Father’s epiphany leads to healthy bond

Turning 50 is a turning point for many; a time to reflect, collect and plan for the future. For Dr. Brian McElyea, it was an epiphany. With health concerns surfacing, he began to think about how to prepare for not only his future, but his ability to care for his then 19-year-old daughter Brienna’s future care.

“Brienna is a unique combination as she is severely physically impaired, but is age typical in her cognitive ability,” states Jill McElyea of her daughter’s condition that was diagnosed when Brienna was six months old.

Simply, Brian decided on two things. He wanted to improve his health in order to provide physically for Brienna, and he wanted an opportunity to bond with his daughter. He decided to condition for better health and run triathlons with his daughter. After a six-month training period, Team Bri was born. They ran their first triathlon on July 12 at the Beaches Fine Arts Series Triathlon, or BFAST, in Jacksonville, Fla.

The event consists of a quarter mile ocean swim, 16-mile bike ride and 3.1-mile run. The pair finished in two hours, 47 minutes and 10 seconds.

“A parent of a child has to be ready to tackle whatever is necessary to provide for that child,” said Brian. “For us, that means staying as physically fit as we can so that we can do what needs to be done for her.”

Although triathlon racing is new to Brian, Brienna is a veteran racer. She participated in spring triathlons with Dr. Eric Loveless, her orthopedic surgeon, in 2007, and again in 2010. Dr. Loveless was on hand during the BFAST to provide added support and safety during Team Bri’s endeavors.

For her part, Brienna sports very cool pink sunglasses and action-wear while maintaining hydration when winded and under the sun’s intense rays. For his part, Brian lost 35 pounds, gained endurance and trained for fitness. His focus is to maintain adrenaline and cross the finish line.

“In Bri’s younger years, I was always doing Girl Scout activities with her so this tri-training became something for just her and her dad to do together,” said Jill of Team Bri’s plans to participate in future runs and triathlons. “They have decided this is ‘their thing!’ We hope to pull in some other families to join us.”

Brienna is dual enrolled as a senior in high school and a freshman at a local college. She hopes to expand her ability to communicate with assistive technology, as she currently is able to look up for ‘yes’ and shake her head for ‘no.’

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