Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Daybreak Race Report: #TriForCharlie

Check out this unique race report from Bill Fowler, an inspiring account that highlights the kindness of our tri community.


Here are some extremely kind words from Charlie's parents, Rob & Angel.

Dear Tri-friends,

Ya’ll are nuts! I’ve been around sporting events and races of all kinds for most of my life and I can assure you that never have I seen what I witnessed on Saturday out in Daybreak. The only thing I knew about Triathlon’s prior to this was when I’d catch the occasional few minutes of the Ironman out in Hawaii when it was on TV (I now know that the correct/hip method of referencing this holy grail is to simply say “Kona.”) To me the whole concept sounded terrible. “Hey, let’s go swim really far in these yeasty wetsuits in some crazy funky water, then hop on bikes that have razor blades for seats and wear our arses into shoe leather, oh, then just for fun, lets go run a long way in damp onesies with chaffed pits and crotches and let’s do the whole thing as fast as we can!” Take three events that are really hard on their own and throw’em together and give it hell. You guys do this… on purpose… and pay money to do it… and most incredible of all you all seem to like it and were happy from start to finish. Instant respect was gained and I was blown away.

Bill Fowler, my lifelong friend is one of the kindest and completely genuine people I know, and that says a lot coming from me who doesn’t really like people and can be kind of a dick most days. So when Bill started doing these “Tri’s” I thought, well, Bill’s nuts and loves to try anything once so good on him. Then he kept doing them, and started traveling to do more of them. Then he came to us this year and said, “I wanna do a Tri with Charlie.” All I could think was "BILL, You've lost it!"

When my son Charlie was an 8 month old boy he was a happy, normal kid who was just learning how to crawl and in the span of one day that all changed. He got sick, his brain broke, and he would never be the same again. After more than 3 months in the hospital we got to take home our severely handicap son without any clue what to do next. We learned early on that the way Charlie experienced life would be very different from what we considered normal. He was deaf, partially blind, immobile and unable to communicate. But It was all perspective. Charlie found joy and happiness in his own brain damaged little way and it was in a way that we didn’t understand as parents but we could see joy, pure joy in the eyes of our little boy. I thought about this a lot as I watched so many of you compete on Saturday and while following Bill on the bike. You people were happy and more impressively you were happy for each other. It was a perspective that I didn’t understand. You were each others biggest fans! You just don’t see that anymore in the world of competitive sports. My hat is off to all of you. The group/community/team you have is a special one and I’m so grateful that my family and I got to experience a small piece of it and share in your joy. Thank you.

I wish Charlie could thank each and every one of you for creating such a special experience, but Meningitis sucks so I’m happy to do it for him. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you! And thank you Bill for loving Charlie enough to do this for him. Thank you all for the donations. We are still in shock. It will help so much with the adaptive ("adaptive" is code for "we can charge 10 times as much.") equipment that Charlie needs. We will never forget the 2017 Daybreak Triathlon, where Charlie got pulled and pushed, his brain found joy, and he will never be the same again.

Rob Christensen (Charlie's Dad)

A Mother's Perspective

Last Saturday was truly amazing. The whole thing was a completely new experience for us and I have a hard time putting it into adequate words. But one moment that I will never forget was when Bill came into the transition after the swim and I scooped up Charlie and he was grinning from ear to ear. I knew he was happy to the core and I wished he could tell me about it. Then as I took him up the hill people started chanting his name. "Charlie, Charlie, Charlie!" Although Charlie attends all of the cousins, brothers, friends sporting events, he doesn't find himself on the receiving end of things very often. His victories are usually celebrated at home, with a much smaller crowd. This Hit me hard. I thought I had used up all my tears years ago but somehow they found their way to my eyes behind my sunglasses and kept flowing as I listened. The feeling of support was overwhelming. Then I looked around and I saw it in each of the athletes as well, those that were following along side Charlie (thank you Maryann and Leslie), those that he saw along the way. It wasn't a look of pity that Charlie often gets, it was a genuine love and a desire to share an experience that they are all passionate about with my little guy. I had seen it on the dock at the beginning of the race but hadn't paid attention. Everyone was so excited for him, not just for themselves. Like Charlie's own cheering section from within the race. Everywhere we looked we saw a smile. As the race continued, I followed Bill and Charlie on the run. Everyone seemed to know Bill and Charlie and cheered us on. Others stopped to give hugs and encouragement. The love of support system was obvious and we were so lucky to briefly be a part of it.

We had no idea that the smiles on your faces during the race held a secret. As if the joy Charlie was experiencing weren't enough, after the race, we were again surprised by the this group of triathletes. The money that was donated totally caught us off guard. It was so generous and kind. I still can't believe it. You had never met us and you gave of yourselves. So inspiring! We plan to use it for a new wheelchair and now that Charlie has experienced a bike trailer I don't think we can keep him away from doing that again and again. I'm so grateful and moved by you all. You will never fully comprehend what an impact you have made on our lives.

Thank you for loving and supporting our little man!

Angel Christensen (Charlie's Mom)

This year’s Daybreak Triathlon highlighted how this sport really is a true community of caring and amazing athletes. Set in a beautiful venue that was perfect for both the experienced and newcomers alike, Daybreak was the perfect spot for me to try a different kind of Triathlon…#TriForCharlie.

At one of my first races in 2015, I watched a father push/pull his son. It seemed so far beyond my ability, but it planted a seed that possibly Charlie could one day race with me. Charlie is the son of one of my best friends who suffered a severe brain injury after contracting meningitis when he was eight months old and is severely disabled. Earlier this year at BAM Camp San Diego, I had the opportunity to swim with a parachute and realized I was ready to pull Charlie in the swim.

Typically, as athletes we make it all about us. If family has driven from out of state to visit us, well too bad they can wait until we finish our morning bike and brick run before we do anything! We are not missing a scheduled workout! Knowing what I have put my friends and family through to prepare for various races, it was time to atone and focus my efforts on others. This triathlon with Charlie meant a different level of logistical planning and luckily, I met some amazing people like Victor Villarreal and Carla Thorne, who assisted me on how to pull it all together.

A key decision was choosing the right venue. Having raced Daybreak last year, I instantly knew this was the best choice for a lot of reasons:

- Cody Ford is AWESOME and very approachable. I knew he would help me figure out the logistics.

- Daybreak is centrally located so all of my friends & family could participate and/or cheer. Plus, there are lots of great places on the course for them to follow along.

- Daybreak is BEAUTIFUL.

- During the swim, I would always be close to the shore if I had an emergency.

- I knew from racing it last year that it is well staffed and runs seamlessly.

- And frankly who doesn’t love that run?

Racing with Charlie allowed me to experience a triathlon in a whole new way. During the swim, I held back until the end of the individual rolling start so I wouldn’t be in the way of other racers with the boat I was pulling. Waiting until the end gave me the opportunity to talk to a number of individuals that were new to triathlon, some of them nervous about their swim skills. The individual rolling start is actually perfect for those new to the sport as it allows them to avoid what can often be the chaos of the swim start. As I took my plunge into the lake, I was presently surprised that the drag from the boat was less than I expected. It was reassuring to see Charlie’s Aunt in the kayak next to me and I found that with every breath, I could hear people cheering on Charlie from the shores. Before I knew it, I had rounded the buoy and arrived at the beach where Charlie’s Mom whisked him away to prepare for the bike just as she had practiced.

Within minutes, we were on to the bike with Charlie’s Dad and other close friends next to us. Charlie’s Dad was blown away with how so many athletes would shout encouragement – he quickly understood what I had previously explained to him about triathlon being a true community. As we came upon Victor Villarreal (who was also pulling a disabled child) he got a flat tire, so Charlie’s Dad and others stopped to help out, allowing me and Charlie to keep moving. While going up the hill was a bit of a challenge, coming back down was great and had my legs ready for the run.

Coming back into the transition, Charlie’s parents again had Charlie ready in short order and we were on to the run. As Charlie’s Mom accompanied me on the run, she now got to see and hear countless people cheering us on as we wound our way through the paths of the beautiful lake.

As we approached the finish line, it was electric – the shouts, the cheers, the sense of achievement. The race culminated in our own podium finish where we were able to present Charlie and his family with money that unbeknownst to them had been raised from a friendly competition between BAM and SLTC.

The fundraising idea materialized earlier this year after I spent some time with Bob Babbitt and heard his stories of how thousands of people’s lives had been improved because of his triathlon community. I knew I if I could rally MY community I could make a difference in the lives of Charlie and his family. On a casual bike ride last year, Charlie’s father had voiced some frustration with the insurance companies. Charlie had to have a large wheelchair for the school bus and school, but that large wheelchair didn’t work so well for the house and car. The insurance company would only buy one every so many years. Charlie isn’t so small anymore and is growing fast and so are his needs. There would be lots of things that insurance doesn’t really cover and picking him up and carting him around wouldn’t be an option soon, but the expenses seemed too great and so far out of reach.

Last week I challenged both tri clubs, BAM and SLTC, to vote with their dollars which club's tri kit I should wear as I pushed Charlie in the race. This challenge drew on the competitive and selfless spirit of two great tri clubs, and the donations began to pour in. I was in complete awe of people’s generosity and outpouring of kindness. I loved Wes Johnson's text to me after the race “Thank you Bill!!! That was fun to be a part of and regardless of who won we did some good! Hopefully this also helps the clubs grow a little closer together somehow.” Regardless of if you are in BAM, SLTC, or as my kids call it “SLAM” and “BAM-BEE” you make me proud to be among you!

Bill & Starr Fowler


  1. So incredibly inspiring. Thank you for example of charity!

  2. I am Charlie's Great Aunt. This touched my soul so deeply. Words can't say thank you enough. Being around Charlie changes you from the inside out. May you all be blessed to experience that change.