Ironman event in Arizona breaking down physical barriers, reuniting families

Ironman Arizona is back for its 17th year, and on Nov. 17, the Ironman Village opened in Tempe.

Organizers are expecting about 2,500 people to take part in the event this year, and there are some inspiration stories amongst the attendees.

Event reunited father with his son

58-year-old Wayne Cerven from Ontario and 32-year-old Riley Cerven of London say they have not seen each other for about six years. Now, they are seeing each other for the first time, at Ironman Arizona.

"It's a special ironman because I am racing with my son," said Wayne.

Wayne has completed one Ironman before this, while this is Riley's first ironman event. Riley, a former professional skier, was motivated to take part after a 2019 ironman event in Wisconsin.

"I was always one of those people who thought those guys are crazy, and I would never do something like that, but when he achieved that, I thought it was something we could potentially do," said Riley.

Over the past several months, the father and son duo have been training virtually, no matter the time difference.

"I would be finishing my work-out and having lunch, and he'd be finishing his workout and having dinner," said Wayne. "We'd of course be communicating and watching each other on the screen."

The two say they have Ironman Arizona to thank for bringing them back together.

"If we need to support each other along the way, where one of us is blown out, we want to make sure we're there to support," said Riley.

"We are going to cross that finish line, whether an hour apart or right on each other's shoes," said Wayne. "It's going to happen."

Physical impediment, life challenges not barriers for some attendees

Besides reuniting families, some competitors at the event overcame life challenges and physical impediments to get to where they are now.

Dale Biddle is no stranger to completing an ironman race.

"This will be the third tri for a good, solid race," said Biddle.

Biddle's journey to Ironman Arizona, however, looks a lot different from the average person.

"[When] I was 16, I got hit while riding my motorcycle to school in the morning," said Biddle. "A car basically took me out. Ran me over."

Biddle lost part of his heel. He had to be on crutches for over a year, and underwent seven surgeries.

"They ended up putting me back together again," said Biddle. "I have veins missing out of my arm and some skin grafts here to put everything back together on my foot."

At 35, Biddle put his foot to the test. He ran his first Ironman Arizona in 2015, and then came back in 2021.

"I reinvented my run three or four times now because if I run too much, if I do too much of the wrong thing, my shoe will be full of blood. I'll run through my heel because your skin is not like your normal stuff anymore," said Biddle. "Getting to run and bike and swim, just doing life, living life and having fun doing it is absolutely amazing."

Biddle, now 53, has a goal of finishing the entire marathon without walking.

"I am feeling cautiously optimistic," siad Biddle. "This entire last year, I've really worked on my fitness and getting better with the nutrition and what works best for me. That has been huge, and I'm crossing my fingers that I can have the day that I think I can."

Biddle's wife and friends will also take part in the event.

For 29-year-old Chris Leach, life almost ended for him seven years ago due to a medical episode.

"Back in 2015, I spent about 10 days in a coma from something from ARDC - Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome," said Leach. "Basically, my lungs stopped working and shut down, and we couldn't figure out why my lungs weren't working, so doctors put me under. Did a bunch of surgeries for about a better part of two weeks."

Leach's road to recovery has been a long one.

"I had chest tubes put in to drain the stuff out of your lungs," said Leach. "So, they literally split me, stuck tubes in my lungs. There is scar tissue in there that I think will never really heal."

When Leach woke up from the coma, he lost not only weight, but his ability to do everyday things as well.

"I couldn't walk, couldn't do simple things like feeding myself," said Leach. "Using my hands, sitting up right, simple tasks, walking upstairs. It was pretty ridiculous."

Seven years later, Leach is defying all odds.

"I remember some of the therapy to get back from this," said Leach. "Some of my workouts would literally be walk a quarter mile on the treadmill and I would be dying, which would be crazy to come and do something like this now, where it's really this full-cycle recovery."

2022's Ironman Arizona is Leach's first even of the sort.

"I want to push it," said Leach. "I want to see what I can do."

Ironman Arizona is set to take place on Sunday, Nov. 20.

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