Motivated By Memories & Counting My Blessings

Jul
2014
24

posted by on Ironman, Motivations

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On race day, I will be wearing a tri top with the letters “MJG” across the front. I want to share why I choose to wear these letters when I race.

MJG stands for Michael John Gressman, a 32-year old who courageously fought cancer but lost his battle on July 14, 2009. The MJG Brain Tumor Research Fund is committed to increasing awareness and raising money for those inflicted with brain tumors, while providing HOPE and inspiration to all people along the way. Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) is the most common and aggressive of the primary brain tumors. Few patients survive longer than 3 years and only a handful survive 5 years.

In 2008 when Tony was training for Ironman Florida, he met a couple of brothers that were training for the same race. Tony found himself spending time training with Mike & Eric Gressman. A lot of their training was with various groups, but Tony and Mike had a tendency to maintain a similar pace, so they ended up riding together a good amount of time.

During the period leading up the Ironman Florida, Mike was diagnosed with GBM. His treatment began immediately and his Ironman dream was put on hold. The relationship Tony had started forming with the Gressmans turned from a training partnership to a friendship.  This was the period of time when I started getting to know Mike and Eric as well.

As Tony had the opportunity to spend time with Mike away from training, he realized that had a lot in common. In some non-athletic interests and their thoughts on certain topics, is where they found more common ground. In a very endearing way, Tony describes Mike as having a “big heart with no filter”.

Over the next year, Mike gave a new definition to the word Ironman with his will and courage to fight his disease. It was a roller coaster ride for all those that were praying for his recovery. I remember the day that Tony called and told me that Mike had passed away. Even though I had known him for a short time, it really hit me and confirmed what we all too often take for granted. Life is precious and tomorrow is not guaranteed.    

A foundation was established in his honor to raise awareness and funds for brain cancer research (www.braincancerhope.org). The supporters of MJG are continuing to keep Mike’s spirit alive. I vividly remember when I finished my first half iron distance triathlon. It was the 2012 Beach 2 Battleship half in Wilmington, NC. Mike’s mom, Donna, was volunteering at the finish line. I crossed and she was the first person I saw as I had a huge smile plastered on my face and said “I did it”. With an equally as big smile on her face, she said to me, “Mike would be so proud” and gave me a huge hug. That is a moment that I will hold dear because it truly touched my heart and she said those words with such emotion and honesty.

My first half- B2B in Wilmington, NC

My first half- B2B in Wilmington, NC

The MJG support crew at B2B Half

The MJG support crew at B2B Half

I have been touched by so many stories lately of people that have been diagnosed with a form of this devil of a disease called cancer. It is truly incredible how strong and determined people can be when faced with the battle of their lives. The one that touches me deeply is that earlier this year, my step-father Ron, was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. He has risen to great heights to fight the disease that keeps trying to knock him down. To be honest, the disease is also trying to knock down my mom, who is there with him every day caring for him and watching him endure the toughest days of his life. We are all confident that it is just a matter of time until he wins this battle. There will be a BIG PARTY.

When the MJG foundation was started, bracelets were made that I have worn on my wrist for over 5 years. I wear it daily to help remind myself of all the feelings I felt on the day that Mike passed away. Live life doing the things you love to do. Travel, dream, love…whatever it is that makes life even more special. Life as you know it can change in a second. I want to live my life in appreciation of the health and happiness I am so blessed to have. This is one of the reasons that I signed up for Ironman. I am lucky to be a healthy athlete and I didn’t want to delay tackling something that I dreamed to achieve.

At the bike check-in the day before the 2013 Raleigh 70.3

At the bike check-in the day before the 2013 Raleigh 70.3

At the finish line at the 2013 Raleigh 70.3 (love my crooked hat!!)

At the finish line at the 2013 Raleigh 70.3 (love my crooked hat!!)

good life

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9 comments

  1. Stephanie

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