August 21, 2011

The Road To Forever

so you know, this is a piece I wrote that appeared in Triathlon Life magazine in July 2009. i thought you'd like it


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In 2006, Beth joined Team in Training to prepare for her first triathlon. That’s where she met Lawrence Fong, her Team in Training coach.

Six months later, Beth participated in that first race. In an effort to reduce her confusion in transition, Beth had taken chalk and wrote her name on the ground right in front of her bike rack. As she was out on the course, her then-boyfriend Lawrence snuck into transition and under her name added the words, “…will you marry me?”

Though Beth was ecstatically surprised, the proposal was inevitable; Beth and Lawrence were destined for each other. Lawrence, with his gentle, caring soul is the perfect compliment to Beth’s vibrant personality. They calm each other and seamlessly connect like two pieces of a puzzle.

They had initially tried to keep their interest hidden behind the veil of professionalism in their Team in Training relationship. But when true love comes knocking, you have to answer. Within weeks they were dating and within months they had moved in together. They both knew this was forever.

Forever is much more than fictional fairy tale endings. The true essence of forever is not about the months and years of happiness; forever is about surviving those days and seconds that test our fortitude. It is about the sudden, unexpected challenges that fray the thread of life to its very core. Forever is about pushing forward, no matter the cost.

That’s where forever began for the Fongs: In transition, after Beth’s first triathlon, when her coach proposed to her with a piece of chalk.

Beth said yes and exactly one year later they were married.

Beth and Lawrence are the model of multisport. She is an accomplished cyclist and runner, with marathons and triathlons under her belt. Lawrence is a Cat IV cyclist, has done over 30 triathlons including Ironman Arizona and Ironman Florida and, as a side-hobby, has been coaching triathletes and runners since 2005.

Lawrence and Beth are also active members of the Los Angeles multisport community, putting on weekly training events and organizing numerous group activities, oftentimes through Lawrence’s role on the LA Tri Club’s Board of Directors.

On the evening of November 5, 2008, barely six months into their marriage, Lawrence kissed his new wife, said “I love you” and went out to an LA Tri Club Board meeting. Mid-way through the meeting, Lawrence excused himself to go to the men’s room. When he didn’t come back, someone went to check on him. They found Lawrence on the floor of the bathroom, a fractured skull, a crushed cheekbone and blood coming out of his ears and nose.

They called 911. That was about the time things began to get worse. He started vomiting and bleeding profusely. He was becoming incoherent and fading quickly.

Beth got the call immediately. Nobody knew the severity; she assumed Lawrence would be alright. Lawrence always turns out alright. She rushed to the hospital.

Beth arrived at the emergency ward as Lawrence was being brought in. He was conscious but incoherent. She tried to talk to him as he was rolled away but he didn’t respond.

Later that evening, Lawrence Fong slipped into a coma.

There are many questions about why this happened to Lawrence and what caused it. He is 36 years old, fit and healthy. Rumors quickly spread of a stroke, blood clot, bad fall, random attack. But, alas, there are no answers. It could be anything. “I just wanted to know why,” Beth said. “At least then it would give me something to be mad at.”

In that first night, Lawrence underwent brain surgery as the medical team struggled to determine the cause of his accident and battled for signs of a positive outcome.

Within 24 hours of the accident, as Beth’s world stood on the edge of surreal, she was told that her husband was brain dead. Barely six months into her marriage, Beth Fong found herself encouraged by doctors to remove her husband’s ventilator – to pull the plug and forget forever.

But from tragedy, miracles emerge. Lawrence and Beth gave a lot to the multisport community and when word of his accident spread, the multisport community began to give back. On that first night of the accident, nearly 50 athletes held vigil in the hospital waiting room throughout the evening. And when word spread that Lawrence was considered brain dead, the multisport community refused to accept it.

As Beth was brought away to rest, two triathletes in the medical field took the initiative upon themselves to make calls and pull strings. A few hours later, through the miracle of multisport connectivity, Beth learned that Lawrence was getting transferred to UCLA Medical, one of the nation’s leading neurological trauma intensive care units; a place where they don’t make rash decisions about killing forever.

Within days triathletes had set up a charity fund for Lawrence and Beth called Fongstrong ( T-shirts were made, wristbands were sold. There was a Fongstrong aid station at Ironman Arizona. Signs and donation requests appeared at races throughout Los Angeles. Within weeks of the accident there were bike rides to benefit Fongstrong and Fongstrong charity runs were held in Los Angeles and San Francisco, collecting nearly $15,000 to help support Lawrence and Beth.

And despite the fact that they weren’t allowed to see Lawrence, masses of people remained in vigil in the hospital waiting room. Through all hours of the day and night, the multisport community stayed together to comfort, pray and support. They brought food and games and smiles and hugs. From a sport driven by individual competitiveness, they proved that the true heart of multisport is about true heart.

All the while, Beth spent her days and nights at Lawrence’s side, wondering if she’d ever have the same husband again. Doctor’s instilled doubts of whether Lawrence would ever emerge from the coma. They questioned whether he would ever be able to live his life without a ventilator. There were uncertainties of his short-term memory; whether he’d even remember his wife.

Then on December 9, 2008, despite all odds, Lawrence began to emerge from the coma and the multisport community breathed a miraculous sigh of relief. And on December 24, Lawrence and Beth celebrated their first married Christmas with a nod. There were no presents, no tree with glimmering lights, no carolers on the porch – there was simply a nod. A nod from Lawrence that indicated, for the first time since the accident, the he understood. He had his mental capacity. There is no better Christmas gift Beth could receive.

In the months to follow, Lawrence embarked on a slow and grueling road to recovery. In April he began to speak, then he began to eat and slowly he began to remember. Despite all odds, Lawrence Fong once again emerged.

There are still no promises on how much Lawrence will recover but every day he proves that the determination of a triathlete and the support of a multisport community can exceed all expectations. Doctors assumed he’d never come out of the coma. They said he would never speak. Never eat on his own. They said Lawrence Fong would never walk. But in early May, when Lawrence took his first small step, they suddenly realized the stubborn determination of a lifetime triathlete.

And as Lawrence and Beth continue their long and fateful journey down the road to forever, they’ve recognized they are not alone. With every step, and every breath, an entire multisport community is cheering them on. Forever.

August 08, 2011

Just Checking In..


So, is anybody still out there?