Ironmen: Three St. Jude dads tackle the IRONMAN 70.3 Memphis to honor their kids

When they met at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, these patient dads developed a bond that would carry them through years, and across miles at IRONMAN 70.3 Memphis.

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St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — Memphis Ironman Tim Sparer Chris Corbett Chris Frunzi.

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They crossed the finish line the same way they traveled their St. Jude journeys — together.

Brothers in arms.

Dads who have experienced the worst of times and endured them by leaning on each other.

Tim Sparer. Chris Corbett. Chris Frunzi.

Dads to Sierra, Calvin and Jackson and Bennett.

They met at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital while their kids were in treatment. Long, stressful days that would test any parent.

On the first Saturday of October, these dads tested their mettle once again, competing in the St. Jude IRONMAN 70.3 here in Memphis.

They collected their medals, but finishing times aren’t important. What matters is they finished together, just the way they’ve comforted and advised and encouraged each other for years.

Tim Sparer, Chris Corbett, and Chris Frunzi

Tim Sparer, Chris Frunzi and Chris Corbett

That Saturday was about their kids.

Sierra was diagnosed with medulloblastoma just before her 16th birthday. Now a student at Georgia Tech, she named her brain tumor “Gertrude” and used humor to cope. She’s back in treatment for recurring tumors but continues with her studies.

Calvin, diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue, is quick-witted and he, too, likes a good joke almost as much as he enjoys Nebraska football.

Jackson likes to draw. “Most of the kids go for the superheroes, and he goes for the villains,” Frunzi says. He was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia and, later, acute myeloid leukemia.

Bennett, Jackson’s brother, passed away last year. He was treated at St. Jude for medulloblastoma. His dad trained for IRONMAN as a way to relieve stress. He competed last week as a way to honor his boys.

“This little triathlon is nothing compared to what he’s (Jackson) been through,” Frunzi said. “And it’s a good way to honor Bennett and his fight and what he went through.”

Most of us won’t ever train for a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. Then again, most of us will never hear those four devastating words: Your child has cancer.

These dads heard them. Their friendships are built around them. Having met in the direst of circumstances, they found strength and comfort together. They pushed each other. They cheered. They cried together.

Last Saturday, they finished a race. But their journeys continue as their kids remain in treatment, learn to navigate potential lifelong health issues and return to St. Jude for regular check-ups.

We may not all train and participate in events like IRONMAN or in the upcoming St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend in December, but we can all commit today to doing all we can in support of this mission, so parents know St. Jude means hope.

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