Becoming ironman, from start to finish

Published 5:59 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Rodney Carr crosses the finish line and becomes “Ironman,” while honoring “Donate Life.”

By Susanne Reynolds & Rodney Carr

After 15 long, hard hours—the finish line was in sight.

The journey from start to finish had been long—but the starting point began months ago. Long before the first training session and months before even registering for Ironman Chattanooga 2015.

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It all started on May 21, 2014, when my daughter, Morgan, had reconstructive surgery for a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), in short—knee surgery.

My daughter is a senior at Valdosta State University in the Athletic Training program. She is a bright young woman with an incredible inner strength that still amazes me. She was an all-around athlete in high school, cheered football and competition, played basketball, soccer and ran track. It was no surprise when she was voted “most athletic” in her high school.

While participating in an intramural basketball game she tore her ACL, and then completed the tear while competing with her sorority for a Greek event. I have always said her competitive spirit is a great strength, but it can also cause her to push herself a little too hard at times. This was one of those times.

While in the hospital, I stayed with her until the moment she had to go into the operating room. I remember laughing together when the medication was added to help her relax. After she was wheeled back to the O.R., I walked into the lobby. My stomach hurt as I thought about the nurse rolling her away. I reminded myself that it was only knee surgery.

Before the surgery, the doctor came out to see me and explain the operation. He told me Morgan would receive an allograft. He went on to explain that the tendon was from a 20-year-old young man and it would reduce recovery time by several weeks if not by a month or more. He spoke the words, but the reality did not seem to sink in, so we shook hands and he left to perform the surgery.

Somewhere else in the hospital, a dad just like me was sitting in a lobby and talking to a doctor—but receiving a completely different outcome about his 20-year-old child.

I began to wonder and could not even imagine the pain. My heart was honored that my daughter would receive a gift like this. Her knee surgery was now much bigger than just an ACL replacement.

Twelve short weeks later, I found myself sitting in a critical care unit with my daughter. This time we were there with her fiancée. He has been involved in an automobile accident and declining rapidly because of a massive head injury. Once the specialists spoke to his parents—the look on their faces told us the news that no parent ever wants to hear. My daughter crumbled in my arms.

Shortly afterwards, Life Link contacted his parents. He was an organ donor on his driver’s license. The family discussed the various options, and because Morgan had received an allograft—the family wanted to honor that gift by offering the same gift from their son along with his major organs. That day the gift of life was given at an enormous cost.

The struggle still lingers—but brief glimpses of joy came with the thoughts of those changed lives.

With the previous months on his mind and heart, at 10:52pm on September 27, 2015, Rodney Carr crossed the finish line in Chattanooga and became an Ironman, while humbly wearing a “Donate Life” shirt.

The Ironman triathlon has been deemed one of the most extreme challenges in athletics. It consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 116-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.

It was tough, but not as tough as what his family went through with the loss of his daughter’s fiancée. Their loss was another family’s gain—a second chance at life. For Rodney, the triathlon was about more than completing the 144.6 miles. It was to tell a story about organ and tissue donation—which ultimately gave the gift of life to a family.

As he crossed the finish line, his family was waiting to congratulate him.

Dr. Rodney Carr of Bainbridge is the Vice President of Academic & Student Affairs at Bainbridge State College.