Lifestyle & Human Interest

Man with Terminal Cancer Completes Ironman Triathlon for Young Daughter


Thirteen hours, 40 minutes, 54 seconds.

Two brain surgeries, 30 radiation sessions, one year of chemo.

Though pastor Jay Hewitt of Orange County, California, suffered through tumors and brain cancer, he still tackled the Ironman triathlon — a difficult enough task in its own right without simultaneously fighting a debilitating disease. But Hewitt was nothing if not determined.

It began with Hero. She is Hewitt’s daughter, born in 2015. When he saw her, he knew he wanted to do something incredible and demanding to show her that anything was possible.

He remembered seeing people compete in the Ironman triathlon on TV when he was just a boy and thinking they must be superhuman, so he settled on completing the difficult race when she was 10.

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She was only 2 years old when Hewitt suffered a seizure. Doctors found that he had a nearly inoperable tumor in his brain.

There were only five surgeons in the world qualified to undertake the procedure, and he’d have to be awake for it: But he found one, and they did the surgery and it went extremely well.

In 2018, Hewitt experienced another seizure. The tumor had returned, and this time he got the diagnosis no one wants. With treatment, Hewitt could expect to live somewhere around eight more years before the brain cancer would claim him.

Many would have dropped their dream of competing in Ironman at this point, but not Hewitt, who seemed to think that it was even more important now. In an interview with ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” he said that if his daughter was going to see him knocked down by his treatments, he wanted her to see him get up, too.

Despite the chemo and the treatments making it even more difficult, he began training, planning to compete in Ironman Australia in May 2020.

But as 2020 progressed, it became clear that there would be no triathlons. One by one, the events were canceled.

Again, Hewitt faced a choice. He could press on despite all the roadblocks or gracefully bow out.

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And again, he seemed to see these obstacles as an even greater opportunity.

So Hewitt plotted a race that would end at his own home. He trained, despite the stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and muscle cramps.

Word of his grit got out, and after talking to a director friend, a documentary was planned. Ironman got involved, too, creating an authentic finish line for him.

And on Oct. 9, he began.

The swim, he said, was peaceful.

“I was able to meditate and I had some really transformative prayer time,” he wrote in an article for Newsweek. “At one point I swam past a footbridge where everyone had gathered to cheer me on. I saw my wife and daughter and was able to wave during strokes. Though no-one could see, I was crying into my goggles.”

For the 112-mile bike ride, Hewitt had a very special escort.

“When I transitioned onto the bike, all of the police departments throughout the different cities I passed through had arranged to give me police escorts up and down the Pacific Coast Highway,” he wrote. “So I was really fuelled by joy and gratitude all along the way. I had a really strong ride with good pacing and I transitioned into the run feeling strong.”

The run would be the most challenging. While training, it was the run that had caused him to collapse and seize. The nausea and vomiting made it nearly impossible to keep any consistent pace, but with the help and moral support of his trainer — also a cancer survivor — who ran a mile with him, he got back into the groove and made it.

“When I came around the corner to the finish line after 13 hours and 40 minutes, there were hundreds of people there cheering me on,” he continued. “Everything was lit up, people had cow bells and they were going wild.”

“My daughter and my wife were holding that tape, so I just zeroed in on them thinking ‘I’m coming home.'”

He kissed his wife, handed his wife and daughter flowers, knelt down next to his Hero and said, “If I can do it, you can do it.”

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