Battle Buddy Series – A Prayer for the Weary, Part 2
Recap from Part 1
Jay Hewitt, diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, had decided to begin training for an Ironman in 2019. He started exercising to build up his endurance as soon as he underwent radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment. He needed to do this in order to launch into the real training; a grueling 16-week regimen before the actual event in Australia.
He had endured so much to achieve his goal but due to the worldwide pandemic, Ironman not only canceled Australia but soon thereafter, canceled Ironman events around the world. Despite not allowing cancer to be victorious over his mindset, Jay had to admit the pandemic was getting the better of him. He wasn’t sure he would ever be able to accomplish the only thing on his bucket list: to run the Ironman and show his young daughter what it meant to overcome the odds.
Feeling the disappointment set in, Jay pondered whether or not it was even worth continuing with his training. With no event to get ready for, Jay had to step back and admit the toll that such strenuous training had taken on not only his body but his family. His wife, Natalie, had always been supportive and understood his reasoning behind such an imposing goal but she already sacrificed so much. Not only did she have her full-time job as a University professor, but she also had to work around his crazy training schedule and help home school their 5-year-old daughter, who was now no longer in school due to the pandemic.
Jay had a choice to make; he could ease up on his training and alleviate some of the strain on his family or he could continue the same level of training in the hopes that the pandemic would loosen its grip on the world and group events could be scheduled again. Neither choice seemed ideal given that he had no idea how much time he had left to do anything.
Frustrated, Jay reached out to a friend he had in London. This same friend was one that Jay had reached out to a few months prior during his training because he was a director. Since Jay’s daughter, Hero, was only 5 while all of this was occurring, Jay didn’t know how much she was comprehending. The idea was that his friend could record his journey and leave a video trail for young Hero when she was older. His London friend had an even better idea. He would make a feature-length documentary about Jay to be released in 2021.
Now with all the cancellations, they were on the phone again. Jay admitted to him that he felt defeated after coming this far. He wasn’t sure what he should do. Jay’s director friend suggested reaching out to the producers of the Ironman themselves. After all, when they heard of Jay’s incredible story before the pandemic, they had reached out to Jay in support of his road to Ironman and asked him to be one of their featured foundation athletes. Perhaps they would have some ideas.
Indeed they did. They told Jay that they would be holding an Ironman Kona VR event on October 9th, 2020. VR meaning Virtual Run that would allow runners to chart and track their own 140-mile course. Bolstered by this amazing news, Jay knew what he had to do. He set into action and planned out his very own course. He mapped the running portion so that the finish line would end up in front of his house, allowing him to run into the arms of his wife and daughter. Though Hero was only 5, surely this would be a memory that would stick with her for the rest of her life. Ironman graciously offered to host the event. He was going to get to complete his mission after all.
Oct. 9, 2020: Race Day
Not only did Ironman hoist banners around Jay’s mapped course but they had their crew stationed with video cameras everywhere. Incredibly it seemed that every one of his friends, family, and community came out for the event to cheer him on, too. Jay never intended for it to be so epic when he set out to do this. He wasn’t in it for attention by any means. From the beginning, it was always his goal to set the example for Hero and show her what she was capable of overcoming. If, along the way, his story helped lift others who may be feeling as weary as he, he considered that a worthy bonus.
Natalie and Hero blew the airhorn that sent him on his voyage. Running toward the ocean, he immersed himself into the water AND the 2.4-mile swim. He spent this time in prayerful reflection and it was what he describes as “peaceful and serene.” At one point, he swam past a footbridge only to look up and see the throngs of his supporters. He was truly galvanized by the love he felt but it was when he saw the beautiful faces of his wife and child on that bridge that the unseen tears filled his goggles.
Next up: the 112-mile bike ride. It was the bike portion of his training that could often be a problem for him because one of the side effects of chemo was muscle cramps. Miraculously, he describes the entirety of the bike ride during the actual competition as pure joy. It isn’t often that one gets to have personal police escorts along the whole of the Pacific Coast Highway from all of the different cities he rode through. His spirits elevated, he could find nothing unpleasant about this experience. He was awe-struck.
With 114.4 miles out of 140.6 out of the way, Jay transitioned confidently into the last portion of his triathlon: the 26.2-mile run. He had not fooled himself into believing this would be an effortless part of his journey. He anticipated the muscle cramps potentially being a problem. He even was cautious not to over-exert himself too quickly as he did not want to suffer any seizures as he had once before while pushing too hard during a training run. What he had not factored in was the severe nausea that settled in from almost the moment he began running.
You see, a common problem for patients that are receiving chemotherapy treatment is the havoc it can wreak on the digestive system. This is owed to the powerful chemicals that are designed to kill the cancer cells. They also make it hard for the body to absorb nutrients and fluids properly, often resulting in nausea, among other disagreeable effects.
While Jay was having a lovely swim and bike ride, powered on by the love and support of the communities surrounding him, his stomach had remained mostly stationary in the water and on his bike. Jay wasn’t feeling the effects of his poor digestive tract. He was feeling euphoria at the prospect of completing this ultimate goal.
But when he took those first few steps into his run, his stomach soon felt the ill effects of bouncing up and down continuously. Jay was quickly left suffering. He was suffering badly. And it went on like this…for 10 miles. As Jay is accustomed to doing when times get tough, he turned to prayer. This time he kept it short. “Lord, you gotta help me.”
Another 8 miles in, Jay was still in severe distress. He was feeling very unsure where he would muster the strength to finish the next and final 8 miles of his trek.
Shortly thereafter, he received an answer to prayer in the form of his coach. She seemed to come out of nowhere. She had heard he was hurting and decided to run alongside him. And she did just that for the next mile. This was exactly what he needed to push through the pain. It reminded him he was never truly alone.
The Finish Line
With nighttime closing in, the bright lights went up and guided him the rest of the way. As he got closer and closer, he heard the sounds of cheers and cowbells ringing from the hundreds of supportive spectators.
Rounding that last metaphorical bend at the end, he saw his wife and daughter underneath the banner with the glorious words in bold black print on it. “FINISH LINE” it read; a grin spread across his face from ear to ear.
“I’m coming home,” he thought to himself.
Crossing that finish line, he could only summon enough energy to kiss Natalie before handing her and Hero flowers. This whole journey had been a love letter to Hero. Through all the noise and shouts of congratulations circumventing him, he knew he should take this moment to get down on his knees and remind Hero of one crucial thing.
“If I can do it, you can do it, Honey.”
It would have been nothing short of a miracle for Jay to complete the Ironman triathlon in under 17 hours but Jay, being who he is, set this lofty goal for himself from the beginning. Not only did he achieve this goal but he pummeled it into the ground by finishing the race in 13 hours and 40 minutes!
You can read all about Jay’s story in his own words here.
To quote Jay from his Newsweek article, “I knew when I got diagnosed that I wanted to live life to the fullest, and part of that for me is having purpose.”
Battle Buddy Lesson #5: Find your Purpose