This endurance athlete with cerebral palsy and his dad finally crossed the Ironman finish line after failing 5 times: 'The culmination of everything that we worked on'

Completing an Ironman Triathlon is no small feat; it's a challenge that consists of swimming for 2.4 miles, biking for 112 miles and running a 26.2-mile marathon, in that order. When father-and-son duo Jeff and Johnny Agar — aka Team Agar — competed in their first Ironman in 2016, they failed to finish. Their next four attempts were also unsuccessful. But last month, the pair, on their sixth try, at last crossed the finish line with just 4 minutes and 25 seconds to spare before the competition's 17-hour completion deadline ended.
Completing the notoriously difficult triathlon is a triumph for any athlete. For Team Agar, it's also a testament to both a father's love and a son's grit and unwavering belief in himself. Now 28, Johnny was born premature at 29 weeks — a full-term pregnancy is 40 weeks — and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, a group of disorders that can affect movement and muscle tone. He and his father use specialized equipment, including a kayak for the swim portion, that enables Jeff to push or pull Johnny along the course. As the Rockford, Mich., natives approached the finish line at Ironman Maryland in Cambridge, on Sept. 17, Johnny stood, and with the help of a mobility aid, made those final steps on his own, letting out a yell as he achieved his longtime goal.
"I had all that pent-up emotion, and that's how it all came out," Johnny tells Yahoo Life, adding that he tends to get emotional crossing any finish line. "I never take one for granted, [whether] it's a 5K or Ironman."

Video Transcript

JOHNNY AGAR: I look at athletes as my parallel to how I need to succeed in life. Having their positivity, having their mental fortitude to keep going, is really what inspired me.

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Every single movement that I make is a struggle for me. And so it's a tremendous ordeal for me to walk.

Team Agar started in 2012. We started doing 5Ks every weekend as a family.

JEFF AGAR: It was brutal, but he loved it. Had he told me 20 years ago that I would be doing Ironman races, I would have said there's absolutely no way. Johnny, he doesn't say no to anything. He looks at these goals as opportunities.

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The Ironman starts with a 2.4-mile swim. Then you have 112-mile bike ride. From there, your transition and run a marathon. So 26.2 miles, which is extraordinary to think. You actually look forward to starting to run a marathon after all that.

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JOHNNY AGAR: Failure is just part of the process for me. I look at it as, we didn't make this race. Now how can we learn from that race and translate it into the next one?

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I just try and cheer on the athlete and be our encouragement throughout the day because they're the ones inspiring me to understand what I can do-- and crack the whip when I need to.

JEFF AGAR: [LAUGHS]

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- Johnny Agar. You are an Ironman.

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JOHNNY AGAR: Doing stuff like [INAUDIBLE] any length of race for me is really, really special. I began to watch the last mile races because the last mile was the one that's always the most difficult for an athlete. I wanted to show him that I understand how difficult it was and that I appreciated it.

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When you're doing something like the Ironman or any kind of endurance challenge, it's not really about beating somebody. It's about really understanding what I can do if I work hard enough to achieve it.

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