Roll on

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 53, No. 10, December 2011, Page 513 Editorials

“Understand that this is not a dress rehearsal, this is it, your life. Face your fears and live your dreams.” —Jonathan Blais

I wrote about Jonathan Blais, aka Blazeman, in a previous editorial [BCMJ 2009;51:421]. Stricken with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in the prime of his life, he managed to finish the Hawaii Ironman in 2005. I heard him speak at the Ironman Sport Medicine Conference the following year. He had returned to Hawaii to give a face to ALS. 

In the year since he had completed this grueling race he had deteriorated to the point where he was confined to a wheelchair and his speech was difficult to understand. He felt that it was his mission to raise awareness of a disease whose treatment and prognosis had not changed since the time of Lou Gehrig. He died the next spring at age 35. 

I was back at Kona, Hawaii, this fall to once again attend the Sport Med­icine Conference and observe the Hawaii Ironman. Being in Kona the week of this world championship race is a bizarre experience. Kona hosts 2000 of the fittest human beings on the planet, along with their friends, family, coaches, and so on. Think lean and hairless Greek gods and goddesses. 

I was with my adult daughter who would exclaim, “That is a beautiful man, and there’s another one, and another, and….” I have never been checked out by so many guys before, but it’s not what you think. As you walk by they’re sizing up your fitness and whether you are in their age group. Sadly, I am rapidly discounted as competition. The nervous energy as they swim, bike, and run in race preparation is incredible. 

Triathletes are one of the most gim
mick- and fad-oriented groups you will ever meet. In general, they are wealthy and are looking for an edge. One new trend is compression socks. These are knee-length garments de­signed initially to aid in recovery and are now worn by many during competition. In typical triathlete fashion they are usually multicolored neon. 

Imagine the surprise of the cruise ship travelers who were unloaded at Kona a few days before the race sporting beige compression socks for completely different reasons. “Hey Betty, I got to get me some of those neon ones.”

If I were more enterprising I would design a few products that I am sure would sell like hotcakes. Endurance athletes often use salt tablets to replace their losses. I would purchase a cow salt lick block and carve it in to smaller Aero-Lick units to be attached to the bicycle top tube. I would also design Ear-O straps to hold protuberant ears closer to the head. I would make outlandish claims of increased performance and make a fortune.

Jonathan Blais vowed he would finish that 2005 race before the cutoff, even if he had to roll across the finish line. It was close, but shortly before midnight he dropped and rolled across the finish line, starting the Blazeman roll, which continues to be done in his honor at races around the world—including by many of the top finishers at this year’s race. 

His Blazeman Foundation carries on raising funds and awareness about ALS. In fact, funds raised in his name were donated to the group at Northwestern University in Texas that recently documented the link between ALS and abnormal CNS protein recycling. This discovery paves the way to finding effective treatments for this horrible disease.

One person can make a difference. Roll on my friends. 

David R. Richardson, MD. Roll on. BCMJ, Vol. 53, No. 10, December, 2011, Page(s) 513 - Editorials.

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