Tribute to Mr. Ward

I was going to write a story about the race in the Bahamas this weekend, and tell you all about how it was fun, it was hot, and how I felt pretty good, but I got some news this morning that made me rethink all that. Jim Ward, a person who I truly considered my hero and the guy I want to be when I grow up, died on Labor Day while out on a training ride with friends. He was 83 years old. Most people involved in triathlon know who Jim is, but if you don’t, I’ll tell you. He was the oldest finisher of the Hawaii Ironman, completing the race at the age of 77. He started racing in triathlons at the age of 68 or so. He was a fixture in the Florida triathlon scene and a 10 time age-group national champion.

This guy is my hero and he will be until I die. I’m sad, but I know that he died doing what he loved. He had a great life. He was the kind of guy who you could really look up to, because he was out there doing things that most doctors would say are “impossible,” or “unbelievable.” Baloney. Jim did it. Even after he had a stroke a couple years ago, he was back out at the races, smiling, giving people high fives and getting across that line. You think you’re having a hard time at a race? Jim was 83 and already had a stroke. You think you’re in pain? You don’t know what pain is. You think you’re tough?

Jim was tougher.

I only talked to him a couple times. Once, during a race, I saw him finishing up the run. I ran up next to him and told him what I thought. “Mr. Ward,” I said, “I just want you to know that it is always great to see you out here.” He put out his hand and I shook it.

After that, I would say hi to him every time I saw him, but I never got to tell him what he really meant to me. I wanted to tell him that when I’m older I want to be out there on the run course, smiling at people, and inspiring them. I want to be in great shape when I’m 83, still running in the races, still loving life and everything that it has to offer. When I die, and I will, I want to be go with the knowledge that I gave it everything I had to offer. That I gave it my best.

So my race report for this week is this: Appreciate what you have – your health, your happiness, and the people around you, while you can. Be glad you got to go to the Bahamas and meet some cool people and have a great time. Be happy that you got whatever place you got. In the end, it’s not all about winning anyway. It’s about giving it your best shot.

Next time you race, think about Jim, and let him know what he meant to you. Give it your best. Give it your best in everything you do.

Marty Gaal