Sunday, November 24th, 2006

Happy Holidays Blazeman

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

My name is Mia Richter and I am an ALS Warrior...

On Sunday, October 15th 2006, it is 1 PM CST. Static breaks over the airplane’s intercom system. Perking up, I listen in disbelief as the pilot tells our flight that we are going to have to turn back to Chicago. Three hours into our eight our trip to Kahuli-Kona, our plane banks to the right, and we head back to the Midwest. An earthquake has just rocked the Hawaiin Islands. I am not a special passenger. Instead, I am like so many others: athletes trying to get to the Hawaiian Ironman. I am a first time competitor at the Ironman World Championships scheduled for October 21st 2006. Unshaken myself, I know that there is a reason my flight is returning to Chicago. There is a grander plan, one I must wait to see, one I must have patience to understand.

Monday, October 16th 2006, it is 1 PM CST. Comfortable seated next to my mother, I quietly smile to myself; we were booked on standby, and were given seats on the flight to Kahuli-Kona. Once again, my ears perk up to hear a voice I know I have heard before. Distinct and thick in its East Coast accent, I knew the voice. Then I saw the face. It was Mr. Blais’ dad. “No way!!!’’ I thought to myself, “Is Johnny Blais on my flight?” I peered around the seat in front of me. Sure enough; the Blazeman. I started to choke up, and fight back tears. Here was a hero of mine, sitting in the row ahead of me. His father passed my seat, and I caught his eye. “I know who you are, and I know your son,” I said. “Thank you for all you do.” On that flight, I started to get to know Jon Blais. We talked about music, my first trip to Hawaii, and what it is like for him to live with ALS. We found out we have the same favorite movies (Braveheart & Gladiator) and the same fast wit and dry humor. We became fast friends, meant to meet each other. Two important things happened on that flight. First, I saw that many people don’t understand ALS. People that knew Jon’s Ironman story from 2005 came up to him and introduced themselves. I saw some kneel to meet Jon’s eyes, while others hovered over him. Many people made the same uneducated mistake, asking him, “So Jon, are you racing this year?” Gracious and undeterred, Jon shrugged off the most obviously wrong question time and time again, never once loosing his cool to this cruel question. Racing again? ALS had taken so much from him; there was no way he would ever race the Ironman again. I saw first hand the battle that Jon is up against; lack of understanding of ALS, and a lack of awareness about the disease. Watching this happen, I decided I needed to become an ALS Warrior, if Jon would have me.

A second important thing happened on that flight. Jon asked me to log-roll. If you are reading this article, you know about #179’s infamous finish at Ironman Hawaii in 2005. Honored, humbled, and blessed, I told Jon, “Yes, I will roll for you… I will race for you.” I had my mission and purpose for the race. I was so excited to be an ALS Warrior. Before deplaning, I slipped Jon my phone number, and asked him if he would have coffee with me. I don’t think he thought I was serious, but I hoped he would give me a call. I wanted to know more about this man.

Thursday, October 19th 2006, it is 3:45 PM Hawaiian Island time. My mother, father, and I headed over to the Royal Kona Hotel to hear Jon speak to a group of doctors. As you may not know, Jon delivered a personal message to these professionals, speaking about ALS, and what it has done to him. Shaking, wavering, and struggling to stand up, John let us see briefly into his world, compelling people to tears. Determined and focused, the Blazeman delivered his message of his War on ALS. I then secured a date with Jon at 11 AM the next day.

Friday, October 20th 2006, it is 11 AM Hawaiian Island time. Pushing John in his wheelchair, we choose to spend our time together next to the ocean sipping Coca-Cola. I don’t quite know where to start this part of my story. For all of you reading this, I wish you could have been there with us, sitting in the Hawaiin sun, listening to the ocean roll in and out, talking about nothing and everything at once. Jon is an amazing man. He has done more things, traveled to more places, taken more stupid bets, and loved harder than many people I know. He has an amazing sense of humor, and a passion for life that we should all be so lucky to someday possess. He is a role model for us all, and my date with him etched this forever into my mind. If you are lucky enough to ever meet Jon, he will change you for the better. If you never get to gaze into his blue eyes, reach for him here, or in the smile of the next child you see. In our short time together, I realized that this Ironman wasn’t about me anymore; this Ironman was about him. Nothing would happen to me in the race that I couldn’t handle. I was totally healthy, able bodied, and blessed to be racing the next day. It was my job, my responsibility, to enjoy every second of the upcoming race. To do anything less would be to waste the gift. Having lunch with Jon changed my life forever.

After having lunch with Jon and listening to him speak about his War on ALS, I know we need to head his call. This is a worthy mission. Jon knows he is on the tail end of his journey here on earth, and he is tired. As a brotherhood of people, it is our job to pick each other up and help ourselves walk forward. Do not sit idle. You can’t… Jon needs us. I know you are reading this because Jon has touched your life. Please touch his back. Become an ALS Warrior today.

Saturday, October 21st 2006, it is 6:52 AM Hawaiian Island time. As I go to enter the water, I hear Jon say my name. He is there with a smile, eyes gleaming with understanding. I lean in, and we embrace, understanding what is going to happen. Over the next 11:19, I race. But it’s not for me. It is for Jon. I would like to say that I smiled all day, and I tried, but an Ironman is hard. I tried to race like Jon did; with focus, determination, patience, fire, and joy. As I started the final ½ of the marathon, I could feel myself starting to tire. “No Mia… no way,” I told myself. “You are not stopping now… go for Jon.” I could see his face from the day before, sitting there in his wheelchair. I couldn’t forget my promise. My mother was riding her bicycle on the run course, riding ahead and behind me in 100 yard intervals. As I came out of the Energy Lab, heading for home, I had a chance to speak with her. “Tell Jon I’m coming,” I told her. “Tell him I’ll be there soon.” I picked up my stride cadence, and headed for the Blazeman, and Alii Drive.

This story isn’t about my Ironman; there are 1800 stories from that day, all of them special and precious in their own way. This story is about the Blazeman. As I ran down Alii drive, I knew I had made it. My goals were met and I had one more person to see. As an ALS Warrior, I log- rolled across the finish line. Having received my mom’s cell phone call, the Blazeman was right there waiting for me to finish. My friend Chris Connaughty of ART picked me up and walked me over to the Blazeman. Too moved by emotion to speak, we embraced again, sharing the moment of triumph together.

This is a story that will not end until ALS is eliminated. I write this because we need your help. We need more ALS Warriors to fight this disease. We need to fight for Jon and everyone else that this disease touches. No one needs to do more or less; we just all need to do our part. Become a brave soldier in Blazeman’s Army. today.



            Say "Hello" to a bita "Country"......                               Iowa City, IA
Twenty-Four year old champ goes 11:19 with her first "Log-Roll" in Kona...

           Where's The Blazeman...                                SAUCONY... "Loyal to the Sport."            

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