In an 15-16 month time period my father was diagnosed and ultimately lost his battle with leukemia, my daughter Isabella passed away and my wife was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with our son Jaden. These events shaped me. They led me to a life of endurance sports and charity. They led to the belief that blessings come out of the worst of times and now they have led me to the 2017 Ironman World Championships.
I have written a lot of Isabella posts. This will be likely be the last one. What started with a phone call 16 years ago
is ending today with a story about a very different phone call. More on that to come.
It really is amazing how a phone call can alter the
direction and perspective of your life.
On July 31, 2003 a phone call from my wife not only disrupted our 4th
wedding anniversary but changed my life forever. We were two days away from the expected birth
of our daughter Isabella Soleil when God decided he needed an Angel more than
we needed a daughter. To date, and
hopefully until the day I leave this Earth, that is the worst day of my
life. You all know the rest of the
story. Approximately 6 months later my
father passed away from leukemia (specifically AML) and shortly thereafter my
wife, Crea, was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with our son Jaden. Five years later my wife’s cancer would
return and years after that my older step daughter Tiana would be diagnosed
with the very same type of cancer.
Life can change paths in an instant and doesn’t always seem
fair and this short time frame certainly ingrained the lesson on my being such
that I will never forget it. I have
shared my story a lot. Some would accuse
me of being too open with the personal accounts of my life but my hope has
always been that my story would find its way to those that needed to hear
it. I firmly believe that Blessings come
from the worst of times. I firmly
believe that if we are breathing, our purpose here is not yet fulfilled. Even if we are taking those breaths at a dark
time in our lives……..there is more left for us……….more things to
accomplish………more lives to impact………more blessings to receive. Even if you are curled up in a ball, you can battle
back, you can stand up and fight. Some
unbelievable things came from my difficult moments. I met amazing people I otherwise would not
have. I accomplished things I certainly
never thought possible. Five Ironman
finishes. Countless marathons. A few century rides. An ultra marathon and over $400,000 raised to
fight cancer. Along the way I like to
think I impacted a lot of lives as I shared my story and coached others to
train for half and full marathons while also raising money to fight cancer.
While I can put positive words to a tough series of events,
I have never found a path around the sadness that resulted from the loss of
Isabella. If you have ever witnessed me
share my story…………..whether it was at Isabella’s memorial service or 16 years later…………I
cannot speak of this loss without getting emotional. I just cannot get through the words that
speak of the night we lost her without crying.
It took a long time to do so but this past year I decided to accept it
is okay not to be okay. I came to the
understanding I will never fully recover because Isabella took part of me with
her to Heaven. How can you get back to
100% if only 90% remains? While this
realization provided some comfort and helped me feel less ashamed at the
unwavering sadness, it didn’t do much to ease the actual sadness. I know it probably doesn’t make sense that I
accepted I would never be whole yet still try to find that path around sadness but
losing a child is a whirlwind of emotions and I just want to find a more stable
emotional mindset about all of it. I
have faith………..complete faith………that I will see Isabella again. I have faith God had a greater need for
Isabella………..truth be told both of these thoughts are the only way I made it
through all of this but this understanding and faith does zero for the
emptiness I feel when I miss my little girl.
What does all of this have to do with Light the Night? Good question my friends. Light the Night is another fundraising arm
for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Most of my time with LLS has been as a coach and participant for Team in
Training. Of the $400,000 I have raised,
approximately $275,000 was with Team in Training. Beyond the funds I raised, as a coach for
Team in Training, my amazing Westside teams raised millions of dollars. I also participated in the Man and Woman of
the Year campaign in 2014 where We Will Find a Cure (WWFAC) and I raised
$126,000 in ten weeks. Every time I ever
raised money for LLS, I was doing something I was afraid of. I was petrified to run 26.2 miles, I was
afraid of riding 100 miles, I was afraid of completing an Ironman, I cried at
the start line of my 50 mile ultra from fear of not being able to see it
through and I was very afraid of failure for the Man of the Year competition. My pushing past fear comes from and is for my
Dad. He could stare fear in the face and
push forward. It seemed to come natural
for him. For me it is a bit forced but I
try to conquer fear to honor who my Dad was and what he meant to my life. It is my way of letting him know in Heaven
that I was watching his life and learning from his actions.
You might think fear was not a factor for Light the Night
but you would be very wrong. True, there
is no crazy endurance distance to cover and there is no lofty fundraising
goal. You walk about 2 miles and you can
do so only raising $100. Easy stuff. That being said, I have steered clear of
this event ever since I learned about it.
What it lacks in athletic intensity, it makes up for in emotional
overload. At the event, everyone carries a lantern. Survivors carry White lanterns. Supporters carry Gold lanterns and those
walking in memory of someone carry a Red lantern. You relive your story. You look it dead in the eye.
The Red lantern was my fear.
It was the dark cloud of sadness that is never too far away as it
pertains to Isabella. I can always find
a way to keep that cloud out of reach but the Red lantern was the bridge to
that cloud. For an entire evening I would stare sadness in the face and I was
never ready to do that until 2019. This
year was different. I reflected a lot
about Isabella. I came to accept I would never be whole again and I came to
accept that was okay. Everyone handles
things differently. I know great people
that have suffered great losses and they handle their pain much better than I
do. Don’t get me wrong, I think I stood
tall in the face of these losses. I
fought back. I raised money. I honored promises and I will continue to do
so. I just cannot escape that
cloud. Light the Night was all about
that cloud and that emptiness. I hoped
the evening would allow me to expel my sorrow and see things differently moving
The funny thing is the night accomplished exactly what I
hoped for but in a manner I never saw coming…..with a phone call.
Thalia, Crea and I arrived very early to the event….it is my
nature to always be early. We checked
in, got our lanterns, grabbed some food and took a seat. I could feel the emotions starting to well up
as the clock inched forward to the start time.
The Red lantern was staring me in the face as a reminder of what was to
come. I did my best to stay occupied and
helping with this task came the opportunity to meet Rod Carew. It really was unbelievable timing. Thalia was only 2 days removed from learning who
Rod Carew was when we found ourselves standing before him in conversation. He was so genuine and kind. He spent a lot of time talking with Thalia
about softball which helped to motivate her.
Underlying this pleasant diversion was the fact Rod Carew was one of my
Dad’s favorite players. We talked about
him all of the time. We watched him play
all the time. So the distraction turned
into a reminder my Dad was no longer with us which brought my thoughts back to
Isabella. I actually got choked up
talking to Rod Carew just because of the history admiring such an awesome
The evening creeped on.
We ended up back at our seats. I
kept taking walks trying to hold it together.
I had built this event up in my head and heart for many years. We eventually were minutes from the start of
the event. Minutes from my plan to purge
my sadness and march into the future with a different perspective.
Then the phone rang.
It was my son, Jaden, calling from North Carolina. Without going into great detail, 5 weeks
earlier I had dropped my 14-year-old son off 3,000 miles from home. He was attending a school in North Carolina catered
towards children with ADHD. It had been
a rough few years trying to help him be happy let alone successful. There was a lot of tension in our home trying
to figure things out. I had not always
been the best Dad. My son is literally
the smartest person I know. He has
tested above college level for a long long time. That being said, ADHD made executive functioning
a challenge for him so traditional schools were not a good fit. He could ace the tests but the little things
held him back. As much as the public
schools say they understand and will help, there is no way to completely adjust
to his needs in a school of thousands.
Jaden and I flew into Atlanta. We
had some good food, caught a Braves game, toured around where I grew up and
played a lot of Minecraft at his request.
More importantly we started to rebuild a friendship. I tried to do a better job understanding his
challenges and he tried his best to meet me half way. Dropping him off at the end of the trip and
driving away was gut wrenching. Flying
home alone was gut wrenching. Not being
able to talk to your son every day was gut wrenching. I was praying he found friends and found
himself but it was all a mystery as communication with Crea and I was
infrequent at best.
The phone rang and I was ecstatic to hear from my son. I was also petrified because the first month was
sure to be a difficult time in a space so unfamiliar to him. Everything about this new school would test
his comfort zone and invade his safe space.
He went from being alone in his room most of the day to being bunked in
one room with 8 people. He went from
avoiding people socially to having to interact all day with a lot of
strangers. I was so proud that he took
on the adventure hoping it would be a path to improvement…….to finding a better
way to work around his challenges………..to friendships and interaction and
The call was everything I feared. Jaden was not in a good place. He was hurting. He was sad.
He was scared. He missed
home. I know I keep playing on the
distance from home but he was only 14 at the time (he is 15 now). To hear such pain in your son’s voice without
the ability to make a difference face to face was so distressing. I wanted to give him a hug and dry his tears
and tell him it would all be okay while looking him in the eye. That would not happen today. Only a phone call.
As difficult as the call was for Crea and I, it was the
first of two enlightening moments as it pertains to Isabella. For the entire call, I forgot about my
sadness and the Red Lantern. I let go of
that pain because my son needed me. God
had given me this amazing gift. As tough
as ADHD can be, I would not change anything about my son. God made him.
He has amazing talents that we will learn to tap into and ride to a
successful future. He is here. Despite the fact his Mom had cancer during
pregnancy and during his birth, Jaden was here.
My time with Isabella will come when my time here is finished but as I
said above, if we are still breathing, there is more left to accomplish and my
son needs me to be present and focused.
The second wake up call, albeit similar in nature, was when
I paused the conversation with Jaden to hand the phone to my daughter,
Thalia. She immediately burst into
tears. Despite all of the fighting and
animosity that Jaden and Thalia may show each other, she was hurting. Her brother was far away for the first time
in her life. When she walks upstairs to
her bedroom, he is no longer across the hall if needed. I honestly had no idea of her suffering until
her face showed so much pain. My
daughter needed me. She is an amazing
gift and one I speak of often when it comes to talking about Isabella. Thalia would likely not be here had Isabella
not passed away. Crea and I were going
to have two children. Thalia would have
been number 3. If you know me, you are
well aware I could not imagine a life without my princess. I always appreciate her but seeing her pain
took me away from my own pain. It helped
me see past the loss of Isabella and gain crystal clear focus on what I have
versus what I lost.
After the conversations with Jaden were over, I hung up the
phone. Light the Night began. It was unbelievable and I highly recommend that
you participate in the future. It is a
great way to fight back, honor and remember.
I did shed a tear or two but not for Isabella. When Crea held her White Lantern and stood in
the Survivors Circle, I shed a tear of gratitude that God spared my soulmate,
gave me two amazing kids and provides me the opportunity to see my Angel in
Heaven when my time here is through.
Thanks for reading.
Christopher D. Wilno
PS To my
dearest Tiana, if you are reading this, in my eyes you are my daughter. I view you as my own but reference ‘step’ in
writing only because I often refer to Isabella as the first child for Crea and
I. ‘Step’ is just a way to avoid
confusion to people reading that do not know our family.
PPS We raised
over $8,000 for Light the Night all in Thalia’s name. She was a top 10 fundraiser and we are
grateful for the support. In a few years
she will be in high school and will participate in the Student of the Year
Campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society where we hope to raise more than
$50,000. We hope you will join us in
that battle when the time comes.
IF YOU READ THIS POST AND FEEL INSPIRED TO HELP, WE ARE TRYING TO REACH $150,000 SO WE CAN SECURE A RESEARCH GRANT FOR KRISSY KOBATA. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT TO ME. DONATIONS CAN BE MADE BY VISITING WE WILL FIND A CURE AND CLICKING THE DONATE BUTTON. READ KRISSY'S STORY HERE!! IF YOU HAVE ALREADY HELPED, THANK YOU SO MUCH. PLEASE SIMPLY HELP SHARE THIS STORY. THANK YOU!!
I want to begin the recap of Kona week and Race Day with
several thoughts. First of all, it has
never been clearer to me how ordinary of an athlete I am. At best I was once average but spending a
week with some of the most unbelievable athletes in the world provided a clear
image of the old guy staring back at me in the mirror. Perhaps my level of athletic capability
varies with the level of heat and the intensity of conditions. If true, the gap between the true athlete and
myself widens dramatically in Kona. The
second thing I want to mention is I really am okay with this as it pertains to
the Ironman World Championships. My time
splits are horrible……..they were actually fine through mile 75-80 on the bike
but then the world unraveled and my day almost ended. My average speed on the bike and my marathon
time printed on a sheet of paper is nothing short of unimpressive but behind
the numbers this is one of my gutsiest performances and something I am most
proud of. My path to the start line included
everything I ever tried to teach as a coach.
From an athletic perspective there were many disappointing
setbacks. Even the fundraising side was
full of disappointment as some commitments made to me were not honored. Life is full of obstacles though and to be
successful it is critical we learn how to side step, go around, climb over or
bust through these obstacles. Success
rarely comes without a bit of hardship along the way and the Road to Kona was
no exception to this life lesson.
post will likely be a long one, I also want to take a second to thank a few
folks primarily as it pertains to this race.
all thank you to Ironman and the World Triathlon Corporation for allowing this
very average guy to play with the best in the world on the best stage in the
world at the best finish line in the world.
I did not earn my way to the dance like most of the others but was given
a chance and I am forever grateful because October 14th will be a
day I never forget. Anything is Possible
is something that invades your heart on the Road to Kona and because of that,
my heart is full.
to Team in Training not only for this race but for everything since I landed on
the doorstep in 2004. Without Team in
Training, I am just a guy with a sad story.
You gave me a platform to honor the promises I made to my father and
daughter and wife. You made my losses
mean something. You allowed me not only
to heal but to thrive. You gave me a
chance to share my story with others, you gave me a way to reach others and you
gave me a chance to impact lives. I hope
I have met your expectations over the years.
Blessings come from the worst of times.
You are one of the big blessings that came out of my hardships. There are so many individuals at Team in
Training to thank. I do not want to
alienate anyone so for this race let me thank Sarah Clark, Amy Moore, Angelica
Simmons and Bob Merrill.
to the NBC Crew and Ironman for finding my story worthy of interest. A huge thank you to the crew for pitching my
story and for all the work on race day to follow me around. There is certainly a chance I do not make the
cut for the telecast but I am truly grateful regardless. These guys made me feel important. They made me feel that all of my losses had
meaning. In a sea of unbelievable
athletes, the folks that followed me around during the day made me feel like I
belonged in Kona which is quite a feat.
They knew how much this journey meant to me and their presence and words
from time to time helped me to feel like I had folks in my corner.
to my wife, Crea. I am nothing without
you. I accomplish nothing without your
support. You gave so much of yourself
over the years to allow me to race and coach and speak. You stood by my side every time I signed up
for a crazy adventure. You were a
shoulder to cry on when our story got the best of me and you propped me up when
doubts crept in. That Kona medal doesn’t
just represent one race. It represents
all we have accomplished together and it is as much yours as it is mine.
to the amazing army of people that have supported this journey over the years. I trained and raced which doesn’t mean a damn
thing without the $375,000 we raised in that same time period. Without your support I am just a guy obsessed
with finisher medals instead of us being a group of people that made a hell of
an impact on the world. A very special
thank you goes out to Lori Jomsky who has been a big part of my fundraising
efforts over the years. She gave an
enormous amount of time out of an already incredibly busy life to help ensure I
was successful. As one example, Lori was
literally on the phone with me every day during Man of the Year in 2014 to make
damn sure we cleared $100,000. She works
80 hours a week and has a family with lots of time commitments, but she never
backed down from helping me. A huge
thank you to the Jomsky family as well for a)allowing Lori the time to dedicate
to these crazy adventures and b)for all of their support as well. I truly would have accomplished much less
than I have without Lori and her family.
A shout out to Javier Rivera for manning the Community Team for Road to
Kona and for the friendship over the years.
I know we weren’t as successful with the Community Team as we hoped but
we made up for it in other areas and I am so grateful we have that research
grant for Mom. You were on the first
team I ever coached. I knew immediately
you would go on to great things at Team in Training and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
to Craig Harrison and Pai Wei and Teresa Weiss-Paczkowski. Craig saved me on
building out the website we used for this race.
Pai offered his incredible talents to help make my video and Teresa
offered her time to build the initial We Will Find a Cure logo and the revised
one we used for Road to Kona which is my favorite logos of all logos ever
created!!! There are many more thanks to
give but I need to get to this race report so I am going to stop here……..for
•Thank you to my Mom.....certainly for helping to fundraise as her letter helped generate a $20,000 donation but also for standing by my side even though these adventures were pure stress for her. I also need to thank her for reliving the story over and over again. My Mom has never been the same since my father passed away. Time heals in some respect because you forget the pain. Every time I would sign up to fight back, I forced her to remember how sick my Dad was and remember how different life is without him. Hopefully my Mom can rest easy now and heal knowing we did good.
•A special thank you to the team that helped me physically get to the start line. My coach Gareth Thomas has helped me for every Ironman I ever completed. He had me very well trained so please do not let my time reflect on him. Gareth had to work around all my surgeries and setbacks. He had to tread lightly in some areas yet get me prepared. I am extremely grateful. Thank you to Repair Sports Institute who helped me heal from foot surgery and never gave up on me when the setbacks kept presenting themselves. This was my second home for most of training and I never would have seen this journey through without them. My last thanks goes to Dr. Dan Geller. It is his care and surgical skills that put me in a position to make this race happen. It was very touch and go and Dr. Geller always made time for me when my doubts and fears set in.
race week, I was in the worst mental state of my athletic career (if you can
call it a career) This instability continued during race week but I think it is
important to mention my mindset entering the week. I was extremely disappointed in myself for
the lack of confidence and, frankly, still am.
I kept trying to envision success but failed literally every time. This has never happened to me before and was
quite a struggle. I was worried about
disappointing friends and family and not being able to successfully complete
this journey. I kept imaging the things
I would say to people if I didn’t finish the race opposed to picturing a
successful finish line. People donated
so much money and gave so much time to help make the Road to Kona
successful. My family, and especially my
wife, Crea, has given up so much to allow me the opportunity to make a
difference. I could not waste that gift by failing somewhere along the 140.6
mile journey but the heat and my body are violent enemies. I have never really understood why but
managed to get a glimpse of the problem in the medical tent after the race.
I arrived in
Kona the Monday before the race. The rest of my family was set to arrive on
Wednesday to allow me some down time to mentally prepare. Little did I know how scarce the down time
would be. I felt like I was on the run
from the time our plane landed. I want
to be relatively brief here because the rest of this post is bordering on
novella. The week, of course, consisted
of all the things that accompany an Ironman.
I picked up my bike from TriBike Transport after landing on Monday, I
went to Athlete Check In on Tuesday, I picked up the family on Wednesday, we
had the welcome banquet and mandatory athlete meeting on Thursday night, Friday
included bike check in along with our Bike and Run Gear bags. Saturday was of course the race which has its
own very lengthy write up. Outside of
these standard events, the following were outside the norm and very cool.
I met the NBC crew for my interview that could potentially make the Ironman
telecast. I was nervous, but the crew
was very laid back and made things comfortable for me. On Wednesday, I sat on a panel in Ironman
Village speaking about training and racing for charity.
There were other charities represented
including Smile Train, Challenged Athlete Foundation and Team for Cures. Other than the cool part of getting to speak
about why we do what we do, the interesting part of our talk was that it was
preceded by Bob Hoffman and followed by Chrissie Wellington. I am sure most of our crowd were tied to
these unbelievable athletes. We stuck
around a bit for Chrissie because, well, she is Chrissie and her smile is infectious.
Thursday was fun. The entire family (Mom excluded so I guess
not the entire family) participated in the 2017 Underpants Run to raise money
for the Special Olympics. There were a
ton of people out there supporting in their supporting underwear all to benefit
a great cause. We all ran for a mile and
it was super fun.
Later that same day I was blessed to meet my teammates for a luncheon to celebrate the approximate $400,000 we had raised thus far. Not bad for 5 participants!!
The last item to speak
of transpired on Friday. I was
interviewed at the swim start by the Houston NBC television crew for a telecast
It was apparently very
successful in raising money for my teammate who is the weatherman for the
station. They simultaneously ran a
telecast which raised, so I am told, near $40,000. This was certainly not all because of me.
race day started super early. While I
didn’t get to sleep in I was able to get some sound sleep the night before. My kids decided to come lay with me on Race
Eve while I watched television and that seemed to comfort my nerves a bit. I felt at peace for once and it was
nice. That being said, I woke up around
2am and couldn’t fall back asleep so I hopped in the shower and started to get
all of my nutrition and fluid ready. All
in all I was bringing 4 bottles to load on my bike (2 Gu Brew + 2
Perpetuem). This would be in addition to
the Electrolyte Synergy I had in my Camelbak that I had to check in the day
before with my bike. I am fairly certain I had the only Camelbak in the race
but it was part of the plan to be able to get in extra hydration. I also had 6
more bottles for Bike Special Needs (approximate ½ way point of the bike for
those not familiar). These consisted of
the same Gu Brew-Perpetuem combo plus I had 2 more bottles of fluid to refill
the Camelbak. The only other fluid I had
were Hot Shots and Pickle Juice. The other nutrition I brought was in an XLab
Stealth Pocket bag on my bike frame which contained 3 rice cakes made with a recipe
provided to me by Ellie Kempton of Simply Nourished Nutrition. Ellie was so amazing to me. I shared my cramping issues and she took time
out of her busy schedule (and a vacation) to revamp my diet to give me the best
chance of success. Special needs also
had a few more Hot Shots and another Pickle Juice. Anyway, I am digressing with some fairly
boring nutritional data but it is important because of my great fear of the
heat. I had a plan, and all of these
things were part of that plan. During
training I was having about a bottle of fluid per hour. With the addition of the Camelbak plus taking
advantage of water stops I would have far more than 1 bottle per hour which
would hopefully do the trick.
approximately 4:15am, my family and I loaded up the van and headed towards the
swim start. We were lucky to find a great parking spot with only a ¾ mile walk
to the pier. With a 7:05am swim start
you might think we had a lot of time to hang together but that is not the
case. Once in body marking I would be
separated from my family until I hopefully crossed the finish line. I first
dropped off my Special Needs bags which was awesome cause those bottles were
heavy and then, although nervous to say goodbye, I gave out my hugs and joined
the other athletes making their way onto the pier. First stop was body marking where some
amazing volunteers helped apply the body tattoo that would mark me as #153 for
the day. After that, I headed to my bike
to check the tires, general condition (it had poured the night before) and load
it up with all the fluid and nutrition.
After I was satisfied with my bike I decided to head towards the water side
of bike transition where I might see my family and I got lucky because Crea and
Thalia were walking by. My family was
provided VIP status which was awesome and gave them Pier side seating. I really needed to see my family and this
helped to settle me down a bit. We
chatted for a while and then said our second goodbye. At this point, I double and triple checked my
bike and then went to a side area where the athletes and I would just chill out
for a bit. I sat, stretched and tried to
shake out my nerves. I also drank my pre-race
electrolyte mixture which was Hyper Hydration from Skratch Labs. It is for intense needs of which I easily
As the race
start approached, I grabbed some sunscreen and headed to the water. As I got closer to the first chip reader that
would officially mark me as present for the race Eric Begley, the Producer for
the NBC telecast said hello and guided me to clean up for the camera (I
apparently had gobs of sunscreen everywhere).
I did so and then started for the water.
There was a camera on me watching my every move which was awkward at
first but I got used to it as the day went on.
It actually ended up being very nice whether they use my story or
not. I felt like I had company and it
was a great distraction at some of my worst moments. Once in the water, two things presented
themselves to me. First was that my cap
was purple while every other male was blue.
I assume this was tied to being an athlete ‘of interest’ but never
really asked. The second realization was
the actual swim start was not the beach but a 100-200 yard swim out. I was not aware of this so I tried to time my
departure from shore so that I didn’t lose too much time (i.e. still be on the
sand when the canon fired) yet not find myself in the heart of the fast
swimmers. I am slow and I like to be at
the back of the pack so as not to get abused by those going by me. I knew the abuse would come in about 25
minutes when the women caught up to me.
They started 15 minutes after the men and the fast ones would be on me
in no time.
At 7:05 the
canon went off and the swim was underway.
The water was truly perfect.
There was no chop and there didn’t feel like any current. My immediate thought was being surprised I
wasn’t alone. I figured there would be
nobody near me for the entire swim but initially there seemed to be a pack
going about my pace. Who knew? As time would go on, the crowd would thin but
I really was never alone. I am sure all
the people around me were 70+ years old but I didn’t care because it made
sighting much easier. For most of the
swim, I practiced what I learned in an article days before the
race……….drafting. While not legal on the
bike, it is perfectly fine in the water so I would get behind someone going my
approximate pace and let them steer the ship.
I followed about 3 different people over the course of 2.4 miles and by
some amazing luck, they all swam very straight so I could spare my neck the
effort of sighting so much. This was a
huge break for me. I really had no idea
of our pace. My Garmin alerted me every
250 yards and it seemed like I was doing okay.
I stared at the fish and the athlete I was following and tried to make
the time pass faster by focusing on various
aspects of my stroke for 250 yards
at a time….left hand entering with force, hands open wider, head down and quick
breath. We got to the boat turnaround
and headed back which was really uneventful….which is a good thing. I still had no idea of my pace but when I got
back to shore I looked down and I had broke 1:40. While this would be hugely disappointing for
most, I was extremely happy. I had
mapped out a worse case scenario of 2 hours so I had cushion to spare for the
tough day that lie ahead of me.
Off to the
bike. Another amazing volunteer helped
me secure my bike Gear Bag and get me prepared to hit the Queen K. All of the volunteers are unbelievable at
this event. Some are out there all day
long and they are friendly and supportive the entire time. I am so grateful to all of those that gave
their time to help make my day a good one.
After loading up and putting on my Camelbak, off I went to exit Transition
1. I realize I forgot Chamois Butt’r so
I grabbed some Vaseline on the way out then grabbed my bike. Off I went.
The first few miles are on surface streets and my plan was to just chill
out here and let my body get used to the heat and the bike. I was in no rush. I have often said at a race that my time
didn’t matter. I am not sure I meant it
every time. For Kona I meant it without
question. I was more scared than ever at
being able to complete the journey so I had to be smart. To this point, I honestly was flawless in
executing my plan. I drank often. I did not hammer up the hills like I did at
Kona 70.3 but instead changed gears and spun at a high RPM up the hills. I was great at getting in one bottle an hour
and would then toss my bottle at an aid station to save weight. I was sipping from the Camelbak every 5
minutes to take me beyond one bottle per hour.
Additionally, I would grab a cold water at every aid station, pour some
over my head, guzzle a half bottle and then toss the rest. This plus the hydration in my Camelbak had me
with plenty of fluid. I would say the
only thing that didn’t go well was the Rice Cakes. The heat was making them mush. I couldn’t really pick one up because they
turned to soup but I had plenty of calories in my drink.
apologize but have to side track with a bit of religion. I know I don’t always appear the Godly type
but I believe in God and I love him.
Without God, I don’t think Crea and I survive Isabella. God was a part of every workout during
training and months ago I truly let go my stress for this race and gave it to
the man upstairs. I was having setback
after setback with injuries and I finally just gave the race to God. I told him I want to finish and I told him it
was important to me but I put it in his hands.
If he also felt it important, I asked him to hold me together. On the other side, I also let go of stress
and said that if his plans were different, I would understand if injuries kept
me from the start line. Well, I made it
to the start line so that was a good sign.
I said a prayer before the swim and immediately on the bike I started
talking to God. I usually talk to
Isabella and my Dad but I went straight to the source this time. I told God my plan……..I assume he knew it but
why not be certain. I told him where I have struggled in the past………mile 70 a
month prior on a training ride and mile 80ish at my first Ironman in Coeur
d’Alene. It may sound silly but I told
him that I love him and that I was giving the race to him in the same fashion I
had given my training and would be okay regardless of how the day unfolded. I, of course, told him how important the
finish line was to me and that I didn’t want to let everyone down but I trusted
he would get me through all of that if needed.
If you can survive holding your daughter when she is not breathing, you
can survive anything. When it started to
get hot, I would keep quoting Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through
Christ who strengthens me." Every few
miles, I would check in. I would mention
every now and then that keeping my tires from going flat would be a nice bonus. 😊
told, the bike was going amazing. Ten
miles at a time kept passing and I felt fresh.
I knew my pace wasn’t that fast but it was what I needed and as strong
as I felt I was going to be able to cruise on the run. I had my speech to Crea all planned. I was going to tell her that my bike was so
strong that I just wanted to protect the finish line while on the run. I was going to have her post telling everyone
not to worry but that I was just going super slow to be cautious. The bike turnaround came at approximately mile
60 and soon thereafter was Special Needs.
I replenished my fluid and headed out.
I was over half way done and the easy part was coming given the climb to
Hawi was behind me. At Kona 70.3, the
way back to town was fast!!! Little did
I know my day was close to unraveling.
after leaving Special Needs, it really set in that despite the tremendous
amount of fluid I was consuming, not a drop of pee had presented itself. My goal was to pee within the first few hours
and I drank enough to pee 3 times over yet nothing. This was not good. Simultaneous to this, nausea started to set
in and the first quick jolt of a cramp.
It quickly passed and I did not stress about it because, as I said
above, the path back to town was going to be a cake walk. I remember on the way out of town, those that
were already coming back were flying. I
could hear the spin of their wheels and I expected to follow in their
footsteps. Supporting this theory was
the first 5 miles out of Hawi. I have a
split timer that goes off every 5 miles
and my split was 11 minutes. I was going
to kill the bike course while sticking to my plan and not working too
hard. This is where the good times
ended. I started to get a few more jolts
of pain. I started to heave some with
nausea. The mileage on my Garmin seemed
to advance much slower. Exertion on the
bike will aggravate or trigger my cramping so I decided to spin as much as
possible sacrificing some speed. To my
dismay was a great deal of headwind that presented itself. With about 30 miles to go, I was having to
put out effort even on the downhill because of the wind blowing in my
face. This made it difficult to simply
spin and it made the gentle rollers appear more like a steeper hill from a
level of effort perspective. I continued
my conversations with God and then massive cramping set in while climbing a
hill on the Queen K. My entire lower
half locked up in pain and I remember thinking I cannot and must not stop. I literally screamed out and begged God to
stay with me and hold me together.
People probably thought I was nuts but the pain was excruciating. If I stopped pedaling I would fall off the
bike because I was going uphill so I had to grit my teeth and suffer. It was horrible but I got up the first hill
and got a little bit of relief on flat ground.
The headwinds were becoming a nuisance, though, because I could not get
anywhere with any level of pace. I was
going 13-15mph even on the downhills.
Needless to say the cramping got worse as did the nausea. I kept drinking but still no urine. I tried to figure out what movement would
trigger the cramping but there was no magic formula. The last 30 miles contained a lot of out load
screaming, grunting and begging my watch to go faster. I would notice some folks off the bike on the
side of the road stretching. I thought
about doing the same but was afraid of not being able to dismount or not being
able to get back on the bike. I was
really hoping my tires held up because the cramping was even in my hands so I
don’t know if I would be able to change a tire. Mechanic Trucks kept passing me by and asked if I was okay. I always said ‘yes’ but was praying they
would make another run back up the course in case I did get a flat. It really was getting unbearable. I had these same cramps in a workout about
1-1.5 months prior to the race and I had to have Crea pick me up. My poor 9-year-old daughter, Thalia, was also
in the car that day and heard me screaming in pain because the cramps would not
let up. That is exactly where I was on
the Queen K but I had to pedal through it and I am blessed to have been able to
made it back to town. I had about 2
miles to go and tried to coast my way home as much as possible and started to
mentally prepare for how I would navigate the bike dismount. I knew my body would gridlock in pain and
wasn’t sure how to make it happen. I was
hoping for a good supply of amazing volunteers left to help me. I decided I would yell out for help
explaining the cramps and that is exactly what I did. I must not have been the first with the issue
because they all quickly got the message.
An army surrounded my bike to hold it up while I tried to unclip and put
my foot down. Someone literally had to
lift my leg over the bike seat as my body locked in pain. It is required that I cross the dismount line
on my own efforts so the volunteers cleared the way as I stumbled into
Transition 2 where they immediately took my side. I know I didn’t look good but the questions
immediately started coming:
“Are you going
to continue?” Just keep moving
“Sir, are you
sure you want to continue?” Just keep moving forward.
“Sir, I am
not sure you should continue.”
concern went from a question to a statement I finally felt I needed to reply.
“I KNOW IT
DOESN’T LOOK GOOD BUT I HAVE TO TRY”. I
think this was the answer they were after. The rest of
the race really could be summed up into the mantra I said above………just keep
moving forward. I was nauseous and in
pain but I was thinking I had set myself up to finish if I could just move
forward. It really is a life lesson for
all of us. Life is not going to come
without challenges. Things will come our
way that make us want to curl up in a ball but if we are breathing there is
still more to accomplish. Just keep
moving forward and the blessings will come.
I made it to
my run bag and secured some help to remove my bike shoes and put on my running
shoes. On with the visor, down the hatch
with a Hot Shot and out to the exit from transition where I knew I would find
my family…..both blood related and Team in Training. We are all family.
there. Of course they were because they
had been present every step since I started this journey in 2004. I cannot remember what I said but in case my
pain was not evident, I likely told them I wasn’t feeling so hot and to prepare
for a long day. If I didn’t say a word,
I am sure my body told the story.
started walking. Just keep moving forward.
sure if I would ever be able to run but I had taken my son’s watch which had an
interval timer built in (once in Triathlon mode I did not know how to change
the run interval). Upon trying to set
the watch (on my right hand) I learned that my left hand wasn’t working. I did not have any finger strength to be able
to push the buttons. I think it was some
carpel tunnel type situation from the bike and the cramping. It is still evident today as I type so it
might require a doc visit in the near future.
I had to take the watch off and use my right hand to make the
changes. I set a 30 second run, 2 minute
walk. I know that sounds pathetic but it
was something. I had to try. There were so many people out there cheering
me on. The spectators and volunteers are
unbelievable at this event. They shout
encouragement, humor, distraction all to help you keep moving forward. They had seen the pros and unbelievable age
groupers come through and here I come hobbling down the street. They treated me the same. I was never made to feel less than.
Time to try
that run. I had to use my knuckles to
start the watch and off I went. It was
only a shuffle but I was successful. My
Garmin is set to capture each mile split and I was averaging under 14 minute
miles………super slow but I was encouraged that this might get it done. It was less than 2 miles prior that my day
was looking in doubt. There was hope with the big assumption I could keep this
up for another 24 miles.
really the story for much of the remainder of the race. I did my best to shuffle when I could trying
to stay in range of a 13:30 per mile pace.
I felt like death. I could not
keep any food down. Any fluid tasted horrible
but I tried to force myself to drink A
hollow sound in my ears from dehydration set in so it was tough to talk and
tough to hear but I tried to thank every single person cheering. I managed a pathetic clap accompanied by words
of encouragement for everyone that passed me or everyone I passed. I tried to reward the outstretched hand of
any child with a high five in return.
Just keep moving forward.
Much of the
first 10 miles is on Ali’i Drive…………starting the wrong direction from the
finish line. The turnaround to head back
to town was actually at the house I was renting for the week which seemed like
cruel placement!! Could I just go lay
down for a second? After I turned, I
decided to mess around with the interval a bit.
I couldn’t really change the settings given my hand was not working so I
just started the run with about 20 seconds left on the walk. This gave me a 45-50 second run and a
1:40-1:45 walk. It doesn’t seem like
much but my mind wasn’t functioning enough to know if I was on pace to finish
so I had to grab every spare second I could.
In addition to this, I could feel the deterioration so I didn’t know how
long before my body would completely shut down.
If I could get a little cushion, I had to take it.
I made it
back to town and this is when the television crew found me again. They pulled up beside me and didn’t say a
word but their presence was a big help.
I tried to give them some running footage so I ran for a few
minutes. I wanted to keep going but I
had to get back to my walks for fear of shutting down on film. They quickly picked up on my plan and
adjusted accordingly. Once in town I had
to make a right turn to head up to the Queen K highway. I remember seeing my family again. I told them I loved them and then screamed
for Crea to catch up to me. I told her I
couldn’t think straight and asked if my pace had me on track to finish. She was very confident with her answer that
it was only 6:30pm and I had a ton of time with 16 miles to go. Onward I went and quickly found Bob Merrill
of my TNT family. Can you guess what I
asked him less than a minute after seeing Crea?
Yup………is my pace good enough to have me finish the race? He gave the same answer. My family was in agreement!! I asked this question about 10 more times
from this point until approximately mile 20.
I was now on
the highway. The next big step would be
the Energy Lab which was the turn to head back home to finish this
journey. Since I had 16 miles to go I
figured the Lab would be around mile 18.
Darkness set in. Complete
darkness. There are no street lights on
the highway. I literally could not see
the ground in front of me. Thankfully
the glow in the dark necklaces started to appear and a few folks had headlamps,
knee lamps or shoe lamps. I didn’t even
know some of these items existed but was sure glad they did. I was very nervous with each step but tried
to keep up my intervals because despite the assurances of others, I could not
get comfortable I was going to finish.
My goal was to struggle through to mile 20 and then walk it home if my
mind would finally accept I would finish.
The 30 second run was becoming a struggle. I was started to dry heave near the end of
each 30 seconds. I stopped taking drink
or fluid. I would swish it around my
mouth but spit it out. The hot soup made
its way to the water stops. I tried
it. Bad idea. They had dinner rolls. Those actually sounded good so I took
one. There was literally no moisture in
my body so I couldn’t generate the saliva needed to break down the roll. After chewing for a few minutes, I spit out
the roll and I don’t think it looked much different than when I put it in my
mouth. Just keep moving forward.
in a while the tv crew would make it to me.
They really were incredible. They
distracted me. They made me feel like I
was somebody important. They also
provided lighting!!! They would ask how
I was and offer encouragement. I finally
made it to the Energy Lab which was well named.
That place was rocking with music and excitement. I felt horrible but I couldn’t help but
muster a smile at all the people there to help make sure we kept moving
forward. I had about 4 miles total
inside the Energy Lab. There was a
little more filming while in there. A
little more music. I remember one lady
working hard to try and get me to dance.
I laughed and told her that if I attempted one move, severe cramping
might end my day but that I was grateful for her enthusiasm.
Back to the
Queen K. Headed for home. I made it to mile 20 and asked that question
of fellow athletes one more time: ‘are we on pace to finish?’ Hell yes was the response. You have 1.5 hours to spare. I decided to shut down the intervals for
several reasons. First was the
darkness. I felt if I took one wrong step
in the darkness and fell……my body might not be able to get up. I could not risk that. In addition, dizziness was starting to
accompany the nausea. I couldn’t risk letting
that get so bad that it stopped my day.
My time was already horrific. I
just had to cross the finish line. I
walked as fast as I could and encouraged everyone still heading the other way
towards the Energy Lab. I thought they
might be at risk of not finishing and I wanted them to keep the faith. We were all out there suffering together. We didn’t know each other but we were all
family!! We wanted everyone to finish
and get that medal.
crew came up to me one last time. We
talked for a while. I tried to mask my dizziness. They asked some questions
which was awesome and took my mind of the suffering. They asked what the finish line would mean to
me and that if any realizations came to me while on the course. This is when I shared what I did at the
beginning of this post. I realized that
the medal that would be given to me if I managed to make the finish line
belonged to my wife as well. I realized
it was our medal……..not my medal. We
talked about the volunteers and the support and how remarkable they were. They were out there all day giving off more
energy than I could ever describe. They
will not let you stop. They will not
allow you to get inside your own head.
Their encouragement forces those legs to keep moving. Unbelievable!! We talked about the promises being fulfilled
once I crossed that finish line. When
alive, all I ever wanted to do was make my Dad proud. That is all I still wanted. I wanted to make Isabella proud of her
Dad. I told her I would lead a life that
makes her proud. I still have work to do
on that promise but I hoped Kona was a big step forward. I wanted to thank my wife for beating cancer
twice. I wanted to raise money and
finish so she knew how grateful I was.
The tv crew filmed and talked to me and, like I said before, distracted
me. They told me they would see me at
the finish line and off they went.
after I could see the traffic lights that would send me back towards Ali’i
Drive. I could hear Mike Reilly talking
and the music blaring. Mike is one
remarkable dude. He is out there all day
long and I swear to you he gets more pumped as they day goes on. You would think his enthusiasm would wane as
the hours pass but it doesn’t. It never
does. I have a great deal of respect for
the Voice of Ironman and really couldn’t wait to hear him call out my
name. As I turned towards Ali’i Drive,
the crowds started to pick up. We were
all so close. Everyone around me was
struggling but we all encouraged one another.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to run at the finish line but there were
too many people around me not to give it a shot. It felt like forever before actually getting
to Ali’i Drive but I finally made it.
Shortly thereafter I veered to the left and was in the finish
shoot. The crowd was thick with
excitement. Hands were outstretched for
high fives as if I was somebody much more important than I was. I started to run. The music and the energy made me forget the
pain. I high fived as many people as I
could and then up the ramp I went when I heard Mr. Reilly call out my name and
proclaim me an Ironman. I turned to the
crowd, raised my hands and applauded them for their support. I wanted to stay up there longer but didn’t
want to steal the stage from others……..and I needed to see my wife, my kids, my
Mom and some medics. I pointed to my
family and then went to see Crea who put a lei around my neck. I gave her a hug. I wanted to hug her for 10 minutes and cry in
her arms but I was feeling so horrible that I needed to keep moving. I was worried where my Mom was too but Crea
pointed me towards her and I saw she was fine.
I told Crea I didn’t feel so good and need to get moving. I saw Eric Begley again………..he told me to
give my wife a kiss which I happily/dizzily obliged.
Soon thereafter the dry heaving began and I knew I needed to get to the
medical tent. No need to go into much
detail about my visit there. They
couldn’t believe 17 bottles of fluid disappeared without needing the restroom. They weighed me. The weight loss coupled with all the other
signs led to 1.5 liters of IV. They took
some blood and determined my kidneys were failing……….I am supposed to get this
checked out back in Los Angeles. After a
while, I managed to feel good enough to leave the tent and reunite with my
family. This IV was my first and I can
confirm they are unbelievable. I felt
good enough to rush over to the finish line to join the party and cheer in the
final participants. There were only 5
minutes left for the men and 20 for the women.
The place was rocking doing justice to my claim this is the best finish
line on the planet. That IV allowed me
some dance time which was unbelievable.
To be with my family and share this experience with a medal around my
neck………it was all I hoped for. I crossed
that finish line a different person…….a person that I hope stays with me the
rest of my years.
years. $375,000 raised. Lifetime friends made. Dreams realized. Promises fulfilled. It all came to be on October 14th
on Ali’i Drive.
Well this felt like a recovery week on all levels. It certainly was for training which my body needed. On the fundraising front, a late week push helped generate some funds but I had expected the week to be more about planning anyway and we made good progress there.
We generated approximately $1,800 this week. Not much has been coming in the mail any more from my letters. I will send a second round over the summer that will hopefully generate more funds. We did good out of the gate but there was less participation than I had hoped. I am super grateful for everyone though. Many folks have given to me over the years and this venture might be the straw that broke the camel’s back. Later in the week I sent emails to all of my prior teams and that generated most of the funds that were raised. We had non-monetary wins/progress though.
The biggest announcement ties to Community Teams. This will allow anyone to create their own page for this journey and raise their own funds that roll up to the total for the Road to Kona. As I keep saying, I want this journey to be for everyone touched by cancer and this will allow you to join the battle and fight back. You do not have to do a race. You can send letters and emails (I can help), you can have a garage sale, you can sell lemonade………whatever you want to do to raise funds is fine by us. There also is no minimum. You can raise $10 or $10,000. If you do want to incorporate a race it can be any distance you wish……….1 mile, 5K, 10K……..anything goes. If you choose to go the race route and want me to build a schedule for you, I would be happy to. I should pause here to mention a good friend of mine Javier Rivera is helping to lead the Community Team effort. He has already created an individual page and has spoken to folks that might be interested in joining. Javier and I met at Team in Training. He was a participant for my team and went on to great things. He has coached many seasons, he is currently on the Board of Directors for LLS, he is a fellow Ironman and he does all of this for his Mom who is a survivor. Our goal is to get a research grant in her name!!! Our goal is also for the Community Team to raise $30,000.
I will write a separate post on the Community Team and put it on our home page but I also want to point out that anyone who raises $300 will get a virtual or live entry to our Road to Kona 5K. It comes with a t-shirt, medal and if you join us live, all you can drink Bloody Mary’s or Mai Tai’s. If you feel you are ready to do this, you can create your page now with zero obligation. Just click the link below. Once you get to the site, click on JOIN AS INDIVIDUAL on the left side of the page and follow the instructions.
We finalized our logo and I really like it. I am a sucker for turtles. A huge thank you goes out to Teresa Weiss-Paczkowski of Elena Trevino Design for all her efforts to produce this logo. They have been there to support my efforts since I was in the 2014 Man of the Year campaign. They designed the original logo and they volunteered their services to produce the Gala program which helped to generate more fundraising dollars. Please check them out at:
Website: www.elenatevinodesign.com (website is being remodeled)
FB: Elena Trevino Design
Twitter: teresa paczkowski @tpacart
Anyway, the logo is above. This allows us to produce t-shirts. We will have this design on the front and the quote that has driven much of my experience at Team in Training on the back:
“It always seems impossible until it’s done” Nelson Mandela
It really is a great shirt and we hope you will like it. The logo and the t-shirt allow us to finalize the medal so that we can launch our virtual 5K and lock down our date for the live 5K in Venice, CA currently slated for Saturday, September 9th.
I believe that is it for fundraising. There was certainly a lot of work and planning but not all of it is newsworthy.
This is my daughter’s site www.palomasol.com . She makes unbelievable jewelry. She is also a cancer survivor. She has, without any intimidation by me, agreed to donate 25% of your purchases back to this mission. Check out her amazing work and use the code ROAD2KONA for free shipping and to make sure she knows to set aside the 25%. I will write a separate post about this as well.
As I mentioned above, this was a recovery week. I always ramp up 2 weeks and then recover the third week. That means this week ramps up but my workouts will be challenged Tuesday and Wednesday because I am old. By old I mean I am having a Colonoscopy on Wednesday. Truth be told I am a little freaked out. I have spent so much time fighting cancer that I always feel it is out to get me………like it is some living breathing entity that seeks revenge.
Anyway, I only trained 106 miles last week. The toughest swim was a 3,000 yard swim. It was my longest of this training season and felt good. It was certainly a boost to the confidence. On the weekend, I had a brick workout that had me ride 3 hours and run 1.5 hours. I rode 50 miles and ran 9.62 miles. The best part of the week is that I remained pain free. It is unbelievable to train without any pain…….it has been so long
That is it for now. I hope you will join via a donation or via the Community Team.
It was a strong week for training and fundraising although I really need to improve on reaching folks that do not know my story. That is the only path to reaching $130,000 and to date all donations have come from individuals that personally know me and/or my wife. I have said this before but on some days it feels like this journey could be easy if we could just get 100,000 people to donate $1 each. The challenge is how to get this journey in the hands of 100,000 people. I am an open book so feel free to share your ideas.
I will let two Instagram posts do the talking but this was the best training week I have had since my biking accident in 2013. If you made it to this post without reading my story, someone opened their door in 2013 while I was on the bike and it has been a huge setback. This week things went differently for me though. The overall stats are that I trained 195 miles consisting of 3 swims, 2 straight runs, 2 trainer rides, a 2 hour ride and one 5.5 hour ride followed by a 15 minute run off the bike. I did all of this with zero pain which stresses me out to put in writing but to hell with superstition. The most amazing workout was a 13.1 mile training run. It was the first time since my accident that I ran without the fear of pain. I was able to let my mind escape and just enjoy the run through some amazing landscape. I followed this up two days later with my first tempo run where I allowed myself to run at a sub 8 minute mile pace. That is a big step mentally for me. I have been utilizing extremely conservative run-walk intervals in the spirit of staying healthy. I will continue to do so because finishing the race is far more important that pushing myself to an injury. If my confidence continues to improve, I will allow myself to push from time to time. My weekend was mainly about the bike. Seven and a half hours of total riding split up into a 2 hour ride on Saturday and a 5.5 hour ride on Sunday. I cleared the 90 mile mark on the long ride with 5,600 feet of climb. It was good mentally to get in the distance. I now enter a recovery week which is a good thing because I am most definitely sore as I type this Monday morning.
We had a good week raising approximately $4,800 towards our $130,000 goal. On the surface it sounds like we are way ahead of things but most of these funds are from letters and emails I have sent out. I have budgeted out various ideas and I have a path to $70-75,000 which means we still have a very large gap to close………or we need 60,000 people to each give $1. We also did a lot of filming for the video to be featured at www.wewillfindacure.com . It will take some time to edit but a huge thank you goes out to Paiwei Wei for taking time out of his busy schedule to shoot all the footage and help to produce the video itself.
I expect this might be a slower week on the fundraising front but we have a lot to accomplish. We will launch our community teams, we will finalize our logo thus finalize our t-shirts and thus be very close to launching the virtual 5K and locking down a date for the live event in Venice, CA. There is so much to do but nobody said ending cancer would be easy.
Thanks for your time and for following this journey. If anything here inspires you, please share our story. If you would also consider a donation, we would be grateful. This journey is about everyone touched by cancer. Join us.