BARRINGTON, R.I. (WPRI) — Mark Tracy knows all too well how it feels to lose a loved one.
That’s why he’s participating in the IRONMAN Florida challenge, which takes place in Panama City Beach and involves a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile marathon.
The 48-year-old father is racing on behalf of HopeHealth’s Camp BraveHeart, a summer grief support program for children who have lost a loved one.
“It’s a place where kids can go be kids, but also be supported in a way they need to be emotionally,” Tracy said.
Tracy was only 9 years old when he lost his father to a heart attack.
“I felt I should’ve saved my father, but it would have been impossible,” he said.
Ten years later, his mother passed away from cancer.
Tracy said losing both of his parents was extremely hard and at times, he felt the world was unfair. But what lifted his spirits is the fact that, despite being given only six months to live, his mother made it a year at home on hospice.
“That was my first exposure to hospice and why I wanted to contribute and give back,” Tracy added. “We have a saying in hospice: ‘The first five months of life are just as important as the last five minutes of life.'”
Tracy said all of the kids who participate in Camp BraveHeart deserve to learn and grow from their experiences.
“They have something special inside of them, going through what they did,” he said. “Every goal they have, they should go after it.”
Tracy is taking his own advice by participating in IRONMAN Florida. He’s putting himself through the grueling adventure to raise money and awareness for a program that’s close to his heart.
“It’s a long journey with a lot of bumps in the road — good and bad — and if you’re really lucky, you cross the finish line with a crowd of cheering people,” he said.
Tracy has been training five days a week to prepare for the 14-hour challenge, which takes place Nov. 6.
“I’ve never ridden a bike for 112 miles, that’s going to be a first for me,” he said. “I think it’s going to be pretty uncomfortable and the notion to hop off the bike and make sure you have enough hydration and nutrition to run a whole marathon is intimidating.”
Regardless of what happens, Tracy said he’s planning to drag himself across the finish line one way or another.
Anyone who wants to support his journey can donate to Camp BraveHeart by clicking here.