Monday, November 9, 2009

Article by Kevin Mckinnon about Ryan Van Praet


Ironmanlife: Ryan's Back

Kevin Mackinnon previews Ryan Van Praet's race at the Foster Grant Ironman World Championship 70.3

Published Friday, November 6, 2009

Ironmanlife: Ryan's BackIf you ever needed proof that there is no justice in the world, here's proof. Last year, for the first time in six Ironman races, Ryan Van Praet wasn't able to get to the finish line as he wore race number 179 in Kona. Because people like Ryan Van Praet don't let one day of physical problems get in the way of changing the world, though, the world is right again because Ryan Van Praet is now stronger, faster and even more determined after that experience. He continues to tirelessly raise money for ALS research in Canada, awareness for the Blazeman foundation everywhere and will pass you like you're parked if you slow down for a millisecond at next week's Foster Grant Ironman World Championship 70.3.

Van Praet, like his hero, Jon “Blazeman” Blais, who wore race number 179 when he finished the Ford Ironman World Championship in 2005, is a walking inspiration story. Born with a disease called retinitis pigmentosa, he's going blind. Last year's Kona event was the last he was able to do without a guide. The 29-year-old from Chatham, Ontario has grown up with the knowledge that he would likely lose his sight by the time he reaches his 30s.

This is a guy who grew up exploring the world in a way that most of us never will. His parents, especially his father, Adelard, never hesitated to let him try anything and everything.

He treated me like any other boy, let me fall, and pick myself up, try things most thought he shouldn't let me try because I could hurt myself, or get embarrassed or embarrass him,” says Van Praet. “He didn't care, he knew that to succeed I needed to grow up to be more determined than any other person I was around ... and I have done that. I get all my strength from what taught me, from how he raised me. He gave me inclusion, he gave me courage, he gave me pride, now it's my turn to try and give back.”

Hold that “give back” thought for a second. Oh, and hold that “more determined than any other person I was around” thought, too.

Around the same time that Jon Blais was given the death-sentence that is an ALS diagnosis, Adelard Van Praet got the same news. That's why, watching the coverage of the Ford Ironman World Championship in 2005 was so poignant for Van Praet. Here was a guy finishing the Ironman with a disease that was going to kill him. If he could do that, then Ryan Van Praet could step up and give something back, too.

Since then he's lost his father to ALS, but he continues to raise thousands of dollars for the ALS research in Canada. He’s completed five Ironmans. He was named the Ford Everyday Hero at Ford Ironman USA Lake Placid in 2007. He organizes a huge spin-a-thon to raise money for the Blazeman Foundation every winter.

So what happens when someone like Ryan Van Praet can't get to the finish line of Kona? First he's humbled by his hero.

After my experience in Kona last year and how it blew me to smithereens in my sixth Ironman (when you think you'd have most things figured out), it gave me the utmost sense of awe at what Jon accomplished while dying in 2005,” Van Praet wrote to me earlier this year.

The humility lasted for, I'm guessing, about a day. Then someone like Ryan Van Praet gets his butt in gear and starts training. And racing. Earlier this year, with his guide Syd Trefiak, he screamed through a hilly 70.3 distance race in 5:11. Then he was the second visually impaired athlete at the prestigious NYC triathlon. He's determined to continue the trend that athletes like Aaron Schiedies and Charlie Plaskon have started: don't feel sorry for these guys when they're out on the course - you better try to stay ahead of them because they're racing you right to the line.

“I hope desperately to get back to Kona to tackle the only race that has beaten me thus far,” Van Praet wrote in an e-mail last month. “As you know, my personality is a bit stubborn and I need to prove to myself that Kona is doable.”

A bit stubborn? Sure, you can try that, Ryan. All I can say is that I'm thrilled to hear that I'll see you next week in Clearwater. I'm looking forward to watching you and Syd fly through that course. I'm also looking forward to seeing you back in Kona some day. I can't see any way that you'll let anything stop that from happening.

No comments: