Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Team Belnap: We swim, bike, and run because they can't

In the fall of 2010, when Seth's condition started to significantly deteriorate, I was training for the Tour of the White Mountains. This is a mountain bike race that I love and have done several times. I raced the 35 mile course.  I decided I was going to dedicate this race to my son Seth.  I only told my wife my plans. I had the motto: I race, because he can't. There was something different about this race.  There was something special about this race.  This was a race not about me, it was about Seth.  I put on my headphones and road harder than I ever have before.

Exhaustion, muscle cramping, thirst, mental fatigue all were omnipresent and very frequent.  Those of you who have done endurance events have heard about "hitting a wall".  I hit this wall, but rebounded like a racquetball.  As these feelings came, I would think of my sweet little boy Seth and I would ride harder and continue on.  I took no breaks and the only time I got off my bike was when I crashed into a pile of lava rock.  Ouch!  I finished in the top 10 with a time of 03:14:23.86

Me in Tour of White Mountains 2010
The following year, Sydney was officially diagnosed with Mitochondrial Disease and I decided to change my motto from I race because HE can't to I race because THEY can't.  I told Becky and Spencer my motto and they joined me in our silent cause to race for Sydney and Seth.  The motto then became: WE race because THEY can't.   Becky ran the Moab Half Marathon, Phoenix Half Marathon, Ogden Marathon, and the St. George Marathon with this motto.  In 2011, I raced in Ironhorse, Bike the Bluff, and The Tour of the White Mountains.

Becky and her dad after Deseret News 10K
Spencer was involved in soccer and track and was an amazing athlete.  I remember telling Spencer before soccer games and track meets to play this game for your little brother.  Run this race for your sister.  Spencer was an amazing athlete.  He had the endurance of a Tarahumaran and could accelerate like a cheetah.  In 2011, Spencer finished in 3rd place with a podium finish in the 15 mile Tour of the White Mountains race with a time of 01:30:23.  He won many of his track meets in the 800 and 1600 meters.

Spencer 2011 Tour of White Mountains

Me 2011 Tour of White Mountains

Things were going well for us.  Sydney and Seth were stable and Spencer, Becky, and I were all running/racing/playing for our silent cause:  Because they can't.  Then, we were broadsided by Spencer's diagnosis.  Our lives have been chaos and unsettling.  Becky and I have not raced since Spencer's diagnosis.  I've had a hard time even getting on the bike or running on the trails.

One of the worst days on this journey is when I had to tell Spencer he could not race anymore.  I was on my way to his first track meet of the season in Winslow, AZ.  I had just gotten off the phone with Maureen at Dr. Shoffner's office.  They had discussed Spencer's case and recommended he not participate in any competitive sports until he was seen by Dr. Shoffner.  Spencer was suited up for his track meet.  I was about 30 minutes away from the track meet and his event would start in 45 minutes.

I had to tell Spencer that he could not race.  I knew the news would devastate him.  I knew how much he loved to run and compete.  Now, I had to tell him he could not race for his little brother or his big sister anymore.  Tears filled my eyes knowing what Spencer was about to go through.  As I scrambled  to find Spencer at the track meet, I pulled him to the end of the bleachers and with tears in my eyes told him that Dr. Shoffner was highly suspicious of him also having a form of Mitochondrial Disease and it was best if he did not run or compete in any sporting events at this time.  I hope I never have to ever do something like that again.  It was so painful.  Spencer was running for his brother and sister because they can't, and now he was to be included with those who can't.

Seth posing with some of Spencer's awards he received in soccer, track, and mountain biking.  Spencer would race/play in honor of Seth.  
So, for those of you who have joined Team Belnap, you are running because Spencer can't.  You are fulfilling part of his dream.  Run like hell.  Run for him.  I can guarantee you that Spencer would love to run this race because they can't.  Spencer would love to strap on his shin guards and play because they can't.  Spencer would love to clip into his mountain bike pedals and ride because they can't, but Spencer can't!

There is something special about racing for someone else.  There is something special about racing for a cause that makes the race more meaningful.  It's time to change our silent motto to a loud scream that can be heard across the country.  It's time for me to lace up my trail running shoes again.  It's time for me to clip into my mountain or road bike and race because they can't.  Thank you for all who have supported Team Belnap:  We swim, bike, and run because they can't.


  1. Thanks Newell, I shared it on FB and on the Las Sendas page. I think a lot of the people in Las Sendas will be able to relate to the love of endurance and their hearts will go out to Spencer...as he has had a taste of it and now he cannot. It would be great to get some more team members from Mesa. I am sure a lot of them will be riding the tour de mesa.

  2. Hey Newell,
    I just wanted to jump on here and send my prayers out to you and your family. When you told me about Spencer having the terrible disease as well, I was saddened and my heart goes out to you and your family. As you are aware, I was Spencers first coach and the sport was soccer. He was so much more advanced in soccer than the kids he competed against. I remember telling him not to score because once he got the ball no one could stop him. I remember having the conversations with you on how I looked forwar to watching him compete when he got older. He was such a great young athlete. I hope more and more people are made aware of Mitochondrial Disease and I wish that some day soon a cure will be found. I will do my part to help spread the word and Im sure someday, hopefully soon, a cure will be found.

    Dave burks