During my short career as a golf professional, I met a lot of great people. One of those people (or group of people) is the Caldwell Family. Mark Caldwell is retired from the Washoe County Sherriff's Office, and was working at the golf course when I started working there. We became friends fast and worked together for 5 years. During that time, my wife, Janelle and I learned that we were going to have a baby.
During Janelle's pregnancy, I experienced all of the fears of having a healthy baby. At the same time, Mark's granddaughter, Olivia was fighting brain cancer, and passed away. I will never forget that day that Mark came into the bag room with the news. It broke my heart and really hit home, having a baby of my own on the way. I wanted to do something but had no idea what or how. Golf pros aren't the highest paid people in the world, and I wanted to create awareness for the horrible disease and help out these kids who deserve a fighting chance. Mark's daughter in law, and Olivia's mother Katie, had beat me to it and founded the Olivia Caldwell Foundation.
At this time, my wife Janelle had been roping me into doing races with her for years. We had done triathlons and numerous running events together. I figured the next race for me that I hadn't completed was a full ironman. Katie was living in Wyoming, so I chose the Ironman Coeur d'Alene with the hopes that everyone would be able to go to the race, with the neutral location of Idaho. I had never met Katie before, so I told Mark what my plans were and he got me and Katie connected.
Janelle, Katie, and I got together via phone and emails to brainstorm how to raise funds and the Race for Olivia was born. Katie started a Face book page and I formulated a training plan. Janelle was the brains behind all of the content and fundraising, while I swam, biked, and ran, over and over, and over. Our goal, by the end of the race, was to have raised one dollar for every mile that I trained. Over the next year, I had traveled over 3,000 miles and raised over $7,000 from people all over the country. It was eye opening how much support we were getting.
As if training for a full ironman wasn't enough, that year brought many more challenges. One of my mentors in the Marine Corps had committed suicide, we had to put our beloved Saint Bernard down, and being a father and husband is always priority number one. So, life is simply busy. Through all of the hard times, and spending my days off work completing eight hour bike rides, I had one thing in the back of my mind - none of these struggles is as hard as losing a child. That is what kept me going. People need to fight for these children who cannot fight for themselves.
About eight weeks from the race, I landed in the emergency room with epididymitis. For those that do not know what this is, I will let you look it up. I was given mild antibiotics because apparently what they wanted to give me, would weaken my tendons, and there is a history of it rupturing achilles tendons. Being a less effective drug, the doctors were unsure if it would work. If it didn't, I would've had to switch to the other drug for treatment, and not be able to finish what I had started. That would have been devastating. After 11 months of training, to be forced to stop. Luckily, the medicine worked and I was able to use the two weeks to rest and recover. The last few weeks of training went by fast and it was time to head to Idaho.
The morning of the race was early, cold and dark. I headed to the start with my family and friends that had travelled with me to be a part of this. Everyone was wearing Race for Olivia shirts that we had created as another way to raise funds. This made it easy for me to see them, hearing them was not a problem as they were screaming every time I went by. The 2.1 mile swim was a breeze. Probably my best event, and I was very fresh and rested. Next came the 112 mile bike ride. Cycling is my nemesis, and just happens to be the longest part. But not too far into it, I rounded a corner, looked up and saw Katie, whom I had never met, for the first time. I instantly knew who it was and got a spark of energy. I can't explain all of the things that happen mentally on a ride that long, but it was like the twilight zone. Ironman Coeur d'Alene has a high percentage of people who do not finish, and I experienced why during that day. As I was riding, I saw people rolling around on the side of the street, and many just sitting there in defeat. There were many times that I wanted to turn around and quit. Each time that thought popped up in my head I thought of Bella. I could not bear to face my 3 year old daughter and tell her that I quit. I pressed on, and the pain was over later that afternoon.
Next came the full marathon. That was the easy part. Running has always been my strength. The challenging part of the run was more of a mental challenge than anything. When the sun went down, I realized I had been out there literally all day. Bella knew I needed something and ran out on the course as I passed her, to give me a big hug. There was another surge of energy. The run was three laps, each being around nine miles. So while I was out there, everyone you saw would ask what lap you were on. Man was I jealous of the people who got to turn right to the finish as I turned left for laps two and three. During that run, I was ingesting everything from straight salt to Coke a Cola. Just as I was about to turn right to the finish, someone handed me a Red Bull. I could hear the music and everyone cheering about one eighth of a mile away. Almost home.
Crossing the finish line was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I had so many people that supported me through the last year there. I immediately went and hugged Janelle and Bella. Mark and the other employees from the golf course were there. Finally, I then got to meet Katie. We hugged and had a special moment, that being the first time we had ever met.
Now that it has been a few years since that day, many things have changed. Janelle and I have another beautiful daughter named Chloe and we have another psychotic dog named Happy. I'm not sure if Bella really remembers that day, or the purpose behind it, but I hope I set an example for her that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I also hope she always follows through on her word. But most of all I hope she will always try to make a difference in this world with whatever she feels passionate about. As for myself and Janelle, we are still doing races, nothing as extreme as before we had two children, but we still stay active. I hope my efforts in the Race for Olivia, brought awareness to the foundation. You don't need to do an ironman, or anything physical for that matter. I challenge you to find what you are good at, be creative, and use that skill to better the world. As they say in the Ironman community, "Anything is possible."