Get to know the Holzmuellers, a longtime dare2tri family, as Birdy recounts her experience with dare2tri and the influence the club has had on the lives of her sons, Nathan and Aaron.
1. What’s your story?
I’m the proud mom of Nathan, 16, and Aaron, 14. Our whole family has been involved with Dare2Tri pretty much since the beginning. Aaron has cerebral palsy and epilepsy from a diffuse and catastrophic brain injury at birth.
Keri Serota was Aaron’s coach at GLASA, and let us know she was starting a triathlon club for kids and adults with physical and visual disabilities. I was doubtful at first, I couldn’t quite picture how it would work to have kids with physical disabilities train for triathlons, but when Aaron did his first one, he was hooked and so was I! (South Shore Tri in 2011; Aaron did it as a team with Alex Malawski; Aaron swam and ran and Alex biked. Aaron did not own an adaptive bike and had never biked). Nathan swam in a relay team with Gabi and has since volunteered in every kids camp, and guided a number of different kids, including his brother, through their races.
Aaron has since learned to bike, and completed numerous triathlons on his own. Most recently, he volunteered as a race guide at the Chicago Lifetime Tri, since he was in high school cross country season and couldn’t race himself.
2. What is your specific involvement with dare2tri?
Generally, I volunteer and cheer! I would do anything Keri, Melissa, Dan or Stacee asked me to do – with a smile!
3. How long have you been involved with dare2tri?
Since it started in 2011.
4. Why did you get involved with dare2tri?
Because Keri suggested it. And, as I said above, I would really do anything Keri suggested.
5. Is there a specific moment while with dare2tri that sticks out in your mind? If so, what is it?
I have a lot of moments that stick out for me with dare2tri. I have a vivid memory of that first triathlon the kids did, and of kids camps. I remember Aaron taking on his Adaptive Ironman Challenge for his Bar Mitzvah, and finishing the whole challenge at Kids Camp 2013 (he ran 112 miles, biked a marathon, and swam 2.4 miles over the course of about 7 months as a fundraising project to get an adaptive bike for dare2tri).
My most recent favorite moments were watching my two sons swim together. Since Aaron had seizures recur in May of 2013, he has been restricted from all swimming at times, and he is no longer allowed to swim in open water unless he is tethered to a guide. His brother Nathan learned to use the tether with him in the 2014 kids camp and they actually used it in the Wauconda quarry together. It was an amazing and scary moment as a parent. It is always pretty amazing to watch them race together.
At that same race, Aaron had his first bike crash. It was overwhelming and upsetting to him, and he chose not to continue. Stacee, Melissa, and Dan, the coaches who were there, were much, much better with him than his parents in handling the situation. They understood in ways that we didn’t, that everybody crashes, and sometimes the most important lesson you learn in a race isn’t about finishing. They were also super supportive in getting Aaron back on a bike quickly.
6. What would you like others to know about dare2tri?
Give it a tri! You may not think it’s your thing, but the coaches and volunteers are so awesome, and there is tremendous flexibility in how you can be involved in this group, either as an athlete or a volunteer. To parents of children with physical disabilities, I encourage you to bring your child to one of these events and see what they think.
7. What does dare2tri mean to you?
It’s a fantastic opportunity for my older son to be of assistance, and for my younger son to really challenge himself.
8. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Aaron recently had an assignment for his freshman humanities class where he was supposed to demonstrate his understanding of the hero’s journey cycle in mythology using a personal example from his own life. He used his first full triathlon to illustrate the cycle. Here is what he wrote:
“I had always considered myself as a runner and a swimmer, those were the sports I considered myself best at. I hadn’t pursued biking that much and didn’t particularly want to try it. My mom heard about a new triathlon club that was being founded by my track coach. At the urging of my coach, I decided to try it. I went and tried out biking in Chicago. It was hard at first, but it started getting easier each time. My mom decided to sign me up for a triathlon in Chicago where I’d have to swim, get out of the pool, go get my bike, bike, get off the bike, on somewhat shaky legs, and run. The day of the race came. I was very scared. I didn’t know what it would be like and just wanted to get it over with. I raced my first triathlon, and I was the first person to finish in my disability class. I became a triathlete when I crossed the finish line on that day. I went home as a new person. I was the first person in my family to have ever done a triathlon. I still swim and run, but I also bike now.”