Patrick T. Utitus-Canez III is about to do something that many people won’t even attempt to try in their lifetime.
The Mesa, Arizona, man is going to do the HITS Triathlon Series on Saturday, Nov. 8, in Lake Havasu City.
This is no ordinary race. Utitus-Canez will be competing in an Ironman — 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
Utitus-Canez is not doing this alone. His buddy, Tim Bolen, will be right by his side.
You see, the 25-year-old has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair.
Bolen is the state director for Best Buddies Arizona. This nonprofit, which has chapters all over the country and world, creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and development disabilities (IDD).
The Arizona chapter also gives buddies like Utitus the opportunity through Team Best Buddies to participate in running events ranging from a 5K to marathons.
They have special running chairs that they ride in with their Team Best Buddies partner.
I got the chance to talk to Utitus-Canez’s mom, Sandy, and find out how her son’s training has been going. I also got the opportunity to ask her about all the lives he’s going to change by doing this race.
Utitus-Canez and Bolen are this week’s Community Dynamos.
Tell me about your son Patrick.
Patrick was born at 36 weeks premature. He came out a “blue” baby and had to be resuscitated for over two minutes. He also was born with breathing issues and a collapsed lung on his left side. He was under oxygen for 36 hours until the time that I was released from the hospital. During this time, he was born at 4 pounds 10-1/2 ounces and was only 18-3/4 inches long.
At the age of 3 weeks, Patrick developed a strangulated hernia in his left groin and went in for emergency surgery. He almost died at that time. At the age of 6 weeks he developed the other two hernias and went through surgery for those. Fast-forwarding a couple of months. At the age of 6 months he was lethargic and nonresponsive.
The emergency room doctor asked me what was wrong with Patrick’s eyes. You see, his eyes were crossed since he was born and he was not meeting his milestones that he should have been. We were referred to another doctor where he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and a delay in development. He also was diagnosed with cortical blindness. Our life would be changed forever.
At the age of 10 months, Patrick was fitted for his first wheelchair. He has been in and out of the hospital from birth pretty much. This could have been prevented if my OB/GYN had only listened to my concerns and not have waited a day and a half to have an emergency C-section.
At the age of 4, Patrick contracted a disease called rotavirus from school. He went in the hospital and was there for five days where he almost didn’t make it through. This attacks the intestinal tract and causes severe poisoning of the bloodstream. They told me he wouldn’t live past the age of 5 so I thought this was it. I would lose my youngest child. I was wrong.
For almost four years, I was forced to be a single mom with no support from Patrick’s biological dad or his family. This was a true challenge as I have two older children that I was responsible for as well as my youngest son.
I told my children when Patrick was born that he is just like them he just needs more time and special tender loving care. I believe this has brought my older two children to the appreciation that everyone is the same, some just need more time and love.
Fast-forward to the age of 7, Patrick went in to see the orthopedist only to find out that he had one dislocated hip and a partial on the other side. This only meant surgery and plates in both hips and legs for over a year. He made it through this surgery but had difficulty in the healing part, as he cannot walk like other children of his age.
At the age of 8, we decided it was best for his nutrition to have a feeding tube placed in Patrick’s stomach. His body didn’t take the foreign object well and he developed peritonitis. This was life-threatening. The surgeon told me not to expect him to come out of surgery. In fact, he almost died on the operating table due to complications. After two months in the hospital, he was finally released. He did have a new feeding tube placed and did very well with it for 14 years.
During his schooling he has accomplished a few milestones. One that was very prominent, Patrick was in fifth grade and wanted to drive an electric wheelchair. His mind was set. After a year of practicing, he was able to control the wheelchair with his head and receive his certificate for completing sixth grade. After this time he was diagnosed with epilepsy, which means medication for life.
Again, we thought what more can we take? Many years of trials and tribulations have not dampened Patrick’s spirit one bit. He has made many strangers smile just by smiling at them.
When did Patrick get involved with Best Buddies Arizona?
Patrick first started with the school program Best Buddies Arizona in 2005 when we moved here from California.
He went to Basha High School, then Red Mountain High and finally Camelback High School where he was buddy director for almost two years before graduating in 2012.
What was your reaction when Patrick got involved with Team Best Buddies?
At the beginning of 2015, we were approached and asked if Patrick would be interested in participating in the P.F. Chang’s Full Marathon. We thought how in the world would he be able to run, as he is a quadriplegic.
Through Team Best Buddies they purchased a running chair for disabled young adults. Athletes volunteer their time and monies to push our special kids in these chairs. This gives the young adults a chance to experience the wind in their face while not having to worry about anything but enjoying the experience at hand.
Since this time Patrick has participated in five marathons in six months’ time. The latest one was Scottsdale Challenge where he and an awesome athlete both won first-place medals for their age groups.
How did it make you feel when Best Buddies Arizona State Director Tim Bolen asked if your son Patrick could participate in the HITS Triathlon Series with him in Lake Havasu City?
Through the years we have had many setbacks with Patrick’s medical conditions. However, we figured if he could be a trooper so can we. We love our special son and are truly blessed for all that he has done in his life.
We were approached and asked if there would be a possibility for Patrick to participate in the HITS Triathlon Ironman with Best Buddies Arizona State Director Tim Bolen who has the drive and compassion for inclusion.
We said absolutely and thus the journey has begun. Our dream will take place Nov. 7-8, 2015, in Lake Havasu City. We are truly blessed to be able to have this opportunity to support Tim as he dives into this journey with Patrick.
The best is yet to come and we intend to encourage Patrick to do all he can do even with his limitations, which there are many.
What has the training been like for Patrick?
A whirlwind. We went from staying home to being out almost every week for training. Our son lives for this time that he has with Tim. The bond that they have together is priceless. Due to Patrick’s disability he has to be transported wherever he needs to go.
How has Patrick changed since being able to participate in athletic events?
Patrick is now able to have more use of his arms and feet. He also has been very happy knowing that he was chosen to do this awesome event. His stamina is unbreakable where before he seemed to be bored and tired more often than now.
Patrick has been training on his own with his physical therapist, as well. He is now able to sit up in a chair for over 12 minutes on his own without holding onto anything. He has a true determination to finish this race with Tim.
Explain how Patrick is inspiring other people?
Wow, that is a great question. I can tell you from personal experience that my husband and myself are more active with walking now that Patrick has been training.
Other athletes look at him and see that he is willing and able to do this type of competition, which opens their hearts for inclusion with other IDD individuals.
Patrick’s participation also encourages other athletes to get involved with Team Best Buddies just watching and interacting with him.
How do you think you, Patrick’s dad, Frank and the rest of your family are going to feel when Tim and your son cross the finish line?
I know myself will be in tears, but happy tears at that. The feeling of accomplishment for Tim and Patrick is beyond words. They have worked so hard to get to this goal and it will be so overwhelming to witness it for both of them.
Anything else you would like to add?
Tim Bolen is a true hero in our book. We never imagined that this opportunity would surface or even have someone else be our son’s legs. The breeze in Patrick’s face is something that he often does not get to experience being in his wheelchair most of the day. The first time he was pushed, he crossed the finish line raising his left arm. Now he raises both arms.
Patrick has always been motivated to finish what he starts and I know that they will finish this. Hopefully this will open up many more opportunities for Team Patrick and other teams to be able to experience this as well.
Good luck, Patrick! Health2Fit will update you on how he and Bolen do next week.
For more information log onto bestbuddiesarizona.org