The XTERRA World Championship is a special race, one that carries different meanings for different people. For some, it’s the athletic test they’ve prepared for all year. For others, it's the culmination of their own personal journey to “Live More.”
For Tom Dhans, it was an opportunity to connect with his source of strength.
Dhans, a 49-year-old from Brooksville, Florida, lost his 16-year-old daughter Brandi in an auto accident a little more than a decade ago.
“After her death it was hard to get out on the bike because your mind wanders and mine would always end thinking of her accident. It happened by our house, and I ran to the scene and was there to see everything,” said Dhans. “I didn't ride much after her accident because it was just too hard, and when I first started running I felt like I was running away from my problems, but my Pastor said I was running to something. And there were so many things that encouraged me. She was an organ donor and meeting her recipients and seeing what strength they had pushed me forward.”
By chance, Dhans was at the Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua in Maui for his 30th anniversary before last year’s race and was able to ride the course with some of the Ritz staff. The experience moved him, visibly enough that his brother surprised him by entering him in the at-large pool for the 2013 XTERRA World Championship as a Christmas present.
Although he was an avid cyclist, it was never competitive. He only started running four years ago, didn’t swim, and had never done a triathlon before. That all changed with the entry to Worlds.
“I thought if I could finish it would be a personal victory," he said. "I started swimming six months ago, and did my first of four triathlons this year just four months ago. The driving force was Brandi. She was always proud of my riding and would cheer me on at century rides and my yearly cross-Florida ride. I felt she was with me on this journey.”
Eventually, swimming, biking, and running became a refuge for Dhans. It became even more than that as he prepared to race in the XTERRA World Championship.
“XTERRA's motto is to 'Live More' but for me it’s more than that," he said. "It feels more like simply, LIVE, because I've never felt more alive than on the West Maui Mountains above Kapalua this year, repeating the Ritz spiritual advisor Clifford Nae’ole chant to “look to the source.” My source was Brandi, my daughter who left us way too early, and my wife and daughter, Sarah and Angie, who always supported me.”
Dhans said that to him XTERRA meant never giving up. On Sunday, October 27, Dhans did not give up. “I came off the mountain bike feeling like it was the hardest, scariest thing I’ve done,” he said. Despite a few cuts and bruises and a “slightly” separated shoulder, Dhans crossed the finish line in 5:37:05.
“To be greeted by Raena at the finish line with an arm full of lei’s, then to be held and cry tears of joy with my wife and daughter. I’d imagined it so many times,” he recalled.
Dhans dedicated his race to Brandi and to organ donor families and recipients.
“I feel like XTERRA and the XTERRA family has ignited new life in me, and I’m hoping my story might inspire other athletes to pursue their dreams,” said Dhans.
As a permanent reminder of his spiritual journey, Dhans got a truly special tattoo.
“The tribal symbols are strength, power, courage and family," he said. "The tattoo artist’s father also competed in XTERRA and explained that these were all attributes of an XTERRA Warrior, and the island of Maui says it all.”