Two receive Courage Award at triathlon

Posted August 15, 2013 at 10:59 am

By Emily Burds, Express Intern


At 76 years old, Ron Ottaway hasn’t slowed down a beat. Even with his recent diagnosis of lymphoma.

The Cedar Rapids resident lives and breathes triathlons and has been participating in the grueling sport for well over 20 years. He discovered his love of exercise and fitness during his many years spent living on the West Coast.

“I have always been a runner,” Ron explained. After being born and raised in Iowa, Ron saw how active people on the West Coast were and from there took his love of running and found his niche in the early years of triathlons.

Upon his retirement, Ron and his wife decided to move back to Iowa. While settling back in to Cedar Rapids, Ron found the Midwest Extreme Triathlon Club and joined the team to help keep him motivated and in shape.

“I’ve been pretty active for the last few years, but the cancer has slowed me down considerably,” Ron said. It was this past May, while gearing up for the Texas Ironman, that doctors discovered tumors in Ron’s spleen after he was suffering from abdominal pain. From there, just a day before he was supposed to compete in Texas, Ron went in for a biopsy that confirmed his cancer diagnosis.

“Unfortunately we had to cancel the race but I wanted to get into treatment as soon as possible to get the process going,” Ron said. So a week later, Ron was going in for chemotherapy.

Despite going through treatments and battling this disease, Ron continues to exercise and train as much as he can.

“I’m trying to maintain as much muscle memory as possible so that when my treatments are over I can get right back at it,” he said. Which is why he decided to take part in a relay team that was running the Camp Courageous Triathlon.

“Our club president Rosie [Jones] approached me and asked if I’d like to do the running portion of the race, with the doctor’s okay, with two other gals from the club who were getting over a broken foot and recovering from breast cancer. We were a team of ex-athletes so to speak,” Ron explained.

After finishing the race, the race directors and his club presented Ron with a Courage Award for his dedication to the race despite overcoming tremendous obstacles to participate.

“It was quite a surprise,” Ron joked, “I had no idea they were going to be doing that so it was a shock.”

Although the race wasn’t exactly the “prettiest” Ron said he has run, he was very thankful for all the support he has found throughout his current battle with cancer.

“Compared to even just four months ago, it was certainly nothing to write home about,” Ron explained. Of course that is to be expected, especially coming from a man who was the World Champion in his age group at the Hawaiian Ironman in 2007.

As for why he loves triathlons, Ron explained, “There is no other hobby that can put your body in such great shape and show you that anything’s possible.”


On the day Julie Cain lost her leg, she knew that she wanted to run a triathlon. At the Camp Courageous Triathlon she made her dreams become a reality by doing the entire race on her own with her prosthetic leg.

The Cedar Rapids mother of two found out about the race from her Milkyway Master Swim Team coach Nick Gearhart who happened to be the race director. From there, Gearhart and the entire swim team encouraged her to partake in the race.

“I knew I had a lot of logistical challenges to overcome,” Julie explained of her preparation for the race. Julie lost her left leg after a previous surgery went bad, causing major illness and damage to her leg that forced doctors to amputate.

As a Christmas gift, Cain’s sister found a sort of crankshaft for her bike that shortens the circumference of the circle that riders make when they peddle. Between this and switching between different prosthetics for different portions of the race, Julie discovered how possible her goal was.

“I was overwhelmed by the support and encouragement,” Julie explained, “there were so many people cheering me on during the race.”

Julie found it fitting to run her first full triathlon for Camp Courageous as they work with kids with disabilities like her disability and therefore thought it was a more than worthy cause.

Now, after completing the race, Julie says there is only room to improve for future triathlons.

“I’m a competitive person so I’m always finding ways to improve and challenge myself,” she said. Although she was not able to run the 5k portion and had to walk due to her challenges with her leg, she said she was still pleased with her accomplishment.

It wasn’t until the award ceremony when she discovered she was being presented with a Courage Award.

“I was really touched and overwhelmed by the award and the support,” she explained.

Now with summer wrapping up, Julie says she is trying to enjoy the time with her 2 year-old and 4-year-old before heading back to her job as a teacher at Washington High School. Outside of the classroom, Cain continues to swim and train after setting her sights on a few Paraolympics swim titles in the future.