Thursday, January 16, 2020

Wake Up Call

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 forward.
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 player.

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……… friendships and interaction and confidence. 

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. 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

An Ordinary Guy, An Extraordinary Day: 2017 Kona Race Recap


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.

Because this 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.

•First of 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.

•Thank you 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.

•Thank you 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. 

•Thank you 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.

•Thank you 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.

•Thank you 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 now.

•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.

Leading into 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.

On Tuesday, 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 that day.
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.

 As always, 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.

At 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 qualify.

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.

I now 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. 😊

Truth be 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. 

Somewhere 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 do so.

I finally 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 forward. 

“Sir, are you sure you want to continue?” Just keep moving forward.

“Sir, I am not sure you should continue.”

When the 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.

They were 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.

I simply started walking. Just keep moving forward.

I wasn’t 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.

This was 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.

Every once 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. 

The camera 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.

Not long 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.

Fourteen years.  $375,000 raised.  Lifetime friends made.  Dreams realized.  Promises fulfilled.  It all came to be on October 14th on Ali’i Drive.

Thank you from this very ordinary guy.

Monday, May 1, 2017

April 30th Weekly Update


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.

Community Team
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: (website is being remodeled)
FB: Elena Trevino Design
Twitter: teresa paczkowski @tpacart
Instagram: teresa_elenatrevinodesign

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.

Paloma Sol
This is my daughter’s site .  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.

Christopher D. Wilno

Monday, April 24, 2017

Week Ended April 23rd: Strong Results

This post can also be found at 

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 .  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.