Post was originally featured on More Than Sport, June 15, 2016
By Sara Francione
On May 12, 2016 I boarded a plane to Texas with the ticket I’d purchased the day before. I’d considered going there to cheer for my amazing friend and pro triathlete Bree Wee several times, but always talked myself out of it. I had to get a solid weekend of training in, I had to go to work, I had to blah, blah, blah. Then I saw this…
This sealed the deal, so me and my cowboy boots were Texas-bound ya’ll! As a More Than Sport athlete, I was invited to represent the team and DO MORE than just cheer for my fellow Ironmen, I was going to help them change lives.
After a long and amazing weekend of cheering and working, I stood in the hospital room I had been waiting to get to, and went to hand my very own finishers medal (from my first Ironman) to a little girl. I could not have been prepared for what I would feel at that moment. The wonderful memory of Mike Reilly saying “Sara Madden, YOU are an IRONMAN!” came rushing in and I burted out “Hi, I’m Sara, and this is the medal they gave me when I finished my first Ironman in Lake Placid. It was really hard, and they give you a medal at the end for being strong and not giving up…” I choked on the tears as I held out that nickel and blue and red medal to her.
“I want you to have my medal because you are much braver than any Ironman!”
One last time, I held in my hands that feeling that wells up when you realize you can overcome something that seems impossible, painful and even terrifying, and then gave it to a little girl who needed to know that she too was brave, more so than I will ever be. My medal was finally in its rightful home.
Often in my life as an Ironman, I have wondered why any sane person would ever sign up for such torture. To get a finisher medal? To prove that I could do what I once imagined was impossible? Those are great reasons, but I could never shake the feeling that I was missing a puzzle piece. After this experience I can confidently say I have a WHY that is bigger than a medal. It took me five years to understand that I needed to experience the pain and fear and victory of Ironman so I could meet some amazing people that would alter my life in the span of one weekend….
You would never know by looking at him that he is a cancer survivor himself, but 26 year old George Bember celebrated 10 years of being cancer free by racing his first Ironman. While most Ironman Texas finishers were still hobbling around, and rightfully so, George and his girlfriend Christine were helping us gift the Finisher medals to children on the very floor where he had been a patient in 2006.
“I did this race to honor those I met in the hospital, those I lost and those who are still fighting. I wanted to raise money, honor God for healing me, and to make it something bigger than myself… I didn’t want Ironman to be about me,” George, who has also run several marathons, explains. “Before cancer I thought running a mile was endurance running. I never thought I could run a marathon… or ever do an Ironman. The tipping point was the Snowdrop Ultra and running for something bigger than yourself. I would have never considered endurance racing otherwise!” George Bember– Ironman
“We loved seeing people come into the hospital and visit us. When you receive a gift that is something so special to the person who earned it, and you know they are giving it up for you, it can be really impactful, empowering and inspiring.” Bree Wee- Professional Triathlete
“I definitely thought about those children out there. It was my first race where I had my medal promised at the finish line so I knew no matter the difficulty of the day I had to finish. I gave my word. And an Ironman compared to the children’s battle with cancer is minor!” Carrie McCoy- Professional Triathlete
“I wanted to finish. I wanted to give my medal to the Texas Childrens Cancer Center to be donated and I found inner fire from that… I ran on heart, and so when the storms came in I just kept on running, and when it hailed we just kept running and when they tried to get off the course…we just kept running… I see so many posts of just how amazing it was that we raced in this weather and all the troubles of this Ironman … But it’s just a race, it is one day and it’s a gift. There are much greater battles that are being fought from families who lost their homes due to the floods… or the kids we donated our finisher medals to who are fighting cancer.” Iron Dave- Ironman
“Ironman Texas would be my 4th Ironman, and in the years I started this sport, sadly I have never raced for another cause or meaning but for myself. I have many friends who have overcame a lot to compete, and I’m blessed that I have not had to deal with any real hardships in my journey. These kids are showing more courage, intensity and fearlessness in one day than I have in my lifetime. Whatever issues or challenges I faced in Texas, it pales in comparison to the battles these kids fight. I decided to donate my medal because if a medal I earned can inspire one kid to fight a little harder it will be worth it. I just hope they smiled a little brighter that day. The reality is, these kids are the ones inspiring all of us.”