The following is part two in a two part series which captures 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.
I am so proud of Justin and his family for their wonderful accomplishment and I can't wait to see the next wheel in our journey.
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.
Back Story by Tim Myers: I had just come back from a fractured hip and was running my first 13.1 race on Sunday, March 22nd at the Publix Half Marathon. I had heard that a few teams from ATC were organized to help the Kyle Pease Foundation assisting their athletes. John and Paul were to assist Justin Knight (aka JDude) for this event. They had such a great experience. Seeing all the pictures and stories made me feel a little selfish that I didn't offer and participate. I had a few discussions with John after the race and I told him I would be interested if ATC did more with the Foundation.
He mentioned that he had some discussions with Brent Pease about doing a relay at Ironman Florida. I told John I was most definitely in. We received verbal confirmation on May 17th at Chattanooga 70.3 that it was a go. It was hard to hold back the excitement, but knew I had a few races beforehand I had to concentrate on.
On Saturday, September 12th we organized the team of JDude, John (swim), Paul (bike) and I was doing the run for a test race at the John Tanner Sprint. JDude's mom, Teresa, was there with her boyfriend Willie, along with Brent and Kyle Pease. It started off with Justin having a seizure and then he got a little cocky and flipped the boat and he went under. Luckily he was fine, but this happened all before the start of the race putting a little fear in us. Not the best way to start the day, but we learned a lot about both Justin and Teresa's character and confidence in us and the process.
John had a great swim and Paul buried himself on the bike. I finished the run in 24:52 (8:01/MI) and was completely spent, as was Paul. It was a great experience and eye opener for all of us, knowing we had to put in the practice time if we were to make the cutoff at Ironman Florida.
Training: After I finished Ironman Chattanooga and John and Paul finished Augusta 70.3 on September 27th, it was time for us to start our training for JDude's Ironman in Florida on November 7th. My first day of training was October 4th and it included 6 weeks of training for IMFL. I ran 18 times for 135.19 miles and 18:17:28 with and without JDude and the chair. It was great bonding time for the Team and JDude's family.
We worked on pacing, nutrition and most importantly communication. I wouldn't trade this experience for anything as we became one big family. To further attest to our bonding, we all got Mohawks to become unified. The confidence grew each and every week and we all knew we would give it our all and help Justin become an Ironman.
Pre-Race: I traveled down to Panama City Beach, FL on Thursday with Paul. When we arrived the team registered together for the race. Later that evening after dinner we all went to the Justin's hotel room where a local news channel did an interview with JDude, Teresa and the Team.
The next day we had planned to do some training with JDude, but only were able to get in a test run up the West Bay Bridge with me as Paul's passenger on the bike. We were all confident that we had the training needed for a good day for JDude. Later that night we all met at Longhorn for our pre-race dinner. It was great to see so many there in support of JDude.
Race Day: I woke up at 3:45 am and had my normal 2 packets of oatmeal and a banana. I sipped on EFS powder until the start of the swim. John and I walked down to Transition to get body marked and meet the Team at 4:30 am. Once we had everything setup in transition we started down to the swim start to prep the kayak for the swim.
We walked through the process and had a few last minute directions before John and JDude went off for the swim at 6:05 am. The waters looked pretty good with a few breaks closer to the shore. The excitement of JDude becoming an Ironman was overwhelming.
Swim (John): I was very proud of John and how selflessly he handled the swim when things didn't go as planned. It showed how much character and what a class act he is. Justin was also great during this whole process. We were all disappointed, but seeing how JDude and John handled this situation we knew we were going to move on and still have an awesome day for Justin.
T1: After a long wait, we took Justin to T1 after the swim and changed him completely out of his swim clothes into his dry bike clothes. Justin was then wheeled around to the bike, where Paul was waiting to start the journey in hopes of doing a sub 8 hour ride.
Bike (Paul): While they were out on the bike, I waited and watched both Bethany and Rogue go out on the bike. After they were on the course, Jen and I grabbed a late breakfast and then headed back to the room to rest. We watched a few entertaining feeds from Periscope that Brent was hosting on the bike course. We also were getting texts, phone calls and Facebook updates from Brent and Teresa throughout the day on Paul's and JDude's progress.
About 12:00 pm, I headed to Pizza Hut for some pasta and then went out for an easy ride to warm up the legs. Once I received notice that they were at mile 100, I headed to transition to ready myself. I had heard from Brent that Teresa was bit concerned over JDude because of the heat of the day. I took a mental note and started to plan for the run. As we were waiting around for Paul and JDude, I was getting anxious, nervous and excited. Standing there with my Heart Rate monitor on, I saw that it was reading around 85 BPM. When they started to get closer my HR started to climb. When I finally saw them coming in to T2 it shot up to 110 BPM. I guess I was starting to feel that excitement that is was now my turn!
T2: We took JDude off the bike and into a chair we would use to take him into the changing tent. Paul was spent and JDude looked tired. We had a few special moments and laughs in the tent and at that moment we knew Justin was ready to go. After getting JDude into his running gear, we headed out to place him in the running chair.
Teresa made sure he took his medicine and was okay to continue. John sprayed him with sunscreen and then we were off to the run course for 26.2 miles. It was my turn to take care of the man of the day, and I was more than ready to do my part.
Run: We started off on the run course and had Marjan and Kyle pacing us for a few yards. The plan was to go out easy, breaking down the course in 4 quarters. We would try to do a sub 4:00 marathon that JDude and I talked about during training. Breaking down the course in 4 quarters is easy to do since the run course is a two loop out and back. Ultimately, all of our goals were to get JDude to the finish line so he could realize his dream of becoming an Ironman!
Well, my plan didn't start off well. I was on such a high to start the run, I couldn't slow down or hold back. We approached the ATC tent and I did a wheelie with JDude. ATC was so loud and encouraging to JDude. It was quite a sight to see and be a part of. Justin was smiling and laughing and I couldn’t help myself from grinning from ear to ear.
I was so darn excited that I ran the first 2 miles at a 7:53 and 7:41 min/mile pace. Hardly taking it easy or a sub 4:00 hour marathon pace, but the adrenaline was very high and this was just the beginning of the fun. As we passed all the Tri Club Tents on Thomas Drive, JDude was given so much love and encouragement I couldn't stop smiling. The spectators and athletes were unbelievable throughout the day.
We turned onto Surf Dive and the encouragement just kept coming. Surf Drive starts the seemingly endless succession of speed bumps. At first JDude and I were having fun with them breaking up the flat course, but after a while it became mundane. JDude would make me laugh as we approach each one, saying "Oh boy, here's another one!"
We approached the first aid station on Surf Drive, and from earlier conversations with Brent I knew my priority was to keep JDude cool and hydrated. I made sure before we started the run that he had a hat on so I could put ice in it and keep him cool. JDude and I communicate as we approach each aid station, so I would know if he needs any liquids or solid food. I knew for the first half of the run we would still be running in the sun, so I took extra precautions to make sure he had ample liquids at every stop.
When we came up on an aid station I would call out water and a volunteer would hand me the water and I would stop and put it into JDude's hand. I would then call out for Gatorade, GU or water for myself as needed. Drinking and slowly walking through the aid station until Justin was done drinking was a priority. I was in no hurry to start running, until I knew he had enough hydration. After all, if I hurried too much and he didn't get his hydration his body could shut down and that would be the end of his day and that burden would be on me.
I was not about to let that happen, so we took extra time at each aid station. I made sure he took in water and I would also continue to put fresh ice in his hat and sponges on his neck. JDude would also pour water over himself as needed. I was constantly checking in with him to evaluate him. I even told him I would be doing this more often than usual and he might get tired of it, but I wasn't going to stop as this heat was a serious thing.
We continued that similar approach to each aid station, changing out sponges and getting ice into his hat. We started getting more efficient with each and every aid station. In some cases, a volunteer would come out to us and ask what we needed. They would run back and get everything we needed so we could keep moving. I still took my time at each station to make sure JDude was getting the hydration that he needed.
It was a challenge to get around people, but we managed with Justin's mighty horn and me patiently waiting for people to move over for us. We were moving well compared to the rest of the field. I later found out from Rogue we passed over 1,000 athletes. I even started calling "On your left!" I think JDude got a kick out of me saying that, so with horn in hand and him yelling "On your left", how could I not help but smile the whole time out there?
I think a few people would get a bit discouraged when we came up on them with JDude honking and announcing we were on the move. Once they saw what was happening, not one of them didn't acknowledge him and saying what we were doing was "Awesome". JDude would say right back to them "You are Awesome, too". JDude was so polite with each athlete when they would say "Good Job", "Keep it up", "You are an inspiration", etc.
It was hard not to get a bit emotional and just keep smiling. He motivated me to continue to work hard and get him to the finish line. The one that cracked me up was when someone would say "Keep it up!" and JDude would respond by saying "Alll Daaaay Loooong!" I told him that I didn't think I could keep it up all day long, but I would keep it up to the finish.
As we continued on, we came across a small dirt section near a bar a few miles before the St. Andrews State Park. Each time we went by it, the people erupted for JDude. That was really exhilarating and timely, giving us a lift. As we approached the park, it became a little more difficult to maneuver around people. We ended up taking out 4-6 smaller cones in one section to get around people and JDude thought that was fun, but definitely unavoidable.
We made our way into the Park and saw Angela Nelms at the Base Salt station and she ran with us shouting encouragement to JDude. It was a little bit of an uphill there so it helped me get up that section a little faster. We made it to the turnaround and headed back to the start where I told JDude he would see his Mom and the rest of the Pease and ATC families.
On the way back, the sun started to set and JDude told me he was getting cold. I quickly made sure he didn't have any ice in his hat and removed all of his sponges. I didn't want him to go from hot to cold, as that could have been just as bad as being overheated. I would continuously check in with him and ask if he was hot or cold. He would say "No" to either one and I would then ask if he was "perfect" and he would say "yes". So that became our word when I would check in with him. Are you hot or cold or just perfect?
As we made our way back to Surf Drive and all the speed bumps, we started to bottom out on some of them. I would not have been concerned, except knowing what happened the previous weekend to Kyle and Brent at the NYC Marathon left me a little concerned. I wasn't about to stop and I knew we had a backup plan, if something were to happen. So we continued and just had fun with it.
Making our way back to Thomas Drive and the Tri Club tents, it was getting loud again and we started looking for the ATC tent. I planned to give my sunglasses to Jen and get my headlamp from her for the second loop. I told Justin about the swap and that he would be wearing it. I think he was excited about it wearing it. We passed the ATC tent doing another wheelie and they went nuts for JDude.
We continued on and Brent was Periscoping and talking to us about our first
loop. We did the turn to head back by the ATC tent and our second loop shortly after. This time we stopped and Jerome assisted with putting the headlamp on Justin. Everyone was so excited for JDude at this point. We were in good shape to meet our goal of sub 4:00 marathon after running the first half at 1 hr:46 min and both of us still feeling good.
We headed out on our second loop and JDude did a great job of shining the light on the course ahead of us. Athletes could see us coming and would politely move to the side and Justin would thank them. We made our way over the speed bumps again and made our way out 1 mile at a time. The 3rd quarter was the hardest for me. I could see our splits getting slower, but just tried to push through it.
Justin could hear me sighing and he would tell me to take my time. How could you not love this kid? I made it out to the dirt/gravel area and we were again greeted with a much needed roar from the bar. Continuing into the park, I took out a few more cones as we made it to the Base Salt station where Susie Kelly ran up the hill with us, shouting encouragement. After that I kept telling JDude we were getting close to the turnaround and then we would be heading home and he would become an "Ironman!" He would say We will become and Ironman....all of us!"
We made the turn and I started to get excited. I didn't have much left to push the pace, but knew I could maintain and possibly run a faster split then the 3rd quarter. We saw Susie again as we passed by the Base Salt Station. She ran ahead of us and yelling "fast runners coming!" to get people to move aside. I think JDude got a kick out of that.
On our way back, we continued to get encouragement from everyone. I continued to check in with Justin and asked if we was doing okay and he said "Perfect". I asked him about halfway back if he was able to pee. He said with a smile "3 times". I knew we had done a good job with hydration at that point. If you know Justin, he will never say he is tired, but he confided in me that he was tired heading back in; saying it was a long day. I told him I was tired too, but we were going to make you an Ironman. He again corrected me by saying "We"!
Along the way back we came across a gentlemen at an aid station that had pushed an athlete for the Team Hoyt in the past. I think everyone knows the story of Dick and Ricky Hoyt that paved the way for so many. He was doing the race solo today, but was extremely gracious as he grabbed the chair for me and started pushing as I was assisting Justin. Although only brief, he told his story and that touch me and I got that second wind.
We also came across Caryn and Kerry, the other assisted group that John helped out in the water, and we spoke a brief word to each other giving encouragement.
After that it was all downhill. I was pushing as hard as I could breaking the course down from a 10K to a 5K and then to 2 miles. I kept telling JDude we were heading home so he could become an Ironman. At about 1.5 miles I started yelling out loud to him saying "You are going to be an Ironman!" over and over again. As we approached Thomas Drive again it felt like we were flying.
I was so pumped up and he was so excited. I told him we would stop by the tent and take off the headlamp so he didn't have it on for the finisher pictures. As we approached the ATC tent I could hear JDude and a song I requested from John, The Final Countdown by Europe. We had listened to this song during a training run capturing a moment we had together as we were getting closer to the big day.
We quickly stopped and removed the headlamp. Jerome filled me in that John was going to meet us at the beginning of the finisher's chute and run across with us. I was so excited for him, especially after the swim. I had hoped all four of us could cross the line together, but understood it wasn't possible under the WTC rules.
We left the ATC tent and continued onto the Finisher's chute. I was getting so pumped up and continued yelling for JDude. I came across some slower runners, but hung back to give us all some room. I saw John and we were both so jacked up for JDude. Together we pushed JDude down the Finisher's chute until we saw the Pease group, along with his Grandma and Grandpa. We stopped so that everyone could get a piece of JDude. They were all going nuts and John and I were walking on air.
I did a few wheelies and a spin that Justin and I had practiced and talked about. For a few weeks before, we had discussed him walking over the line with assistance. I told him to think about it and let me know during the run in case he was too tired from the long day. About halfway through he told me he didn't want to walk over the line. I told him that was fine, but I asked again before we approached to make sure. I asked him what he wanted to do for the finish and he said it was up to me, hence the spin and wheelies.
After the spin, we waited to give him some space to cross the line alone. With fist pumped in the air and yelling JDude became an Ironman and his Mom Teresa was there to put the medal around his neck. It was great to see Paul and his brother Jim at the finish. It was an exciting and emotional ending to a magical day.
Nutrition: Gatorade at every aid station except when taking a GU w/water at mile 2, 6, 10, 14, 18, 22.
3 Salt Sticks approximately every 5 miles. Total calories: 600+ Gatorade
Run Time: 3hr: 46m: 09s Pace: 8:37/mile
Post-Race: After the race we had a few pictures taken together, champagne was popped and we walked on air for the rest of the night and a few days after.
Talked with Paul and his brother Jim about the bike experience and discussed my run with JDude to everyone. Received a lot of hugs from friends and family. Couldn't thank my wife Jennifer enough for her love and support through this whole process.
What would you do differently: Not one thing!!
Rate your overall experience with this race: 5 out of 5. This was by far the best race experience of my life thus far. I was thankful for this opportunity to assist JDude to complete his first Ironman. Teresa and Willie were awesome through this whole process and we forever bonded with them. Also thankful for the Pease Foundation and Kyle and Brent for all they do for athletes like JDude. You guys are an inspiration and I truly hold you in a class by yourself.
John and Paul and now my brothers and we feel like together we can achieve anything that we set our minds to it. JDude is the best! We could not have had the memorable experience in the race had he not been such a great person, athlete and friend. I was honored that he allowed us and trusted us to help him become an IRONMAN!
JDude's Race Report
When did you know that you would like to do an Ironman? Last year when Kyle and Brent showed me how it is done. When I watched them, I learned about how they trained for it and I watched them work hard and get it done. I knew that they believed in me and I knew that if they could do it, I could too.
During training with your team, did you ever consider changing your mind and not going for it? Nope, I never even thought about giving up on what my dream was. This year I met, Paul, John, and Tim and they are my team.
How has becoming an Ironman changed your life? I think it has made my life really, really better. I feel I am stronger and it makes me feel like I can do anything. Don't give up, and don't quit on anything. Paul, Tim, and John are so much fun. We worked hard together. Each one of them is strong. I feel like we all fit together and we are special. I am happy that I have new friends now.
How did you feel when you got to Ironman Village to actually register? I was calm, but I was excited too. I was excited because I knew that it was for real and I was really there and I was really going to get to do this race. Everything was coming together. I felt like we were going to do really well because we had worked so hard.
When you woke up on race day what came to mind? 3 am sucks! That's what I was thinking... but besides that I was ready to get my swim gear on and head over to meet my team at the start. It was dark and a little cool out there but we made our way over to where the boat was. I wasn't nervous, I was thinking everything was going to go smooth. So my team and supporters got me settled into the boat and got me onto the water. John and I were getting over the breaks in the water. Some of the waves were crashing kinda hard onto the boat but John was able to get me over them. He started to swim and then the lady next to me flipped over in her boat and yelled for help. John swam over there and helped her. A big wave rolled right on top of my head, as I saw it coming I yelled a couple of words that I can't repeat here, held on tight to the boat, turned my head and closed my eyes. The wave hit really hard and made my boat come apart. I still wasn't scared, I knew I was safe. I was just trying to get all of the salt water out of my mouth so I could breathe again. Everyone got me to shore and we were going to start again, but the race people said no way so we just started to get ready to go to the bike. I was still having fun!
What was your favorite thing about the bike ride? I was comfortable on the bike but man that was a long bike ride I was excited about the next step in the race. It was pretty cool to be the first team leaving out on the bike. Paul was awesome in helping me get food and drink all day long. It was pretty cool passing other bikers on the street and cheering them on. I could tell that Paul was having a hard time at the end so I kept cheering him on to push, push, push up over the bridge. I told him that he could do it. It was hot out there too. When I knew Paul was having a hard time and it was hot out there, I said "let's pray for rain"... and you know what... it rained just enough to cool us off some! My favorite part was coming down the bridge faster than 30 mph. When we made that last turn on the bike, I was so excited that I was about to be getting off of the bike and ready to move on to the next challenge in spite of sore hips, legs, feet, and fingers. I loved hearing all of the people cheering for us when we came in from the bike. I couldn't stop smiling and it was awesome.
Tim was ready and waiting for us to head off on the last part of this race. He was nervous and excited. We were all smiles as went ran into to the run out area. Everybody was cheering so loud. Kyle was screaming so loud for us and he even ran right beside us for a minute. Tim was so fast! We were passing everybody. Tim took great care of me, keeping me cooled off with ice and making sure I had something to drink. We were yelling "On Your Left", so many times to all of the people we were passing. When we were feeling tired, Tim would say to me: "we are gonna keep pushing, because you’re gonna be an Ironman soon JDude. I kept telling him "You can do it"... On the second loop we stopped by the ATC tent and got a head lamp so that I could keep a watch out for people and holes in the street. I helped Tim get around anything that was in the way. It was cool to see people we knew who were on the course cheering us on. That really pumped me up!
When we came down the home stretch to the finish line, it was so loud. Everybody was screaming, I was screaming and throwing my arms up in the air. My whole body was sore, but I didn't care. All I could do was scream and pump my arms in the air. My heart was beating so fast and Tim yelled "You are about to be an Ironman". The lights at the finish were so bright it was hard to see, but I managed to see my grandparents, Kyle, Brent and so many of my other friends. That was the most awesome feeling. After I came over the finish line, there was my mom and she put the Ironman medal on me along with a kiss on the cheek. That made me happy and pumped me up. When I thought it was over, not so much.... there was Kyle with a bottle of champagne and gave me my very first champagne shower! I felt so much love from everybody.
I think that other people with disabilities will see what I did and they will know that they can do anything. I want to help others to make their dreams come true. We are all Champions.
And Mom's report:
Wow! Where do I begin? This weekend was an experience of a lifetime for me as J-Dude's mom. I always knew he was a strong soul, but that really radiated through him during this whole Ironman experience.
As I woke at 3 a.m. on Saturday, November 7, 2015, I knew that this day would be like no other since Justin's birth 27 years ago. In part, I had an idea of what to expect but another part of me was filled with excitement, fear, and butterflies in my tummy. I knew that Justin and his team had trained hard and that he would be in the best of hands out there on the Ironman course. I believe I was subconsciously in constant prayer for his safety, for no seizures, and for him to have the time of his life spreading his love, light and infectious smile. My prayers were also with his team: John, Paul, and Tim, as well as all of the many supporters that made the trip to PCB - that they would be safe and healthy and love every moment.
It was 6:05 a.m. and time to head out into the waters of the gulf for the 2.4 mile swim. I admit that this was the only part of the course that I was somewhat nervous about. After getting settled into the boat, John Rutledge came over and prayed with Justin and me and prayed for all of the athlete’s safety. A few minutes later, Willie McCoy came and prayed over Justin as well. I knew all was going to be okay and we were set to head out into the crashing waves. I was so excited all I could do was smile and yell for the guys as they headed out. They made it through that first set of breaks and we all stood in silence for a few minutes as the waves started breaking again and the neighboring athlete needed help after she capsized. John immediately went to her rescue while simultaneously another HUGE breaking wave came crashing down on top of Justin. Your first thought might be that I would totally freak out. I stood there watching, with my eyes fixated on Justin. I saw that he had held onto his boat, he was still sitting upright at that moment, and he was still IN the boat. Just knowing that he stayed in the boat was instant relief and I just knew that he was okay. Many people rushed out to help get him...Much love and thanks goes to Brent for being one of the first ones to drop everything and leap over waves to get out there to make sure he was okay. I know that was very calming for Justin just knowing you were right there. Once on shore and catching his breath, Justin yells to me: "Hey Mom.... I'm still having so much fun!" John, you kept my guy safe and helped a fellow athlete. You were exactly where you were supposed to me in that moment and did exactly what needed to be done. Happy times!
What a team effort in T1 getting ready for that 112 mile trek on the bike with Paul "The Beast" Linck. It was the coolest sight to see these two (and Jim) riding through the bike course. Every time we saw them, they were smiling and focused. Even after mile 98 in the heat and knowing they were about to take on "the bridge", they were still looking great and strong. They zipped by us so fast that we almost didn't even see them! Justin was all about cheering on the other athletes. The stories that Paul came back telling me about how Justin really helped him through some tough moments out there just made my heart smile. I filled with pride as Paul told me how Justin was so encouraging, positive and engaging throughout the 112 miles. I am so happy that he is learning how to let his inner light and strength shine through. Being a part of KPF and his Ironman team has really taught him more about himself and how to reach in and pull out strength that he didn't even know he had. Coming in to T2, it was evident that the guys were really feeling that 112, but you know they just kept those smiles going. JDude was ready to rock out on the 26.2 marathon just minutes after coming in to T2.
Leaving out with Tim Myers onto the run course, he was like "alight, let's do this!" He kept Tim pumped through the miles. The ATC crew was so supportive with their music and cheers! These two were flying through the streets. No one passed them! They passed over 1000 other athletes - JDude was honking his horn the whole while.
Once they were on their second loop it was time for us to take our places at the finish line. Brent and Kyle, you were both so gracious with making this so special for me and Justin's grandparents. Grandparents took their places along the finishing chute and I took my place inside the chute just past the finish line. I was so ecstatic when I saw them coming towards the finish. I was so excited, I could not even cry! I remember just jumping up and down screaming "You did it J-Dude, You did it"!! It was so heartwarming to see his HUGE smile as everyone screamed for him and he was giving high fives and fist bumps, yelling and smiling with his arms up in victory. There is nothing that can ever compare to the feeling of putting that IRONMAN medal around my guy’s neck. I am so proud of the young man that he is. I am so very grateful and humbled to be a part of such a caring group of people. Kyle, and Brent I will never be able to thank you enough for what you have done for Justin and for our family. You have given us an extended family, a desire to set and reach new goals, and a renewed confidence that "Anything is Possible" because "Where there is a Wheel, There is a Way!"