Life is hard for Kerry Gruson. As a quadriplegic, she needs help doing most of the things you and I take for granted: from cooking to brushing her teeth. But it wasn’t always like that. A Harvard University grad, Kerry had a bright future as a young journalist. In 1974, she was headed to Vietnam to report on the war when she interviewed a Vietnam vet in Hawaii. During the interview, the Green Beret had a flashback and proceeded to strangle Kerry thinking she was a Viet Cong. He left her for dead, but miraculously she survived though the lack of oxygen left her disabled. She was 26.
Every time I tell or write this story, it sends chills down my spine. It is so violent and horrific that I have trouble believing that Kerry, MY Kerry, lived through that. She has no recollection of the “accident” as she calls it, but after her assailant left she somehow managed to stumble out to the street where a policeman found her and took her to the hospital.
You would think that would make her bitter. It did for a while, but she says that being angry takes up too much energy, energy she likes to put elsewhere. She considers both herself and her assailant as victims of war, but she no longer lives as a victim. Kerry continued to work as a journalist for the New York Times here in Miami. She became an accomplished sailor, and it was in the water that Kerry felt free.
And now Kerry is going to be a triathlete.
Yes, Kerry is going to be a triathlete. And I will be her able body.
As I wrote in this post, when I finished Ironman Florida I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I was meant to bring someone else along for this ride. I was meant to help someone, just as unlikely as I, to feel what it is like to struggle through a race and cross a finish line. It hadn’t occurred to me that Kerry, who I have known for years, would be willing to go on this adventure with me.
We talked it over, and I was very clear that I had no idea what I was doing. That didn’t seem to bother her. I told her whatever money we spent we would have to fundraise, she wasn’t phased. That it was going to take me a while to get through the race, she said she looked forward to it. Every hurdle I named, she shrugged her shoulders, and gave me her signature thumbs up.
In fact, she upped the ante. She mentioned she would like to use this opportunity as a means to promote her message that you can do anything you want to do. That with enough hard work and perserverance a woman who cannot take a step, balance on a bike, or swim a stroke will take the plunge, bike, and run in not any triathlon, but one of Miami’s largest races: the South Beach Triathlon on April 6.
“All righty then,” I thought, “what the heck did I just get myself into.”
So here we are. We are calling our project #ThumbsUp! because it really does define Kerry’s attitude towards life. Whatever life throws at you, just put your thumbs up and keep going.
For example, when I spoke to the South Beach Triathlon race director about our intention of signing up she had some legitimate concerns. The area is under construction and the final race course is not confirmed therefore part of the run might be on sand. That presents a hurdle for sure, but I thought #ThumbsUp and told her:
“I know this is going to be difficult to pull off, but just because it is difficult it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.”
She told me to go ahead and sign up, and we’d work out the hurdles.
I also met the incredibly helpful folks at Care2Tri, who showed me what equipment we needed to get and how I would be able to push through sand. They shared tips and lots of useful information. We are very much indebted to them.
Joey from the Wolfpack suggested I speak to other coaches who might have more experience in doing this kind of stuff, all we know is that I must get strong. After the Miami Marathon on Feb 2, I go full steam ahead. For the swim, I am working with Liliana Montes who tells me soon I’ll be schlepping some kids from her youth triathlon team on a raft in the ocean for practice. The bike is on the hands of Andreas from Ultrabikex Studio who has me climbing on the computrainer so that I can increase my power; my strength training by Fitness Together is getting me, well, stronger and leaner. I don’t have a specific run-related guide yet, but I have been courting a friend to help me.
We also don’t have a sponsor yet (hint, hint), but we are getting the ball rolling. So follow Kerry and I through this process at #ThumbsUp on Twitter and Instagram. And who knows, Kerry’s can-do attitude is contagious; you might just end up doing something you thought you couldn’t.
Here is a short video with more on Kerry’s story.
How about you? Do you dare to be inspired? What leap have you not taken because you were too afraid of the obstacles?