by Scott Kindberg
October 18, 2015
Triathlete Inspired By Memory Of Sister
Once seated – only after considerable help getting his bags in the overhead compartment from fellow passengers – Dan can’t get comfortable. His left arm is covered in gauze and his left hip is killing him. An hour into the flight the folks around him are asleep, but Dan isn’t getting any shuteye. Just sitting in an upright position is difficult, at best, and any turbulence sends shooting pain throughout his body.
But as he tries to sleep – his Ironman “finisher” visor on his head and a “finisher” bracelet on his wrist – he reminds himself that the road rash will heal, a hip injury will eventually mend and being sleepless in Seattle is only a minor inconvenience.
Because that’s what his sister Molly taught him.
Molly, the youngest of the four children born to Bruce and Susan Moore, was a 2006 graduate of Southwestern Central School and a 2010 graduate of Mercyhurst University with a bachelor’s degree in secondary English education. While at the Erie school she served as a student ambassador and was a member of the Kappa Delta Pi Honor Society, the Phi Eta Sigma National Honor Society and was a volunteer for the Clara’s Way Community Shelter, Emmaus Soup Kitchen and the Martin Luther King Center. Upon graduation, she worked at Wegmans and at the Southern Chautauqua Federal Credit Union, and last July 14, she married the love of her life, Tyler Lawson.
Not quite eight months later, 32-year-old Dan stood in the sanctuary at the Family Church in Jamestown and delivered a eulogy for Molly, who had succumbed to a recurrent glioblastoma, the most common and most aggressive malignant brain tumor. Her fight against the disease had lasted seven years.
She was 27 years old.
“(She) taught me that life is not really about results, but the journey,” Dan told the congregation that March afternoon. “It’s about dealing (with) and overcoming adversity. Things happen to us in life that we cannot ever anticipate. Oftentimes, this is when we want to give up. But what you become in the process is more important than the outcome.”
Fast-forward to last Saturday at the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, an event that challenges qualifiers to a 2.4-mile open-water swim; a 112-mile bike ride; and a 26.2-mile run.
Dan, the coach of SUNY Geneseo’s nationally ranked cross country team, had qualified for the Worlds after placing second overall at the Ironman Triathlon in Lake Placid in July. On pace to what he hoped would be a top-20 finish in the 30-34 age group in Kona, Dan posted a more-than-satisfactory time of 1 hour, 19 minutes, 17 seconds in the swim, and was ripping through the cycling leg of the Ironman despite the oppressive heat and strong winds.
But then he hit a bump in the road.
“It was 75 miles into the race and I was going downhill when I hit a bump going over a bridge,” Dan recalled. “My spare tube was tied underneath my seat and it became dislodged and fell into the back wheel, which put me into a skid.”
And, almost immediately, onto the road, where he first hit his left hip, his left elbow and then his head, which smacked off the pavement.
“I don’t think I was knocked out,” said Dan, who was wearing a helmet, “but I was dazed and confused. I didn’t know what happened. Another biker stopped and checked to see if I was OK and conscious. I think within two minutes, the medics came. That was a godsend in itself.”
The paramedics carried Dan to the side of the road and assessed his injuries.
“One guy was moving my leg around every which way and pain was shooting up through my legs and through my entire body,” Dan said. “My hip was swelling immediately.”
One of the paramedics strongly suggested that Dan not continue.
Dan wouldn’t hear it.
What he did, instead, was think of Molly and all she had endured during her cancer battle, and he pressed on.
But not without considerable difficulty.
“I couldn’t get into an aerodynamic position (on the bike) and I was getting pounded by the wind,” Dan said. “Those (final 37 miles) were the worst. It was painful.”
Upon completing the bike portion of the Ironman in 6:02:52, Dan began the transition to the 26.2-mile run and he almost collapsed.
“It was the first time I’d put weight on my leg and I stopped dead in my tracks,” he said. “I almost came to tears. I didn’t know how I would finish. It was painful, but it was also emotional. I thought, ‘How am I going to do this?'”
They were all there, eight in total, at the 1-mile mark of the run. The group included, among others, Susan Moore, Dan’s mother, and Daniel Curtin, who is also Dan’s primary-care physician from suburban Rochester.
Meanwhile, back at Geneseo, runners from Dan’s cross country team were following their coach’s progress online while exchanging Tweets and texts amongst themselves.
“I was following (Dan’s) progress (on the bike portion), but I hadn’t kept up in about an hour,” said senior Ashton Hughes of Fairport. “I got a text from one of the assistant coaches that something had gone wrong. I checked (Dan’s) splits and he had gone from 20 miles per hour on one split down to 17 and then 15. I wondered if he had hit a wall and, at first, I wasn’t too concerned, but then I got a text from one of my friends that he had crashed and his hip wasn’t in good shape.”
The group in Kona knew something was terribly wrong, too, when they saw Dan laboring as he approached them early in the 26.2-mile run. Even though he wanted to “put on a good show” for his family and friends, he wasn’t about to fool his mom.
“He was limping terribly,” said Susan Moore. “I just lost a daughter, and the thought of another (catastrophe) with one of my children I couldn’t handle it. By that time, I was crying.”
Noted Curtin: “You could see he was bleeding from one area on his elbow, so you knew he’d crashed. My concern is what actually had happened and can he safely compete without doing permanent injury to himself.”
So Curtin, the doctor who introduced Dan to triathlons several years ago, did a field survey and determined that his good friend could safely continue.
“The pain was the only real obstacle,” Curtin said. “We put pain in the back of his (mind), and he was just able to do it.”
With a race strategy in place, Dan continued on his incredible journey.
“Run 3 miles … walk 3 miles,” he said.
John Panus of Olean is a junior member of Geneseo’s cross country team. He said that Dan has done a lot to memorialize Molly on campus in order to “keep her legacy going.”
“It’s almost become, at least for this year, a part of our culture,” Panus said.
One of Molly’s legacy moments is what Dan calls, “finding your why,” a mantra he alluded to during his eulogy to her last winter.
“I think, ‘finding your why’ is one of the most important kinds of speeches that Dan has given us, just because, inevitably in a race at some point, you’re going to feel like you literally can’t take another step,” Panus said. “Finding your why is the single-most important thing when you need to keep going. Dan says that ‘your why’ has to be bigger than yourself, and it’s true. If we were only running for ourselves, it would be very easy to give up at certain points, but when you’re running for teammates, for family or for something (else important) it really motivates people to keep going when they don’t think they can.”
Which brings us back to Dan.
Although he was reminding himself to “take it 1 mile at a time,” every step was becoming more difficult than the last as he approached Mile 16 of the run. At about that time, a Brazilian runner named Thiago approached from behind. Thiago didn’t experience a fall like Dan had, but his bike had malfunctioned, which meant that he could only pedal in one gear. By that point in the Ironman, Thiago’s legs were toast.
“We started running together so we each could have a running partner, and he helped pull me through the next 8 miles,” Dan said. “He sacrificed his race to pull me through.”
Thiago eventually left Dan, who finished the remainder of the race alone. When he finally got to the finish line – his run time was 4:14:36 – he broke into a huge smile.
“It was just sheer relief that it was over, obviously, and the sense of accomplishment that I did it,” Dan said. “I pointed up to the heavens and said, ‘Molly, thank you; God, thank you; and then I went right up to the medical tent.”
As he did so, albeit gingerly, Dan modeled one final time the uniform he’d worn throughout the athletic odyssey that took him 11 hours, 48 minutes and 12 seconds to complete. On the front was a butterfly and a gray cancer ribbon. On the back were five words: “Believe and Achieve For Molly.”
Dan, who placed 1,297th out of 2,308 competitors, did both.
“I am only experiencing just the tip of the iceberg what many, who suffer from cancer, face on a daily basis,” he said days later after returning to Geneseo. “I have so much more appreciation of what these triumphant patients deal with on a daily basis. My frustrations with limited mobility will end. Many of theirs will not. What a perspective I am gaining with this.”
Dan isn’t the only one.
Susan Moore believes that Dan’s completion of the Ironman against all odds made the story even more compelling than if he had sailed through without a hitch and had been one of the top handful of finishers.
And, believe it or not, there is one final chapter to this incredible story.
A couple of hours after a reporter had talked with Susan for this article, she called back to confirm when it would appear in The Post-Journal. When she was told it would be today, Sunday, Oct. 18, she became quiet ever so briefly and then expressed her appreciation.
Today would have been Molly’s 28th birthday.