Christopher Wilno - 4 x Ironman
There are many phrases that tell us the hard times will pass and that we become stronger after hardships but very few of us will experience the tragedy that befell Chris and his wife. Over the course of 18 months Chris' father had been diagnosed with cancer and lost his fight, his firstborn, Isabella, passed away and his wife was also diagnosed with cancer.
The above facts are hard hitting enough in themselves but the subtle details of how those 18 months unfolded reveals an even darker period of time for the Wilno family. Chris's father had been diagnosed with cancer previously but it was the day of his 4th wedding anniversary that he and his wife found their newborn daughter had no heartbeat. Shortly after his daughters passing, Chris was informed that his fathers cancer was terminal and that he would not be able to attend Isabella's memorial service.
A detail not mentioned above is that his wife, Crea, was diagnosed with cancer while pregnant with their son, Jaden. This meant that the couple had the impossible decision of risking either mother or son's life by delaying or starting treatment. The decision was made to delay treatment and as soon as Jaden was born Crea went straight into surgery and radiation treatment. Crea was also placed into quarantine meaning that she couldn't spend any time with her new born son. It was discovered that the cancer had returned, despite the initial success of treatment, nearly 5 years after the intial diagnosis.
The facts alone regarding Chris' family are heart breaking and would arguably offer a justification for spiralling into depression and an outlook on life that is less than positive, but not Chris. Chris spent time waiting and analysing his situation, looking for the 'blessings in the hardest of times'.
Whilst mourning and searching Chris began to piece together those horrific 18 months of his life, seeing patterns emerge that could've easily been missed. He describes his daughters memorial as the toughest speech he has ever given, spending hours writing and practicing only to be overwhelmed at the level of support and attendance of friends and family. Chris recalls this particular moment in his life as the 'defining point', the moment where he stood before a crowd of mourning people and declared that 'although they had gathered in sad circumstances', he didn't want to share his sadness instead wanting 'to focus on the blessings that came from the loss of his child'. After the service, many people thanked him and commented that although they had come to offer support and care for Chris and his family, it was his words that had helped them. This was the first blessing that Chris recounts which was followed while watching the recording of the memorial with his terminally ill father. His father found comfort in the belief that Isabella would be waiting for him to join her.
After the death of Isabella, Crea had to be subject to tests at the hospital. Despite the tests not uncovering any information into Isabella's passing, they did reveal the cancer that had developed. Without the death of Isabella, Crea would not have discovered the cancer at such an early stage and may not of had succesful treatment.
It was this experience and Chris' outlook on life that not only protected him from spiralling into a very dark place but instead inspired him to fight back and do everything he can to battle against cancer. The endurance battlefield transpired around the time that Chris' dad fell ill, having wanted to run a marathon as a child he felt that by running it now he would bring honour to his father while also representing a powerful gesture of his commitment to support and help when he couldn't offer any medical help.
While buying his first pair of running shoes, in HIlton Head Island, Chris stumbled into another individual dedicated to fighting cancer through endurance sport; the coach of Team in Training. A connection that provided a future platform for Chris to continue his fight and to meet other inspiring warriors of the same creed. As well as the marathon Chris has fundraised for many other events since December 2004 and has already raised an astounding $130,000+ in fundraising.
Beyond fundraising, Chris also coaches others to do the same thing. He adopts a wholestic approach to his coaching, looking beyond just getting to the finish line but instead recognising the changes in their lives, the faith they are exercising to complete their challenges and the real difference they are making in the world. Chris has adopted a mentality towards endurance events. He doesn't race for himself, instead he dedicates his time, energy and suffering to either the memory or hope of others. Chris continues to challenge himself with more Ironman distance events and he's already completed his first ultra distance run of 50miles, we can definately see Chris achieving so much more for years to come.
Follow Christopher on Twitter.