Charity Wednesday: Inspired By Ironbaby!

It’s Wednesday.  Since the summertime I have been using Wednesdays to spotlight charity fundraising – I started off with my own efforts, in the build up to my own events.  As the summer went on, I was blown away by the incredible stories happening in the world of “athletic endeavours for charity” – I started to post links to the sites and stories I found interesting and inspiring.Today, the first Wednesday in December, I am taking a new direction with my Wednesday charity spotlights.  I have decided to interview the charity fundraisers whose efforts have inspired me.  First up is Brett Blankner, host of the Zen and the Art of Triathlon podcast and website, and triathlon coach.Brett did the Ironbaby self-supported iron distance triathlon in October.  Centred around his home, Brett’s Ironbaby is in honour of his son Kai, who was born 10 weeks premature, and in support of those (parents and kids alike) who have gone through similar challenges.  An iron distance triathlon is one of the most challenging sports in the world – to use it for charity is doubly inspiring.  Kai and Brett, taken after the finish of Ironbaby 2009Now, over to Brett…DD:  Ironbaby is a self-supported ironman distance triathlon.  For those reading who might not be familiar with triathlon, can you explain that to us?BB:  Sure. An “Ironman” is a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, followed by a 26.2 mile run.  And yes, that’s all in a row!  They are huge races, with hundreds or even thousands of people doing them at once.  Ironman triathlons are not a team sport, so it is really a measure of individual fitness and willpower.  Unless you are racing to win the whole thing, it can be just as satisfying to do it on your own as it is to do it in the middle of a crowd.  I do want to take a moment and caution people about doing one as their first-ever triathlon. There are thousands of shorter distance races all over the world where you should get some experience first before trying the hardest one.  Just like you learn to fly with a Cessna first instead of a jumbo jet, you want to try out the sprint, olympic, and half Ironman distance races beforehand so you don’t get in over your head.DD:  Ironbaby.  How did you come up with the name?BB:  I was training to do my first Ironman when my son Kai was born two and a half months premature.  He was in intensive care for two months along with many other babies fighting for their lives.  My race date came and went, being the lowest priority imaginable compared to what was going on with Kai.  I was so inspired by how hard everybody was fighting for the lives of these kids.  The nurses, doctors, families, and equipment were all amazing.  As soon as everything settled down, I decided to pay tribute to the incredible fight that people go through daily to help out kids like my own.Since the race I was supposed to do was already over, I decided to do it solo.  I planned out the course for a few days and made sure everything was in order and out I went! I did the swim at a pool, biked in the countryside, and did the run in my neighborhood.  I’m not kidding when I say that run was one of the toughest things I’ve done in my life.  Nine laps of the same loop, going by your own home over and over again, it’s easy to quit.All athletic events have a name, so I came up with Ironbaby because I was doing it in honour of all those preemies I spent so much time with.  It caught on with my family and friends and has become a huge hit.DD:  How many times have you done the Ironbaby?  BB:  Three times!  I did it the first time in 2004, then again in 2005, and again in 2009.  I also did Ironman Wisconsin in 2007.  2009 was the first year I did it for charity, and it was fantastic.  It is definitely going to be that way from now on.DD:  Which charities do you support with Ironbaby?  BB:  The March of Dimes raises money for children in need of care, so that was a given.  We stayed at a Ronald McDonald house often to be near the hospital, and it was great.  I wanted to support them as well. As the Ironbaby got closer, I thought some people would want to donate to a cause for adults too, so I decided on the Michael J. Fox Foundation.  My own father is afflicted with Parkinsons, so it was a cause close to home just like the others.DD:  And how much have you raised for the charities?  BB:  We started raising funds this year at the last minute, so we were proud to collect $1200.  Our goal was to collect more than zero, and then we have a target to beat the next year.  The Ironbaby made the local news and now everybody knows about it.  I’ve got people lined up to donate next year and even some corporate sponsors as well!DD:  For those interested in showing their support to you and Ironbaby, how can they donate?  BB:  A few months ahead of the race, I post an official Ironbaby page on my website with links to donate directly to those three charities.  All I ask is to get an email with how much you gave.  I post a running tally before and after the event to see how much people donated.DD:  And for those interested in charity fundraising, any tips that you could share?  BB:  Make a website, say very plainly what you want to do and why, and make everything as simple as possible.  Post pictures, talk about it on Twitter, and keep the main goal in your head every time it gets difficult.DD: And finally, what ran through your head at the tough parts of the day?  Any particular song, mantra, or motivating thought you could share with us?BB:  I have two recurring thoughts.  First, I still hear the beeping and alerts of all the monitoring equipment on those babies.  It haunts me and my wife to this day.  If I could run a million miles to keep any parent from having to hear those sounds, I would.  Secondly, I have huge appreciation for all the effort my own parents put into me growing up and putting me through sports.  All those years of soccer, swimming, and so much more where they supported me… completing an Ironman is showing that their investment in their kid paid off.  If you can do an Ironman, you really can do anything in life.  Note:  I have taken the opportunity to nominate Brett for the Cash Sweat & Tears award , and encourage you to nominate someone who uses sports for charity fundraising, someone has inspired you in 2009, for this award too.

2 responses to “Charity Wednesday: Inspired By Ironbaby!”

  1. That’s an inspiring article. I had heard the story on the podcast, but this puts it in a new light. Thanks!Stacy (triitagain)

  2. Thanks Stacy. I hope to have a few more inspiring stories on my blog. I love to see people combining fitness and charity fundraising – and from my own experiences I know it gives me even more purpose when I am out there at an event!

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