the LGBTQ+ advocate and social media star was able to keep his OCD in check, masking his symptoms with his lively and effervescent demeanor.

But when the COVID lockdowns began, Braun fell apart. The YouTube sensation became holed up in his apartment, boiling his fruit and washing his hands until they bled. Trapped in a deep mental abyss, Braun started an OCD treatment program, where he created a pyramid of new exposures he was going to try.

The list started small: brush his teeth without boiling the water; leave his apartment without checking the door. But Braun capped off his mountain of possibility with one massive feat: participating in his first triathlon.

Fast forward a little bit, and Braun hasn’t just competed in a singular triathlon. He now holds a world record.

This February, Braun became the first person to ever complete seven Olympic-distance triathlons on all seven continents. The Stanford alumnus accomplished the herculean feat in just seven days.

“When I entered an OCD recovery program, we set completing a triathlon as the pinnacle goal for me to work through all of the mental health tools that I was learning,” said Braun in a TV interview. “So I thought, ‘What an epic way to complete this OCD journey.’”

Braun started his epic journey in Antarctica and ended in Miami, with stops in South Africa, Australia, Dubai, Spain, and Brazil in between. The odyssey was taxing: Braun was pushing himself to the physical and mental brink and then flying across the world–only sleeping for a maximum of two hours at a time.

The pain was part of the plan.

“I wanted to take on a challenge that is so extreme, so unthinkable, something that nobody had ever done before, to show, ‘Look what therapy did for me,'” he said.

Next month, Braun is slated to compete in his first triathlon since February. While his body needed rest, he deliberately stopped racing for a prolonged period, so he could reset his mind.

He explained his tactics in an Instagram story posted Tuesday.

“After the 777, I took a long break from structured triathlon training,” he wrote. “I wanted to let my body fully recover and to make sure I wasn’t developing any unhealthy compulsive exercise habits. Being in recovery for OCD, I need to be careful to clearly define the line between intense, invigorating, motivating training and disordered eating, body dysmorphia and/or exercise addiction.

“Today was my first day doing a proper pool workout in several months and it felt amazing.”

Braun’s openness shows the work to overcome obsessive thoughts and tendencies never dissipates, and that’s OK. For those with OCD, the first step towards recovery is treating yourself well.

When that happens, it’s possible to experience incredible triumphs, such as when Braun slurped down some gnarly lake water while racing in Madrid.

“I took in a big gulp of what smelled like sewage water, complete with the kind of algae on top that attracts flies,” he wrote. “I could have stopped the race right there; I had already won. Just two years prior, I couldn’t eat a blueberry without boiling it first. Now I had just inadvertently taken a shot of sewage.”

Nothing screams “victory” like swallowing some algae!

Braun was far from a fitness fanatic until he started competing in triathlons. In fact, he says he never ran longer than three miles prior to COVID.

But in cognitive behavioral therapy–one of the most effective treatments for OCD–Braun says he learned to accept uncertainty and confront his phobias with courage. During “exposure therapy,” he found great comfort in long bike rides, swims and runs.

Around this time, Braun’s best friend, Maya, was undergoing chemotherapy. When she made the painful decision to transition to hospice care, Braun promised her that he would complete a full-distance Ironman triathlon. The strenuous training and preparation helped him process his grief–and keep a promise to his dearest friend.

Since then, Braun has been insatiable, competing in athletic events around the world.

A long-time social media star–he once appeared on a 2018 episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race and directed his own Pride documentary–Braun is used to telling stories. But his own might be his most important one yet.

Scroll down for more shots of Braun living his life to the fullest…

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Driven features stories and interviews highlighting the thrill of the queer journey, celebrating tenacious LGBTQers whose courage to be themselves fuels their drive to succeed.

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