As the many details of this adventure started to come together, one question kept popping up from friends, “What cause are you going to promote?” The answer to that question seemed to be more difficult to determine than we ever would have guessed…until all of sudden it was easy.
The first couple of charities/organizations we looked into made the business of supporting them a great deal of work: ‘submit a business plan to tell us what you are going to do for us.’ Holy cow! We have no idea how much money – if any – this effort will raise. Helping shouldn’t be so hard! At that point, we thought that we would just pray about it. When the right cause presented itself, we would just know.
Flashback to 2005:
|Varsity Shirt from 2005 -2006 season|
Brent was in his first year as head wrestling coach at Regis Jesuit High School. Though he was years away from competing in his first XTERRA triathlon, we had always been fans of the annual TV presentation of the Ironman World Championships from Kona, Hawaii. The professional athletes were certainly admirable, but it was the human-interest stories that were always so compelling and inspiring; none more so than the story of Jon Blais – Blazeman – in 2005. Jon was a young man who competed in that year’s event after having been diagnosed with ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease. We were so inspired by Blais’ outlook on life and his determination that Brent showed the story to his varsity wrestlers as part of their team-building retreat. Blais’ story so affected the boys that they chose a quote from him to adorn their team t-shirts and be their motto for the season:
“Face your fears. Live your dreams.”
While at his class reunion, Brent became reacquainted with an old football and wrestling teammate, Don Young, who revealed that he had been diagnosed with ALS. Don’s acceptance of his fate, his positive outlook and his determination to make the most of his time made an impression that has stayed with Brent in the weeks and months since the reunion.
Our older son, Ryan, has developed an interest in road triathlon and competed in his first Half Ironman this past summer. One of his Christmas presents was the boxed DVD set of the Ironman World Championship broadcasts from 2004 – 2011. Ryan had never seen the 2005 broadcast that included the Blazeman story, so on Christmas afternoon, we started with that. We then watched the 2006 broadcast. In 2006, Jon Blais was back at Kona, though confined to a wheelchair instead of racing. He watched another young man complete the race in his honor. The disease had progressed and indeed would claim Jon's life before the 2007 race. But ALS does not have the final victory. Jon’s inability to compete could not diminish his wisdom and his ability to inspire.
After watching the DVDs, both Ryan and I told Brent, “That’s your cause – the Blazeman Foundation.” It just felt right. Maybe. Brent would still need to establish contact with the Foundation to see if it – they – would have any interest in the humble efforts of this adventure of his, XTERRA Across America.
|Jon Blais - Warrior Poet|
On Friday, December 28th, after a little internet research, Brent made a phone call to the Blazeman Foundation for ALS hoping he could connect with someone who would care to listen to his story. The person who answered the phone was Jon’s mom, Mary Ann Blais. She listened. She cared. She then promised to have Jon’s dad call Brent as soon as he returned home. Bob called a little while later and the two talked for almost an hour.
We had thought that when the right cause presented itself we would just know. Well, this was it. The Blazeman Foundation for ALS is a small family-run organization trying to educate and raise awareness about this devastating disease. They gratefully welcome the efforts of anyone willing to help – which just makes us want to help them even more.
So, if you have an extra few minutes, watch Jon’s story or check out the Blazeman Foundation site. We think some of the facts about ALS will surprise you – and we know that Jon will inspire you.
“Understand that this is not a dress rehearsal. This is it…your life.”