PHOTOS BY STEVEN SULLIVAN AND COURTESY OF UMMC PUBLIC AFFAIRS
Austin LaSource was training for Ironman Chattanooga 2014 when he and his wife Lauren, got the news that 15-month-old Ryan’s acute myeloid leukemia had returned.
Originally diagnosed with AML in 2013, the LaSources’ son this time required a bone marrow transplant. Chattanooga was out of the question. However, training partner Joel Neely decided he and Austin’s friends should host a hometown “Ironman” race for Austin. They had less than a week to put it together.“
I felt underprepared to take on the race in such a short time,” Austin said. “I had so many crazy emotions...nervous and excited all at the same time.” Austin began the day with a 2.4-mile swim in Reunion Lake with half-a-dozen other swimmers. Then, he tackled the 112-mile bike ride with forty to fifty people along for the ride. Finally, the marathon distance run was “Forest Gump-like,” said Joel, as 100 people ran 26.2 miles with Austin.
Austin crossed the first RyanMan finish line in 15 hours and 36 minutes on a sweltering July day. “It was probably very close to a ‘real’ Ironman feeling,” Austin mused, with all of the supporters on the course and the crowd cheering him on. “I was thrilled, exhausted and in pain,” he said. “But seeing Ryan at the finish line cheering me on was the whole reason I did it.”
The energy around that day sparked an idea: maybe this could be a real, competitive triathlon that would raise awareness for the fight against childhood cancer. In 2014, the RyanMan Foundation became a 501c3, and the board began planning a premier triathlon to raise money for Batson Children’s Hospital. For ease of logistics and athlete accessibility, the first annual RyanMan Triathlon presented by Indian Cycle was set as a half-iron distance race (1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run) with Lakeshore Park and the surrounding area as the venue.
The board met with the Rankin, Flowood and Reservoir police at the end of February 2015, anxious about getting everything approved. Much to the team’s surprise, “They hardly blinked an eye,” said Arash Sepehri.
“We couldn’t have asked for better support,” Allen Joiner, race director, agreed.
More than 200 people registered for the October 4 race, including several relay teams and two paratriathletes. Cold, damp, windy weather impacted race day, but despite having to substitute a 1.2-mile run for the cancelled swim, the race was a huge success. The final finisher ran across the finish line with Ryan. “It was really, really cool,” said Joel.
And the RyanMan Foundation donated $22,000 to Batson.
This year’s USA Triathlon-sanctioned RyanMan, set for October second, promises to be even better. Indian Cycle continues as the title sponsor, along with sponsorship from Fleet Feet Sports, River Hills Bank and Farm Bureau Insurance, and Batson again as the benefactor. “We couldn’t do it without Indian Cycle,” Arash said.
"Every sponsor makes the check bigger,” said Joel. “The bottom line is we are raising money for kids like Ryan that have cancer.”
RyanMan is the only half-iron distance race in Mississippi, and it is the only local long-distance not-for-profit triathlon that donates all proceeds to the chosen benefactor.
“We need every triathlete in the Jackson metro area to participate, and we want to attract participants from every part of the country,” Joel said.
“If you don’t want to do the triathlon, sign up for a relay team, and if you don’t want to do that, volunteer,” said Arash.
“Everyone should be involved somehow.”
Austin added, “We want RyanMan to become a flagship event for the area.” Everyone who is part of RyanMan agrees that it is a special, unique event, near to their hearts. They are all athletes doing what they love, helping children like Ryan the best way they know how.
Vist the RyanMan website for more information on registering and helping out with the event.