There are moments in sports that never fail to cause my flesh to break out in goosebumps.
For me, those moments include: Derek Redman's father helping his son cross the finish line after he tore his hamstring, Kerri Strug winning the gold medal after spraining her ankle, Julie Moss crawling across the finish line at the Hawaiian Ironman, and Jon Blais rolling across the finish line in that same race two decades later.
In May 2005, Jon “Blazeman” Blais, an endurance athlete was diagnosed with ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease. There is no cure. Blais knew that he would die and before that he would suffer.
But he was not one to go quietly into the night. Instead he decided to live life to its fullest in the months he had left. He decided to tackle a race that had been a dream for most of his life, the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii.
Five months after his diagnosis, Blais swam the 2.4 mile ocean swim, rode the 112 mile ride through the lava fields of Kona and ran 26.2 miles to finish off his dream race.
As he crossed the finish line he lay down and log rolled across the line. Two years after his diagnosis Blais lost his battle. Blais’s family and friends have created the Blazeman Foundation for ALS.
Each year, the foundation honors one athlete at the Suburu Ironman 70.3 Eagleman on the Eastern Shore with a Spirit Award. The award is given to an athlete who exhibits the spirit of Jon Blais.
This year’s award was given to Annapolis Triathlon Member Jennifer Bornemann.
Bornemann is on the Board for the Annapolis Triathlon Club because she said she feels that as an active member of the multi-sport community it is important to give back, but there were two main areas of her life that attracted the Blazeman Foundation.
First, after spending 10 years in New York City working for Credit Suisse, Bornemann re-evaluated what she really wanted to do with her life and decided that she wanted to serve her country in uniform.
In 2010, she joined the United States Public Health Service and now works for the Defense Department’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. In that capacity, she is part of the biggest study ever done on suicide among military men and women.
In addition to this work, Bornemann spends much of her free time supporting charities. She is part of a team of first responders for the American Red Cross and as such spent time helping the victims of Katrina.
She has raised thousands of dollars for the Blazeman Foundation and is a volunteer for the Challenged Athletes Foundation, an organization that is committed to helping athletes with disabilities be able to compete in the sport of there choice.
On the day she received the Spirit Award, Bornemann was at Eagleman helping several members of Challenged Athletes Foundation meet their goal of completing the 70.3 Ironman race.
“It is because of Jennifer that I try to look at the world around me to see what I can do to improve it, all the while running, swimming, and biking—because I can,” said Lara Mish, Bornemann's twin sister who nominated her.
When I spoke with Bornemann about the award she was reticent to speak of the work she has done or the deeds that earned her the award. She told me she wasn’t comfortable talking about herself, but she did want to talk about what it meant to her to be nominated for the award by her sister.
“I am humbled by the award and honored that my sister nominated me,” she said, “We have been best friends since before we were born and she inspires me every day.”
Jon Blais completed the Ironman in 2005 and rolled across the finish line because he wanted to show people that he was not giving up. He was going to live and love every moment he had left. Within months of finishing the Ironman he was wheelchair bound, but he never ever gave up.
It is that spirit that Bornemann possesses, but not just in her own life. She has dedicated her life to others. She has dedicated her work to our men and women in uniform and she has dedicated her sport to the men and women who have to fight harder than the next guy to achieve their goals.
Bornemann embodies a spirit of giving and a spirit of living and it is this that Jon Blais would have understood the most.