When Joel Drake glances down at his wrist during the Hy-Vee Triathlon, it won’t be to check his time. Drake will be wearing a wristband that carries the names of friends, relatives and some people he’s never met. Each of them has suffered from blood-related cancers. Some of them won’t be there to cheer him on.
“I constantly look at it to remind me of why I’m competing,” Drake, a Des Moines investment adviser, says. “I could do these events on my own, but there is a high calling.” Drake will swim, bike and run for Team in Training, which raises money for leukemia, lymphoma and related diseases. He started with a marathon 10 years ago and has since raised $60,000 for research.
“When I did my first event, I didn't know what a blood cancer was. And I couldn't even spell leukemia. I kept putting the ‘u’ before the ‘e’,” he says. “Since then, I have been touched by the disease too many times.”
There was Drake’s friend and business partner, Maggie Gustafson-Horvath, who last year lost her battle with leukemia. There was Noah Swenson, a boy Drake met through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, of which he’s a member of the board of directors. Drake say Noah “was a fun loving, bright young boy who lost his battle at age 8. He was completing treatment and looking forward to remission.”
There was Kym Kennedy-Marvin, Drake’s next-door neighbor growing up, who died in 2006 at the age of 43. There’s 6-year-old Will Krueger, son of good friends Nick and Peggy. Will is in treatment for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which has enlarged his spleen and liver and trapped fluid around his heart. His life has been a two-year series of spinal taps, chemotherapy, body scans, injections and biopsies.
“Team in Training is the perfect combination of accountability and motivation,” Drake explains. “Without them, I’m not sure I would stay as active as I have.” Drake, 40, was always an athlete. When a good friend lost weight to train for a marathon more than a decade ago, “I thought, 'hey, if he can do it, I can do it.”
“I absolutely hated to run,” he says. He tried a few 100-miles bike rides and eventually migrated to triathlons. He has competed in all three previous Hy-Vee events. When his lungs burn and his legs are heavy, when the sweat blurs his vision and his throat burns, he looks down at the names on his wrist. And he pushes on.
Prominent among the names this year will be Darin Ferguson, a fellow Lincoln High School graduate whose wedding Drake was in two years ago. Ferguson found out in April he has lymphatic tumors in his lungs. “He recently completed three rounds of very aggressive chemo and thanks to a drug, Ritual, developed by our research dollars, he is now in remission and has begun radiation treatment,” Drake says. “I plan on participating in Team in Training until a cure is found.”