ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kona Ironman World Championship is considered the most brutal one-day test of endurance on the planet — but that hasn’t stopped a local father-son team from taking on the challenge.
“I live by the motto that anything is possible,” said John Agar, a 22-year-old from Rockford who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair.
His journey to the Ironman race in Hawaii started in 2005 with 23 steps — the first he had ever taken. Now, he’s preparing for the biggest walk of his life.
“You have to respect the event and respect Ironman because it is so challenging and it’s meant to be tough so that very few people actually accomplish it,” said Jeff Agar, John’s father.
It’s the bond between father and son that has led them to participate in a number of races in West Michigan, Jeff Agar pushing his son’s wheelchair and John Agar mustering his resolve to walk the final distance.
“My dad is my motor. He’s the one behind me. He’s the one that taught me that everything is possible,” John Agar said.
Their bond strengthens every stroke Jeff Agar takes as he prepares to pull his 110-pound son 2.4 miles through ocean waters during the Ironman competition. It’s what keeps him pedaling as he trains for the 112-mile bike ride, his son in a chariot behind him. It’s what urges him to put one foot in front of the other to complete the 26.2-mile marathon that ends the event.
“I never would have even dreamed of doing something like this,” Jeff Agar said of Ironman. “It would never even have crossed my mind.”
The Agars entered their first 5K together seven years ago. At the time, it was the longest race Jeff Agar had ever run.
“I look at it as Johnny getting involved in running and racing,” he said.
There’s something about competition that brings out the best in Team Agar and their father-son connection.
“Kid with cerebral palsy doesn’t get to experience rigorous training very much. So I think having more of an appreciation for what athletes go through on a daily basis has been wonderful for me,” John Agar said. “It’s very difficult for me to be able to show the amount of joy that I have for the fact that he’s doing this for me and the fact that we can share this kind of love for sports when nobody ever thought we would be able to.”
Now only days from the Ironman race, their determination bolsters their connection. Participants are allotted 17 hours to complete the event.
“We want him to have the chance to participate in such an iconic event. It definitely is on my mind all the time,” Jeff Agar said.
In the final leg, father will push son 25.2 miles and John Agar will walk the final mile.
“Just to know that Dad has gone, by this time, 139 miles, but he’s counting on me to make sure that we can finish, that we can cross the finish line, that we can reach our pinnacle — that’s something that I am so grateful for,” he said.
Accomplishing their goal will take sacrifice — perhaps the greatest element this unique bond has to offer.
“He’s training to do his part to walk the last mile and then I’m training, a lot of times separately to get myself in condition,” Jeff Agar said. “If it wasn’t for John, I wouldn’t even be doing it. And if Johnny can cross that finish line and hear the crowd go crazy that’ll be just a phenomenal experience for everybody.”
“I just know how much Johnny wants to be like his dad and that’s his moment to do it, and so I know the work that he put into it and I know what it means to Jeff to be able to give that to Johnny,” said wife and mother Becki Agar.
“I say to Dad, ‘You know, you have to use me to your advantage. We’re a team together and we’ll finish as a team,'” John Agar said.
On one of his workouts a couple of weeks before the competition, John Agar was able to walk eight-tenths of a mile in under 30 minutes. A year ago, it would have taken him 90 minutes.
The Ironman race begins at about 1 p.m. ET Saturday. You can catch live coverage at the Ironman website.