"You know Jon, now would be a good time.” I had finished the bike portion of Ironman Canada and had just started running the marathon. I was experiencing horrible lower abdominal pain and bloating. I knew it wasn’t my appendix but was worried that I might not be able to run and would have to walk to finish the race. I needed Jon’s help, and soon.
Jonathan Blais finished Ironman Hawaii on 15 October 2005. This is an amazing feat in and of itself, but Jon completed this race after being diagnosed with ALS that May at age 33. I had the privilege of meeting Jon, otherwise known as the Blazeman, at the 2006 Hawaii Ironman Sports Medicine Conference.
He had come back to the Big Island to give a face to ALS. At that time he was in a wheelchair and his speech was difficult to understand, but his message was not.
“Last year I did this race but people only saw that I stumbled a little and wore wrist braces. This year I have lost my ability to walk and communication is difficult, and next year I will be gone. I implore you to research and fight this horrible disease. Since the time of Lou Gehrig there have been no new effective treatments. I believe I was put on this earth to raise awareness and money to fight this frightening illness.”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the audience as we gave him a standing ovation for his courage. Jon died on 27 May 2007.
A friend of mine was also at this conference and was greatly moved by his message. Shortly after Jon’s death she competed in an Ironman, and while struggling on the bike felt a comforting presence that she identified as Jon. She instantly felt better and went on to finish the race.
Every year I try to fundraise for a cause. After meeting Jon I had my cause. I raised money for the ALS Society of BC and competed in Ironman Canada in memory of Jon (www.waronals.com).
While struggling with abdominal pain during Ironman Canada, my friend’s story of Jon’s comforting presence popped into my head. Hence my plea to Jon. Within 30 seconds, approximately 50 litres of foul smelling gas escaped (for those of you who can’t read between the lines, I farted) and I instantly felt better.
I was able to run the entire marathon (except for the parts that I walked, but this had nothing to do with my abdomen but mostly due to being old and tired). It figures that my more spiritual friend gets a comforting presence and I am graced with an inspirational fart. I returned to the Sports Medicine Conference this year and met Jon’s parents, who attend Ironman Hawaii every year to continue his fight. I told Jon’s father my story and he laughed out loud, “Well, Jon always enjoyed a good fart.”
In 2005 Jon log-rolled across the finish line and now, years later, athletes around the world mimic his roll in support. Chrissie Wellington, this year’s winner and new course record holder, took the time to roll across the finish line. Jon turned adversity into an opportunity and his legacy continues. May we learn much from Jon. Find a cause and support it. We can make a difference.
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