The following is part one in a two part series which capture the many highs and but a very few lows that made up Ironman Panama City. As most fans of the Kyle Pease Foundation are aware, the foundation is intended not to showcase Brent and I, but instead to provide opportunity for other KPF athletes. It was an absolute joy to witness our very own Justin Knight compete and become an Ironman with assists from John Rutledge in the 2.4 mile swim, from Paul Lick in the 112 mile bike portion and from Tim Myers who completed the event with a 26.2 mile run. 

In the following Race Report we will hear the sounds and experience the sights of all those involved in this historic weekend including Justin Knight himself, his mother Teresa and her boyfriend Willie McCoy, as well as John, Paul and Tim (above). So sit back and experience Ironman Panama City Through the Eyes of the Ironman. 
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The Swim by John Rutledge: As I sit down to write down my thoughts about the race, I keep coming back to what could be the working title of my report, “Short swim, long journey!” The swim with JDude was indeed short… much shorter than I had planned for (I’ll get to that later), but the journey is what I’d like to focus on.

As a member of the local triathlon and running scene in Atlanta since 2009, I’ve come into contact with a number of standout people, but none garnering the same level of admiration held for the Pease brothers. I first heard about Kyle and Brent Pease as they took on the goal of completing Ironman Wisconsin in 2013, then I had the honor of presenting an award to Kyle at a local charity event in 2014. Shortly thereafter, some Atlanta Tri Club teammates raced the Publix Half Marathon with the Kyle Pease Foundation.

Before these events, I really had no awareness of able-bodied athletes pairing up to race with physically challenged athletes outside of the famous duo of Rick and Dick Hoyt. After hearing and seeing what the Pease brothers were doing, I made a promise to myself that I would get actively involved. I stress the word actively, because for some time it was easy for me to give a little bit of money to a cause, feel good about it, and then move on.

Don’t get me wrong, giving money is absolutely essential to keep an organization going, but I felt it was important for me to give of my time and energy as well. I also started to feel at the time (still do) compelled to share about the KP Foundation with my network of friends, as I had so much respect for what they were doing. 

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015, I was thrilled to help put together several teams from ATC to race the Publix Half Marathon. That is where Paul and I met JDude. In a world where there is so much negativity, JDude is a breath of fresh air! I’ve never met someone who smiles so much! That race, teaming up with Paul and Justin was extremely impactful to me.

To see how much fun JDude had was so rewarding…immediately after the
race I was thinking through when we could do it again. Apparently JDude was thinking the same thing because he messaged me the next day on Facebook and asked if I would push him at the Peachtree Road Race so we could beat Kyle and Brent! Ha, ha! I had to tell him that, unfortunately, it wouldn’t work out because: 1. I was going to be out of town 2. Have you seen how fast they run!!! It worked out ok in the end, as JDude found a much faster runner, Matt Shectman, to run with him.

Well, the wheels continued to turn. What about an Ironman? I knew that I was nowhere strong enough to complete all 3 disciplines, but how about a relay? At this point, I had no idea that JDude had been with Teresa and Willie in Panama City to watch Brent and Kyle compete at IM Florida and that JDude had said he wanted to race there next year. Conversations starting taking place with Brent and WTC and the next thing you know, green light!

The months leading up to the race had Paul, Tim and myself all racing at least half ironman distance, so after our other races were over, we started focusing on IMFL. For me, that meant getting 3-4 swims in a week. One would be an ATC swim where I swam very hard, 2 would typically be moderately paced & the 4th was a continuous swim that got gradually longer each week until I was swimming close to the full 2.4 miles I would be swimming in Florida.

While I was swimming, especially during the long continuous swims, it was hard for me to think of anything other than the race. I, literally, had a smile on my face underwater on several occasions! I kept thinking about how amazing it was going to be to see JDude cross that finish line and hear the words, “Justin Knight, you are an Ironman!”

We got a chance to run through all 3 disciplines, racing at the John Tanner Sprint in September. Between that, another swim with JDude at Red Top Mt and the rest of my training, I was feeling great coming into the race. I also had a chance to meet up with JDude, Paul, Tim, Teresa& amp; Willie on a regular basis as we trained the other disciplines every weekend in October. Getting to know everyone better over that time was really special. Teresa and Willie made a tremendous sacrifice of time and energy to allow us to get in the practice we needed. They were as much a part of the Ironman JDude team as any of us.

After having a successful and very fun send-off event for JDude at Monday Night Brewing, it was time to race! My wife, Bethany, and I headed down a few days before the race and got great sleep Thursday night, which was 2 nights out from the race. That one’s always important because the night before the race is always hit or miss for me as to whether I’ll get much restful sleep. Race morning, I woke up at about 1:45 am and never went back to sleep. I could hear some waves outside, but looked out at first light and thought everything looked pretty benign. After a good breakfast, headed down to get body marked and prepped for the race.

Getting everything set up happened so fast and before I knew it JDude was sitting in the raft, waiting the last few minutes until our 6:05 start. I had a chance to high five a few friends and give Bethany a quick kiss before focusing on the task ahead. About 10 minutes before the start, I had a chance to kneel down and pray with JDude and Teresa. I was thankful for the opportunity we had to race and asked for most of all safety.

Directly after the prayer, I was overcome with emotion...so incredibly excited to start the event we had trained so hard for. I looked around and really soaked in the crowd cheering for us. It was amazing the amount of people there to support the team! Thanks to everyone from Atlanta that came down to cheer us on! I asked JDude if he was ready to rock and roll and he responded with a resolute “Let’s do it!”

Boom!!! The gun goes off and we are in the water starting an Ironman! Because the waves were pretty strong close to the shore, I decided to hold onto the side of the kayak until I got past the breakers. At this race, all physically challenged and assisted athletes were able to start 10 minutes before the first wave of age-groupers. In our wave, there were 2 other assisted teams with athletes in boats being pulled for the swim.

As we crested what I thought was the end of the breakers, I started swimming, thinking were in the clear and we wouldn’t have to worry about large, breaking waves until we came back for the 2nd loop. Unfortunately, that feeling of being in the clear was a little premature. After taking a few strokes, I saw another large wave coming. JDude took a nice wave to face and we were able to get over this one, but I looked to my left and another team’s boat had flipped over.

Their swimmer began screaming “HELP, HELP!” in a way that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. As we were on a sandbar I was able to take a few steps toward them; close enough to see that their elderly PC athlete was still in the boat, upside down in the water. I grabbed the side of their boat and began flipping it back over. Just as it was almost back upright I looked up just in time to see a huge wave bearing down on JDude in the kayak. This wave hit us dead on with tremendous force, launching the padding we had in the boat and popping the inflatable sides out of the kayak shell. 

Although JDude never left the kayak, he was basically sitting on top a barely submerged submarine at this point! Looking at the state of the boat, I knew there was no way to move forward. Brent, Tim Adkins and a number of others came out to help us back to shore. My thought was that we would empty out the gallons of water in the boat, re-inflate the air bladders & restart our journey. A race official came up to us and said what I thought was our day was over. What? This can’t be happening! I can’t describe how numb and shell-shocked I felt in that moment.

True to the motto of “where there’s a wheel, there’s a way” Brent sprung into action looking for a pump to re-inflate the boat, absolutely not accepting that our day was over. I love that never give up attitude! A minute or two later, another official came over to us and said we would be able to continue with the bike and run, but he wouldn’t allow us back in the water. Seeing the chaos that erupted in matter of seconds and taking into consideration the stakes at risk, I understand where they were coming from. 

For a brief second, I started to have my own little pity party. I felt embarrassed that we didn’t get to swim more than about 2 minutes. I made the mistake of thinking that the race was about me. Then I heard Willie ask JDude, “What did you think when you saw that big wave?” to which JDude answered “OH SH#T!!!” followed by a big smile and a laugh! In the midst of what could’ve been a traumatic event, JDude was still having fun!

In that moment, I made a conscious decision to follow Justin’s lead and enjoy the rest of the day…and we did! It was one of the most amazing days I’ve had the privilege to live, but I don’t want to steal the thunder from my teammates as they share their stories of how things went down after the swim.  I’ll just say it was awesome! 

So, this is the part of my report where I come full circle. Yes, it was a short swim. Yes, it was a bit disappointing, but do I regret anything? Absolutely not! I saw someone who needed help and I would’ve had crushing regret had we continued on unscathed knowing I didn’t at least try to do something for a fellow competitor in obvious need. Watching the video of the start, I’m not sure it would have made a difference if I had been holding onto JDude and the kayak at the moment the wave hit anyway.

Additionally, I know not everyone believes that everything happens for a reason; in fact, I’m not sure I believe that statement holds true in all circumstances. What I do believe, though, is that something can be learned from any given situation. What I take away from this long journey is that what you focus on can greatly influence your state of mind and your perception of whether things are going well or not. I’ve raced for years and had events that made me feel proud of my effort, but I’ve NEVER felt the level of joy and satisfaction as I did racing with JDude…especially getting to cross the finish line with him!

My experience with the Kyle Pease Foundation has been instrumental in helping me to shift focus to realize that helping someone else accomplish a goal or realize a dream can be far more gratifying than constantly chasing your own. I thank JDude and the Pease brothers for allowing me the opportunity to learn this firsthand!
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And now a word from our sponsor: Kyle's new book will officially be unveiled on Sunday, November 15th during the Kyle Pease Bowling Fundraiser to be held at Stars and Stripes. If you can't make it to the event, order yours today at www.kylepeasefoundation.org. Available in regular print, LARGE PRINT, and Read-a-long DVD so that no one misses out on Kyle's story regardless of their ability.

 
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The Bike by Paul Linck
Date of Race: 11/7/2015
Total Bike Time: 7h 58m 2s
This past week, I participated in one of the most demanding and the most rewarding races I have ever done.  We put a relay team together to help Justin Knight (aka JDude or JD) complete his first Ironman.  John Rutledge did the swim leg with Justin, I did the bike leg with Justin and Tim Myers did the run leg with Justin.  

The Kyle Pease Foundation (KPF) provided everything needed – equipment, transportation, housing, athletes, handlers and all the organization to make it happen. The Kyle Pease Foundation supports people with disabilities of all kinds to be active and participate in sports. 

We all trained very hard together for this day spending our weekends riding, running and swimming together in addition to the training during the week in our specific disciplines.  We spent a lot of long days together and became great friends.

Race Morning
I was excited and nervous so I did not sleep very well.  I got up at 3:13am – 2 minutes before my alarm went off, hopped out of bed and started to get ready.  I bought 2 Chick Fil-a chicken biscuit w/egg meals the day before so I could have it for race day breakfast.  I ate those with OJ, apple, banana, some bonk breaker bars and lots of water for a nice breakfast.

At 4:00 AM I went down to the Wal-Mart across the street to meet Justin, Teresa, Willie, Kyle and the rest of our gang to walk down to transition.  It a nice time for chatting, having fun, getting rid of the butterflies and preparing for the day. 

We knew it was going to be fairly hot and humid so we discussed that we would need to take a lot more fluids than we had in training so we planned all that out.  We went into transition area, got body marked and began getting everything ready.  As typical with Ironman, it was a hectic place at 4:30am in the morning.

T1
I was walking around in T1 getting our bike setup, preparing mentally for the long ride and drinking and eating to top off the fuel I needed for the big day ahead.  I waited until all the athletes cleared transition to complete everything so I did not have to wait in line for the port-o-potty.  Then I walked out to swim exit to watch the swim.  I saw John and Justin out in the water, but I was too far away to see everything that was transpiring.  Then, Jerome came running up to me asking me where the pump for Justin’s kayak was.  He said Justin had tipped over and the air came out of the kayak and it need to be refilled.  He said they were okay, but needed to pump up the Kayak.  

I went running around transition asking everyone I could think of where it might be but just a few minutes later was told that they found it.  They were coming in so I needed to get ready to start the bike a little earlier than expected.  At that point, I had to go potty one more time and when I got there I noticed I had my bike bib shorts on inside out – holy crap.  Luckily I had time to flip them around in the port potty and re-lube with all my chamois.  Of course, there was a lot of chamois all over since I had lubed with them inside out once before … But, at least one minor crisis was averted.

Then, the fun began.  After getting Justin changed, giving him his medicine, we all got together to get him on the bike and ready to roll.  We got about a 40 minute head start on all the others, so we were the only ones in transition at the time and got to start the race all by ourselves. 

Bike Time: 7:58:02
The bike course changed from last year.  They eliminated the out and back section to Youngstown that had the 10-mile section on poor quality roads, and replaced and out a back section on highway 79 to New Hope. 

This new course was nicer, but certainly tougher for us since the new section had some hills and one fairly long climb (relative to IMFL standards).  According to my Garmin files (apples to apples), the *old* course was 1,000 feet of elevation gain and this new course is 1300.  On a normal tri bike, those hills and that little extra elevation gain is pretty minor in comparison to other IM courses, but with a 340 pound load, it has a pretty significant impact.  If I remember correctly, that was in the mile ~75- 90 range so the legs were already dead and I wasn’t expecting any hills out there.

My twin brother – Jim – was an official handler for us and rode the bike following behind us to keep an eye on things, help if issues occurred and keep in constant communication with Teresa on how Justin was doing.  Teresa was justifiably a nervous Nellie so it was extremely helpful to have Jim help keep her informed that things were OK.  By the end of the bike leg, I think Teresa was texting or calling every few minutes.  Justin just laughed it off and told Jim to tell his mom “I am busy”.

 We rode out of transition through the bike chute and the crowds were going wild.  It was amazing.  Justin was squeezing his dog-head plastic squeaker and pumping his arms for everyone.  The adrenaline was through the roof and we were pushing 250-300 watts for the first 10 miles or so – a mistake we would later pay for – but it was impossible to hold back.  We were escorted by the lead motorcycles and police car.  Everyone was yelling – “You are in first!”  Justin and I joined in the chanting – “We are in first”.  Pretty fun while it lasted.
 

We hit the 1st 10 mile split at about 37 minutes and had and an average speed of over 16 MPH.  We knew we would not be able to maintain that speed and this was one of the easier parts of the course, but it felt good to get 10 miles behind us at a decent clip.  Right about that same time, the lead male riders came through.  

They were pretty split apart and sparse – just a few of them.  For the next 10-15 minutes it was like that — just a rider here and there and no bunches.  Almost everyone that passed by cheered us on and gave thumbs up or other encouraging gestures.  Justin would squeak his dog-head horn, and yell right back at them “You are looking good too”.  If they didn’t say anything when going by he would squeak and yell “You look good”.  He wanted everyone to be as happy as he was and almost everyone was smiling after seeing him.

We continued to ride along taking it all in, getting ready for the first climb over the bridge.  I had practiced riding it the day before with our team runner – Tim – so knew what we had in store, but we hunkered down for it. 

We discussed our strategy that turned out to be the way we climbed the hills all day long.  I would keep my head down staring at the stem, and JDude would give me the play by play and keep the team motivated.  He constantly shouted out where we were – “We are about half-way now, good job!  We are almost there!  Near the top.  We got it”.  Then we crested the hill, pump fists for the screaming fans and took off down the backside reaching a speed of well over 30 MPH.  That part was fun.  See video  (thanks to Jim Blackburn for the GoPro setup and video).

At this point, it was still overcast and we were feeling very strong.  At each of the mile markers, we discussed far we had gone, but we did not discuss how far we had to go until we got to mile 100.  It is too defeating to think about what is ahead and it’s rewarding to think about what we had accomplished.

Up to this point our nutrition was bonk breaker bars – many flavors, water and electrolyte drinks.  Every 10-15 minutes, we drank water.  I would just tell JDude that we were ready to drink and he would lean his head back and I would squirt in 3-4 gulps of water from the bottle.  Then, I would drink some myself and put it back.  It got to the point where I didn’t say anything since each JD heard me grab the bottle he leaned his head back for a drink.  

Every 30 minutes we shared a bonk breaker bar and I also added a bit of hammer cafe latte perpetuem for myself.  We also squirted water on our heads and necks to keep cool as it got hot and we picked up a couple of new water bottles at each aid station.  Jim also got us some extra fluids when we needed.  For the second half of the race we consumed more fluids, watered our bodies down more often and ate more of a variety of foods like wraps and some of the other stuff Teresa put in SN.  

I did have a towel in my Jersey pocket that JD used when we spilled too much food and liquid all over him.  I have no idea how many calories or the amount of liquid we got but our goal was 400 calories/hr. for me and 200/hr. for JD with lots and lots of water but I did not keep track.  We just kept to a minimum of 15 minute routine for fluid and 30 for food with more frequent watering as it warmed up.

We were still going strong at 30, 40 and 50 miles markers.  Our power was still reasonable (~225 average).  It was dropping more than I wanted but there wasn’t much we could do about it. (NOTE: I typically shoot for 220 in IM so we figured about 210 for this, but it was just a guess since the ride was so much longer).  

Brent had told us that if we could average 15 MPH by the time we reached Bike Special Needs, we could stop for 4 minutes to have lunch.  We were at 15.2 at that point, but we had a bit more climbing to go before we hit SN so it was going to be tight.  We were both sick of bonk breaker bars bars at that point and looking forward to a nice turkey and cheese wrap and other goodies that Teresa packed.   We reached Bike Special Needs just in the nick of time – 15.0 MPH, but almost immediately after I stopped, it read 14.9 MPH so we decided to shorten our 4 minute break to about 3. 

We stopped and grabbed my Special Needs bag and Justin’s.  Mine had 2 wraps in it.  Teresa packed Justin’s and it was jam packed.  OMG.  There was a giant baked potato, 3-4 wraps, a large bag of sun chips, pretzels, M&Ms, recess pieces, candy bars, and a whole host of other items.  We had enough for us and all the volunteers helping us.  

We could have fueled 10 full Ironmans with the contents of this one special needs bag.  We will give Teresa some training on Special Needs packing in the future :-).  I gave Justin his medicine with lots of water and then we ate lunch.  By the time we started again, our average speed had dropped to 14.5 MPH so we were starting to cut it closer that I would have liked but JDude was confident.
 

Sidebar perspective.  As many of you know, I am a poor swimmer and a strong cyclist.  It actually gives me an advantage on the bike with lower stress.  I am far back at bike start so I typically spend almost the entire bike leg passing folks and don’t get close to most of the fast cyclists until close to T-2.  I can just ride my race, not worry about the others around me and I don’t pay much attention to it.  So, I don’t see what really happens on a flat course like this.  Going 14-15 MPH changes that.  

By the time we hit 30-40-50 mile markers, there was a non-trivial number of packs with a non-trivial number of riders that would fly by on a pretty consistent basis.  I am not going to harp on this, because I don’t care and nothing with spoil the wonderful day we had together.  But, I just saw the race from a different perspective than I am used to and it was, well…, different.    To be fair to all, I did not see this in the leaders (they were quite sparse) nor did I see it in the back of packers.  And, FWIW, the majority of folks were doing the best they could.   

Almost every single rider that went by us said something nice and gave thumbs up.  If they forgot, Justin would just honk his horn and that would remind them so they did.  Some of the back of the backers went by us a few times and always smiled and laughed.  Those folks tend to stop and start more than the FOPers.

I can’t remember where we were on the course but one rider rode buy us and shouted “Way to go Brent and Kyle”.  Justin and I had a frank discussion about this.   We love Brent and Kyle but we are not Brent and Kyle.  We are Justin and Paul.  This happened several more times but we were ready.  Justin would yell back – “We are Paul and Justin, we are NOT Brent and Kyle”.  Just another great idea from Justin to keep the whole day in perspective.  Okay, I don’t want to write too many words without a picture so below is a good one from the Halloween party.  (JDude is obviously the one in the Ironman costume).
 

Around the 50 mile marker the Sun started to come out more and more and it got hotter and stickier.  We were hoping for rain.  I got into a bit of a dark place in the 60-ish mile area after some tough, off-camber climbs — those off camber sections are very tough on that bike, constantly fighting to stay on line — Justin clearly sensed it and starting praying for rain – he kept saying – “we need some rain”.  Ok, some of you are going to think I am embellishing but I am not.  At about mile 60, Justin was wishing for rain and not 2 minutes later it started raining – it didn’t rain hard – but it did.  We both raised our hands to the sky and cheered and laughed for the rain.  It was great, got us out of that dark place and moved on.  Unfortunately, the rain was short lived but it gave us the boost we need at the right time.

We got to the new section on highway 79 a little before we hit the mile 80 marker if I remember correctly.  The roads were in perfect shape but the climbing in that section put us in the hurt locker.  After that section, we were riding on will power more than muscle power.  Brent ran alongside us for a bit there to cheer us on.  And, Teresa drove by, took some pictures and blew Justin and kiss.  Of course, Justin said “I am busy” and waved the kiss off and started laughing and honking the horn.  Cracked me up when I needed it.
 

When we hit mile 110, we looked for the Waffle house on Front Beach since that was our 2nd to the last turn and about 1.5 miles to go.  After we hit that, we looked for the next waffle house since that was our final turn onto S Thomas Drive and the home stretch.   The adrenaline was building and so was the lactate and the burn.

Coming down the bike finish chute was surreal.  The pain in the arms and legs was excruciating to the point where I was getting a little light headed and my triceps were weak to the point that it took everything we had to steer the bike.  Justin provided that extra motivation and got the crowds going.  We were shooting for an eight hour bike split and we knew it was in reach but it was gonna be very tight.  We pushed and pushed and made it across the timing mat just in the nick of time – 7 hrs 58 minutes.  We proceeded into T-2 and I got off the bike – which was an ordeal in and of itself.  I was completed overcome with emotion, gave Justin a big kiss on the cheek and a bear hug and almost fell over in the process.
  

From the minute we got on the bike to the minute we got off, we knew there was nothing that was going to stop us from completing this.  For me, personally, it was the only time I have done an Ironman where I did not even consider quitting — it never crossed my mind and JDude felt the same way.  We knew that we were going to finish what we started.  Justin makes you feel that way.  

He knows when to provide the extra encouragement needed in the very tough times, when to make a joke to keep things in perspective, when to get low and aero for a quicker section, and when to scold me when I deserved it – like when I got mushy banana all over his face and torso (Mom and Brent thought he got sick since he had so much stuff all over him at T-2).   

T2: T2 was pretty fun.  I almost fell down getting off the bike and was drained.  My legs and arms were dead so the Pease team with Teresa, Brent, Willie etc. took over to get Justin changed and ready for the run. 

After getting things settled.  My brother and I went back to the hotel to clean up and come back down to the cheer Justin during the run and meet with him at the finish line. It was great to get the whole team together for the big finish.  Justin Knight – You are an Ironman.

Parting Thoughts: What can I say?  Hooking up with the Pease foundation, spending time and training with Justin and meeting all his family and friends has been wonderful.  Completing an Ironman with my great friends / “dream team” of John Rutledge, Tim Myers and Justin Knight was a culmination of a lot of hard work by many extremely dedicated, wonderful people.  I am not good at all this mushy stuff so I am not going to go through the litany of great people that made this all happen since I will leave someone important out and I can’t live with that.  

I expect that Brent will take care of all that for us since he makes sure everything is covered no matter what we ‘all miss (we ‘all is like y’all).  It really opened my eyes and heart to see what lengths people are willing to go to do really good things.  Racing with JDude to assist him in completing his first Ironman is something I will remember for the rest of my life.  It was a fantastic day.  Justin has become a good friend who has helped me more than he knows. He is a very special person and makes everyone around him feel special.   A wonderful day that I hope to do again sometime – but not tomorrow. 
 

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Words from Willie: Being a part of The Kyle Pease Foundation has really opened my eyes to how others live their lives and how people with different types of disabilities are able to accomplish things if they believe in themselves and are given the opportunity to compete.

Justin and Teresa Knight are true role models setting the bar high and teaching us all that we can achieve anything that we set our minds to.  I enjoyed being a part of this experience and working closely with Teresa and Justin.  Brent and Kyle are truly an inspiration to us all.  I am so proud of Justin and the team for accomplishing something as incredible as being Ironman champions.  Paul, John, and Tim, you are incredible guys that represent the name Ironman.

I was so inspired by Justin and the team, that I am considering Ironman for myself.  Oh boy…