Last weekend, Best Buddies Arizona state director Tim Bolen was on a mission to help his buddy Patrick T. Utitus-Canez cross the finish line in the HITS Triathlon Series in Lake Havasu City.
Utitus-Canez has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. So on Saturday, Bolen was going to be his legs.
The goal was to finish an Ironman distance — 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.
While Bolen has completed this many times on his own, this was his and Utitus-Canez’s first experience to do something of this magnitude side by side.
But sometimes the journey we set out on can take a different turn.
Bolen was met with several challenges that made it physically impossible with the weather conditions, the race course and equipment to complete a full Ironman.
While a lot of tears were shed when Bolen realized that doing this distance on this day was not going to happen, and this wasn’t without putting up a good fight, he decided, with the help of many supporters at the race, that he and Utitus-Canez had a new goal: cross the finish line no matter the distance.
Nine and a half hours after starting out on their journey, they did both cross that finish line.
While it may have only been a half Ironman, everyone there and those cheering them on from afar knew this wasn’t about the distance, this was about finishing something very important not only for themselves, but to show others that we all have obstacles to overcome.
Some may choose to give up, but on this day Bolen and Utitus-Canez decided to fight. They hope this will inspire others to do the same no matter what life throws their way because completing an Ironman is still on their agenda.
I know Bolen personally and believe he will do his best to make their dream become a reality.
Bolen wrote a message to Utitus-Canez about their amazing journey in a Facebook post below.
Thank you Patrick T. Utitus-Canez! This message I write to you! I need you to understand a few things about Saturday. For no other reason but my own!
I had to take a day to reflect and take everything in as it was planned for us on Saturday! You see, I know the Lord wrote our plans long before we met! Saturday I know he once again had a plan for us and still does. Now it might be some time to figure out exactly what that is but one thing I’m sure of is he has a plan for us!
The day we decided to take on this “dream” not only gave me a new energy for Ironman and training but a passion to see it through like no other. Months of training and sacrifice for both of us put us on that starting line. That alone I feel so much gratitude. Both of us ready to go! Your unbelievable smile and courage rushes through my brain constantly my friend. Yes, I was very scared standing at the waters edge not sure what to expect! What I did know is I would give everything physically, mentally and emotionally that I was capable of giving. “Charge Forward” I promised you!
Race morning was unreal. Such a huge group all centered around fulfilling a dream. I know you were so excited with everyone there! Thank you all so much to the team supporters; Shannon Mcquaid, Brian McHenry, Kurt Sowder, Craig Myrman, Frank J M Canez, Sandra Canez, and the incredible cheering support from Tabitha Thornhill Jones, Diane Bruchhauser, Carl Jones, Paul McGowan, Kara McGowan, Peggy Hughes, Laurel Darren-Simmons, Grace, Lucy, Cole and Cloe and the amazing Brandy Aguilar and Kyle Burke, Grandmom and Grandpa Juanita Clevett and Ernie Clevett. And so many more like the Curbside Girls and Julianne Hamilton.
I was worried about you Patrick! I was worried about you getting cold, wet, hungry, sick, tired and so much more. I knew having our guardian angels; Shannon Mcquaid, Kurt Sowder, Brian McHenry,and Craig Myrman next to us for the day would put my mind at ease but I still worried greatly!
Kurt did the swim portion with us checking on Patrick and I the entire swim as he would stop and make sure everything was good. He was a machine in the water! He said get on my feet and draft and all I kept thinking is does he realize I have a 100lbs with the raft around my waste! But he was right, it helped so much just for the sake I never worried about sighting! I know I stopped to make sure you were okay 4 times during the swim and your constant “YES, GO” was all the motivation I needed. Your screams of happiness when I yelled “we just finished our 1st loop – one more to go” made me swim harder! Around the last buoy when I leaned into the raft and told you how incredible and strong you are and how amazing you are made me swim even harder! I still can’t believe we did the swim that fast! Thank you so much for taking care of us Kurt!
As we exited the water the support and cheers could be heard for miles! I looked back at you and said “we did it” as you yelled out that huge happy “YES” My eyes went straight to Shannon with a smile and tears at the same time. Every arm stroke, pedal and step would be done one mile at a time we all said early on. So completing the swim was the first step of many miles to go. You were so awesome cheering the entire swim. Everytime I lifted my head out of the water you were cheering! Thank you so much for that!
The transition everyone went into action! Sandra was hot all over the bike and making sure Patrick was secured and ready. Shannon and Brian were helping me with my numb hands and making sure we had all the equipment and food we would need for our 10 hour expected ride ahead. 2.5 hour loops was the plan. That would put us in still with a enough time to get through the marathon something I was rather confident about.
I woke up the night before the race at 2 a.m. and took a walk around the bay to see how the winds were. They were still blowing hard! I prayed! And then prayed more for a calm day. I don’t think I slept at all. At 5:30 the steady wind was still blowing but nothing like it was at 2 a.m. We headed out on the bike with our 2nd angel Craig Myrman and you were so happy to see him next to you! Loved that so much as it truly represented that we needed a team of angels to get us through. The winds picked up the instant we began our way out of town and smaller gusts would push the bike and trailer from 12mph to 5 or 6mph! I kept telling Craig that I’m working so hard already just to average 10mph! I couldn’t wait to get to the turn around but at the pace we were going we had almost another hour to get back! You were still cheering the whole time Patrick and I’m so grateful for that as I would find myself pushing harder to maintain speed. All I kept thinking is 2.5 hours per lap! We can do this.
Then we got to the wall. Two actually! As it approached I tried to build speed but with no success. The harder I pushed on the pedals the more it would jerk the trailer and thrust us backwards! We came to a complete stop! I couldn’t even turn over the pedals! Easiest gear and I had nothing left! OMG I thought! I jumped off the bike only to find the rear wheel fly straight into the air. Thank God our angel Craig was there. 110lbs pulling us back down that wall they call a hill! We so needed you Craig! Thank you so much for being there! Those who never have seen these hills they range 43% grade! Put it in perspective; South Mountain is 7%! Coming down was so scary, all I kept thinking is what if something breaks, or the brakes fail, it’s so steep I can never stop us. I told you Patrick to hold on it’s like a roller coaster ride trying to mask my nerves and how scared I was with my hands shaking. And then we had to do it again! All I kept thinking is we have 3 more laps! Oh my!
We did come back much faster but we still ended up around that 2:40 mark. I knew how hard I just fought that wind and even on the flats when we saw Shannon and the kids and Laurel and Peggy I had to stand to keep our speed! I know you kept yelling at me and cheering because you saw how hard I was working and I’m so glad you did. On our way out on the second lap we stopped and Shannon did a great job getting you the much needed calories! I tried drinking some and eating but most of the time I was so focused on keeping the bike on the road or sidewalk that taking my hand off the bars seemed impossible.
The second loop on the way out our speed dropped more as the winds pushed this 110 sail we call a bike and trailer backwards. At one point I was standing in the easiest gear pushing as hard as I could to barely maintain 1mpg over these small rolling hills out of town. My legs were already getting fatigued and I was so concerned. I saw the time was another hour off pace of making our 10 hour cut-off. My heart sank as I kept pushing as hard as I could. I kept apologizing to Craig and you as I felt a pure disappointment come over me! I tried to cover it with a smile and give positive encouragement to you as I saw in your eyes how you went from so happy to worried!
We made it a couple more miles and I told Craig I had to talk with you. I pulled off the road and sat down next to you and grabbed your hand as I looked at you and said “I’m so sorry”. “These winds and hills are chopping into our time cut-off and at this rate we just possibly cant make the cut-off time”. I’m all in to keep pushing forward and giving it everything but I needed to tell you as soon as I felt we wouldn’t make it in time. You looked at me with sad eyes and head down and I jumped up from the ground telling you how proud I am to know you, your courage, and enthusiasm which I needed more now than ever. Remember that? I told you from every pedal stroke forward I was changing my attitude instead of rushing to the finish worried about time and wind and nerves that we needed to be doing exactly what we were supposed to be doing; “enjoying the journey together”. You screamed “Yes, Let’s Go”.
I turned away and broke into deep tears. Told Craig “I’m so sorry” and he replied “You say that again and I’m going to push you off your bike”. I cried harder and got on my bike and kept riding! We finally got back to town and saw Shannon and the kids. My heart and spirits instantly lifted from the sight of Shannon. At this point 3 hours had passed for that bike loop alone and we had another 20-25 minutes to go to get to the transition. I told Shannon with tears that we couldn’t do it no matter if the winds stopped instantly that too much time had been lost.
We were told by the race director that we could have as much time as we wanted to complete the bike but two very important decisions came into play with Patrick and I; You and I Patrick were racing on the same terms for the same prize in the end and we play by the same rules. If we want people to see us as equals we must race as equals with the same cut-off! No exceptions! I also did the calculations and we would have been in the dark for almost an hour or more something I was not prepared to do with you and your safety! Craig was so supportive and kept me from having another emotional breakdown. I just hugged Shannon before we rode off.
Early in the second lap Craig said “you are working so hard to maintain a speed and its not going to be fast enough to make the cut-off. He said why don’t you and Patrick do the Half and get that finish! You have all the time to finish that and still earn your finish result on legitimate terms (plus the extra swim loop). That sunk in for me! I cried again fighting the realization that even if I went back out for that 3rd loop we still wouldn’t be able to do the 4th.
Shannon and the kids were incredible. So many beautiful things they all said, so supportive, so positive. Shannon once again fed Patrick while I got some much needed food down. I then told Shannon okay we will do the half and earn that finish together! Patrick looked exhausted. His yelling was now reduced to a few noises here and there and I even stopped to make sure he was okay as he stopped at one point responding altogether. He said he was good. Just tired.
Craig had a blow-out with a mile left in the ride to the transition area. He told us to go. I replied with the quote from Top Gun; “I wont leave my wingman”. He changed the tube to have that one blow only to realize it was a faulty tire and he wouldn’t be able to continue. We sadly had to ride in alone without him.
Our third Angel Brian was already there ready and waiting to run with us! Sandra, Shannon and Brian helped with gathering the food and changing from bike chair to run chair and making sure we had everything for the run. I was exhausted! I looked at you Patrick and said we can do this! Lets go earn that medal! It might not be pretty but we will get it done! You finally started to perk up as I was getting very worried but I’m sure the food helped and seeing your mom lifted your spirits. Shannon and Brian led us out of the transition area.
We killed the first 9 miles and we had a great talk with Brian during the run. We even skyped Adrienne Azpeitia in so she could cheer for us! That was AWESOME! The miles ticked off until around mile 10 my stomach finally yelled at me. I knew exactly why and wasn’t at all surprised. I told you and Brian don’t be alarmed if I puke violently for a few minutes! I need to get it out and promised that it won’t stop us! You just said “OKAY” while Brian said put your finger down your throat it helps! I wasn’t ready for that yet so we walked two miles until I said okay I need to sit here for a second. Looked at Brian and said “its time” and let it all go! Jumped back up walked to the top of the hill and began to run our way to the finish! 1/2 mile out Shannon ran out to meet us. My spirits jumped thru the roof once again! She screamed at Patrick “you did it” and you yelled back the entire way to the finish line! I had tears flowing for that last 1/2 mile!
What an emotional day we had Patrick. The hardest race I have ever done including the many Ironman events previous. I’m so sorry we couldn’t finish the full Ironman but it just wasn’t physically possible with the conditions and the course and equipment. We will do this again and we will finish one. We learned so much about ourselves and each other. I know we have to work on your stimina and regular feeding as too much time between. I have to work out a system to fuel myself more. We need a bike trailer that will allow wind to travel thru-it so that it doesn’t push us back as well as a different attachment that doesn’t jerk every pedal stroke. We have to find a course where we can ride the entire way not walk hills. If we make these few changes I know we can do this Patrick. I struggle with both overwhelming joy that you got to experience what it’s like to cross that half ironman finish-line some 9.5 hours later! Your longest race to date. You were simply amazing! Ironman is by far not even the right word for you my friend, your courage and tenacity to make it to the finish-line is unrivaled!
Thank you for trusting in me. Thank you for giving me more than I feel I could ever give you! Thank you for teaching me the true meaning of spirit, courage, and persistence! You define the words; hope, love, and friendship. I am so honored to know you. I’m so humbled by your strength and determination. I pray we can once again go after this Ironman dream and turn this into a reality. I’m so sorry we couldn’t do it this time around but I promise we will soon! After all a very wise person told me this morning; “A dream is something that may or may not happen but it’s the quest to fulfill that dream that keeps you going”. Thanks Shannon, I needed to hear that more than you know.
I love you Patrick! Our bond will never be broken.
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