With just one day left until the premier off-road triathlon event, athletes from all over the world have arrived in Kapaulua, Maui. Because this is XTERRA, many competitors are already friends and the spirit in the air on Friday night was one of excitement and camaraderie. While fierce on the dirt, an XTERRA competitor is also a friend for life.
Nowhere was that XTERRA spirit more palpable than at the "Night of Champions" dinner last night at the Ritz-Carlton Resort.
After a rousing introduction welcoming athletes from 52 countries, Kathy Doyle, the widow of 2015 XTERRA Warrior Award Winner, Dave DeSantis, gave a heartfelt tribute to her late husband.
Since 2003, the XTERRA Warrior Award has been given to a member of the XTERRA Tribe that has shown exemplary courage in the face of adversity, gone above and beyond to help the greater community, or personified the “Live More” spirit.
Three years into his battle with cancer, Dave set a goal of raising money for the Challenged Athletes Foundation by participating in sixteen XTERRA races in sixteen different countries in 2016. By the end of that year, he not only met his original goal of $16,000 raised, he more than doubled it. Throughout 2016, he visited 13 of those countries, and participated in 11 of those races on four continents, all while undergoing chemo. This tenacity and sheer grit were a true testament to how Dave lived his life. Physically, mentally, and morally, he truly was the ultimate triathlete.
This year's XTERRA Warrior Award Winner was John Davis, challenged athlete and founder of the non-profit, 2Xtreme.
In college, John Davis was an NCAA All-American swimmer and USA National team member. In 1991 he led the University of North Carolina to three ACC swimming and diving championships and won 11 individual ACC crowns – the most in conference history. Additionally, he trained and tried out for the 1988 and 1992 Olympic Teams.
In 2014, John went from having total mastery over his body to being at its mercy when he began suffering the effects of motor neuron disease, which causes degeneration of the nerves that control muscle function. Instead of being effortless, movement was painful, and sometimes impossible.
Rather than resign himself to a smaller life, John decided to use his experience to connect to the at-risk youth he works with as a certified addiction counselor and founder of the non-profit foundation, 2Xtreme.
John's doctor told him that either he needed to begin to move his body again, or he was going to die. Despite in intense pain and difficulty, John began by getting back into the pool and walking on the trails.
A year after his diagnosis, John had to undergo back surgery to alleviate compressed discs, stenosis, synovial cysts and arthritis in his lower spine caused by motor neuron disease. The surgery left him with difficulty bending over – and everyday things such as taking off and putting on shoes, became more difficult.
In 2015, while walking the trails near his home in Colorado, he came across a volunteer for XTERRA Beaver Creek, who told him about the event. John had never competed in a triathlon before, but he made it a goal to compete in XTERRA Beaver Creek in 2016.
While registering for the event, John met a woman who he thought was a volunteer - but who was really Janet Clark, president of XTERRA. He asked Janet for a chair in transition because of his spinal fusion, which she provided.
Janet cheered John on and invited him to the XTERRA World Championship. The following year, John decided to take 17 athletes from 2Xtreme to XTERRA Beaver Creek.
"Janet said I was crazy," said John. "So I took 19."
Leading up to the competition, John took the boys swimming, running, and mountain biking. He provided swim lessons, and Ms. XTERRA Deanna McCurdy and her husband David helped to provide instruction on the mountain bike.
John powerfully led the boys through his own example. While John looks like one of the fittest people on the planet, his disease is painful. Movement is necessary, but sometimes incredibly difficult.
"The motivation is, if I can do this, why can't you move through what you have going on in your life?" John tells the boys he works with.
At XTERRA Beaver Creek this year, all the boys crossed the finish line of the sprint event with huge smiles on their faces.
"I can say to the boys, 'So you've been knocked down. You've been kicked down, and you're disconnected. You have a choice to make. Either you are going to move, or it's only going to get worse.' I'm able to parallel my situation to them and say, If I'm going to make all of these steps, you can too. It's just one step."