In the early 1980s, after years of allowing his addictive personality to pull him further down a path to self destruction, Joe Turcotte wised up. He exchanged his addictions to drugs and alcohol for addictions to exercise and marathons, enrolled at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, where he majored in exercise science, and got a job as a fitness director and personal trainer at a local fitness club. He also registered for and ran every marathon his budget and schedule would allow.
But in the mid-‘90s, Turcotte became curious about other endurance sports, and when he got the opportunity to photograph the 2003 Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii, he jumped at the chance. He’d only recently become a professional photographer, and was eager to try his hand at sports photography -- and to see firsthand what the Ironman is all about.
“I was in over my head,” Turcotte admits. “I’d never photographed any kind of race or seen an Ironman. I remember being warned that the vibe was contagious and that, by the end of the race, I’d be anxious to compete in an Ironman myself."
That was only three years ago and Turcotte is now a six-time Ironman finisher. Even more amazing is that four of the races have been in 2006, and he will compete in a fifth in November (Ironman Florida).
“After catching the bug, I set a goal of finishing all five U.S. Ironman North America races in one season,” Turcotte explains. “But my intention wasn’t just to race for myself. It was to benefit others, so I’ve paired my training and racing with fundraising.”
Specifically, Turcotte is raising money for Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), a national nonprofit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing them with highly-trained assistance dogs. Although first introduced to the organization through fellow athletes and friends, it wasn’t until meeting 13-year-old Owen, who has a form of muscular dystrophy, and his assistance dog Teo, a black Labrador retriever, that he realized the significant impact CCI can have on the lives of the people it helps.
“When I first met Owen, he and Teo were demonstrating to a group of people what the two of them could accomplish as a team,” he recalls. “I was blown away! Owen has had 27 surgeries on his spine, yet he is one of the most upbeat kids I’ve ever met in my life. He has inspired me more than he will ever know. On days when I simply don’t feel up to running, I think of Owen and how he’d love to just be able to walk, let alone run. Meeting him made any personal issues I may have been dealing with seem insignificant.”
Although Turcotte's original goal was to raise $10,000 for CCI, he now believes he could double that figure. His fundraising efforts began with periodic progress reports on his racing and fundraising efforts, emailed to 100 friends. Today, those emails go out to nearly 500 people from around the world - many of whom Joe has never met but who have heard about the amazing challenge he has taken on and want to support his efforts.
“I’ve also had a lot of support from the Janus Charity Challenge ,” he explains, “which is a fundraising program created by Janus [an investment company and a sponsor of the Ironman full-distance U.S. events] that gives Ironman athletes the tools they need to make fundraising easy. It’s is a fantastic program that offers athletes additional incentives to reach their goals. In fact, Janus makes additional contributions to the beneficiaries of the 50 top fundraisers at each race.”
Paul O’Brian, Director for CCI Colorado is thrilled with Joe’s progress, explaining that every penny raised is money that wasn’t planned or budgeted for. And because CCI receives no government funding, private and individual contributions are what keep the organization running.
“It costs anywhere from $35,000 to $60,000 to breed, raise and train each of our assistance dogs,” O’Brian explains, “so we’re grateful for people like Joe who appreciate their abilities and push themselves because they realize what a challenge it is for those who have physical disabilities. Joe’s efforts will ultimately have an amazing impact on someone’s life.”
That’s exactly what Turcotte is hoping for.
"Completing an Ironman has changed my life,” he insists. “I evaluate things differently, particularly with regard to what human beings can accomplish. When I encounter people living with certain disadvantages, I think about how I might be able to help them attain the level of satisfaction I experienced every time I cross the finish line. However different that level may be, I want others to feel it.”
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