Stranger helps athlete with Cerebral Palsy compete in Waco Ironman

Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 10:28 AM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - Texan Chris Kemp has Cerebral Palsy, but he has competed in a number of races and always dreamed of doing an Ironman.

An Ironman is a grueling test of stamina, mental fortitude, and fitness.

It is usually reserved for world-class athletes that are in peak physical form, but “push-assist” allows athletes with disabilities to get in on the fun too, by pairing them with a partner that helps pull and push them through the course.

It seemed like Kemp may have to postpone that dream when his push-assist partner was deployed, but a month before the race, a stranger stepped up, making Kemp’s dream a reality.

With one month’s notice, Rian Smoak decided to become Chris’s new partner, even though the two had never met.

Smoak remembers, “My wife told me I’m crazy. All my friends told me I am nuts. I am, but the thought of saying I am not going to do this for somebody is not optional.”

Rian Smoak has been doing Ironmans for a decade, but he made the switch to doing the races with disabled athletes three years ago.

He had just finished the Ironman World Championships, which he thought would be his final race, when he had a calling.

Smaok explains, “I took a look back at the finish line one more time, just to soak it in, and it hit me: I want to give somebody that feeling of crossing the finish line that normally wouldn’t be able to. In essence, that finish line became my new start line.”

Chris Kemp’s start line was the day he was born. His lungs collapsed and he didn’t get enough oxygen to his brain, causing Cerebral Palsy and threatening his life.

Kemp’s mom, Beverly Hill, thinks back to that day: “They told me he wouldn’t make it out of the hospital. I told them, ‘if God wants to take his breath away, he will take it away. Until then, you’re going to work on him’. I took him home ten days later and he hasn’t stopped since.”

Chris and his family never let Cerebral Palsy stop him from succeeding. He competed in the special Olympics as a child, played sports around the house with his three brothers, and eventually took up racing - traveling across Texas and inspiring other athletes with his passion and infectious grin.

Smoak was touched by that grin the minute they met on Friday, less than 24 hours before the race: “To see how excited he is and how motivated he is to have this opportunity and this lifelong goal just fuels me. It gives me such great joy that I get to do this with this great young man.”

The duo hopes they will inspire other athletes with disabilities to take up racing, and that other racers will take on the challenge to help those athletes succeed.

Smoak says, “That is so important for all these different ability athletes to have an opportunity to be involved. To get that rush. To cross that finish line and hear their name called.”

Mechanical issues with the bicycle equipment didn’t allow them to finish, but Brian and Chris assured me they are bonded for life... and Chris is still determined to, one-day, finish an Ironman.

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