Jon "Blazeman" Blais passed away Sunday, May 27, 2007 after a two-year battle with Lou Gehrig's Disease, but not before finishing the 2005 Ironman Championship in Kona, Hawaii, and changing thousands of people's lives. We published this article on Active.com in January, and we're reposting it in memory of the Blazeman and his unbelievable achievements.
"Even if I have to be rolled across the finish line, I'm finishing." These are the words of the Blazeman.
There are many reasons why people compete in triathlons. Some are driven by the sense of fulfillment that comes from accomplishing a challenging goal. Others compete to get in shape and live a more disciplined lifestyle. After 20 years as a triathlete, Jon Blais was inspired by a different reason -- to wage a war on ALS.
Diagnosed in 2005 with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, Jon Blais was given two to five years to live. He had already started to lose some control of his muscles, and now, just two years later, he is almost completely paralyzed.
As a lifelong multi-sport athlete however, Blais knows a few things about overcoming obstacles. While there is still no cure for ALS, he found a different way to fight the disease. Upon diagnosis, not only was he determined to continue racing, but he was determined to blaze the way towards finding a cure for ALS.
At the age of 34 the man known as "The Blazeman" did just that. He completed the final and most compelling race of his life -- the 2005 Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii. As he rolled across the finish line, not long before midnight, he sent a message that echoed around the world. His message, one that still sounds today, is one of hope and a call to action to find a cure for ALS.
Charging through barriers
While most people faced with a fatal disease may consider themselves victims or patients, Jonathan Blais is neither. He is a warrior.
Instead of giving up hope or taking relaxing vacations to enjoy his last years, Blais found himself called to lead a revolution against ALS. As a dedicated triathlete, he decided to accomplish this mission by becoming the first person diagnosed with ALS to finish a full Ironman competition -- a 2.4-mile ocean swim, followed by a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run through the lava fields of Kona.
An Ironman is an incredible feat on its own without the extra challenges that Blais faced from his progressively deteriorating muscle function. Overcoming obstacles, however, is no new thing to Jon Blais.
After obtaining his education in Rhode Island, Blais was drawn to San Diego. A mecca for outdoor sports and triathlons, southern California allowed Jon to do the things he had a passion for, such as running year-round, swimming in the open water and hiking through scenic, yet challenging mountain trails. He thrived on pushing himself to his limits.
Blais brought his drive and determination with him to the Aseltine School, an alternative school where he taught students with emotional and developmental challenges. He encouraged his students to constantly strive to achieve their dreams, despite the often discouraging obstacles facing them.
So, when faced with the biggest challenge of his life, Blais found himself following the advice he had passed on to his students over the years. He set out to accomplish his own lifelong goal of becoming an Ironman, and in doing so, he hoped to accomplish his ultimate goal of raising awareness and funds for ALS research.
Assembling an army
The fact that someone with progressively deteriorating muscles was to attempt to compete in one of the most grueling races in the world was more than enough to turn a few heads. Blais's courage, determination and passion for the cause were what started a revolution.
The Blazeman documented his mission on his Web site, www.alswarriorpoet.com, where people from all over joined him in support of the cause. His journey to the finish line in Kona was also documented by NBC and several other news sources. The coverage of Blais's emotional and triumphant roll across the finish line broadcasted his mission to put an end to the devastating disease.
People all across the world were moved by his courage and strength to do something to help find a cure. "Looking into his eyes showed me his passion and hope that one day there will be a cure," said Mike Reilly, the announcer of the Ironman World Championships. "I just hope that through our words, that message is portrayed to the athletes." Reilly has become not only the "Voice of Ironman" but a "Voice for ALS" as well.
On his Web site, the Blazeman calls out, "The War on ALS is on, and the assembling of "TEAM BLAZEMAN" and the support of the Multi-Sport World will be answering the call to battle." Through his perseverance and determination, Blais truly has assembled an army to battle the disease that will soon take his own life.
The log roll finish that touched the hearts of so many has now become a symbol of Blais's perseverance and fight against ALS. Athletes all over the nation, known as Team Blazeman Warriors, have rolled across finish lines at races to honor his efforts and show their support.
"Becoming an 'Ironman' doesn't even come close to what it meant to me to race for Jon," said Brian Breen, one of the Team Blazeman Warriors who ran in honor of Jon in the 2006 Hawaii Ironman. "It was like getting to bat in place of Lou Gehrig in the actual Yankees lineup. I didn't feel an ounce of pain out there -- not that there wasn't any. I just thought about Jon the entire time, and I felt a surge of honor and pride coursing through my veins like I've never felt in my life."
Breen, like many other Warriors, continues to compete in events to raise awareness for the War on ALS. As Team Blazeman continues to fight, Jon Blais's message continues to spread. A variety of athletic events have been organized across the nation to raise awareness and support for finding a cure. With each new event and supporter, Jon's goal is closer and closer to being fulfilled.
The War on ALS wages on
As the Blazeman states on his Web site, "The sad thing is that almost 70 years after former baseball legend "Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig was helped off the field in Yankee Stadium in 1939, there is still no cure, no treatment and only one FDA approved drug that has clinically failed to do anything beyond extend suffering."
The war against ALS won't be over until a cure is found, but Jon Blais can rest assured that through his drive and determination, he has brought us closer to that day. His courage, strength and perseverance have inspired an entire army to charge ahead in the fight. Jon will receive a special award at the Competitor of the Year awards in San Diego on February 3, 2007, and he is sure to be honored for his efforts for years to come.
In the words of Team Blazeman Warrior Brian Breen, "The sacrifice that Jon put forth reminds me of a patch that Pararescue Jumpers wear on their uniforms that reads, "So that others may live." That about sums it up. That's what Jon has done here."
To find out how you can help, visit the Blazeman's page at www.ALSWarriorPoet.com.
More on the Blazeman's story.
Click here for an interview with the Blazeman.
By Deanna Askin