Rick Van Beek is rarely alone when he completes triathlons. Rather than doing the event individually, like most other athletes, the Byron Center, Mich., native is on a team -- "Team Maddy."
Van Beek's squad consists of him and his daughter, 13-year-old Maddy. Maddy was diagnosed with severe cerebral palsy shortly after she was born; she cannot talk or walk, and the Van Beeks are unsure if she can see. So when the duo complete their triathlons or half-marathons, Rick carries Maddy, literally.
Three years ago Rick watched as Maddy was pushed by someone else in a triathalon. Sensing his daughter's joy throughout the race, Rick vowed to shape up. He quit smoking, stopped chewing tobacco and started training.
Rick pulls Maddy in a special contraption during the biking part of the triathlon, places her in a kayak and tows her during the swimming portion and carries her as he runs.
Last weekend the Van Beeks completed the Sanford and Sun sprint triathlon in Michigan, one of more than 70 events Rick and Maddy have done together since 2008.
For Rick, time is not of the essence. What's important is the race itself.
"I've never been disappointed crossing the finish line,” Van Beek told the New York Daily News, “because I’m doing it with my daughter."
Even though Maddy cannot compete physically, she is still contributing to the team. Rick says he draws inspiration from his daughter in particularly difficult times of training and the races.
"Every time you take the next stride and feel the pain and want to quit, think of Maddy and suck it up," Rick wrote on his blog. "One more stride, one more breath, one more mile, it is not going to kill you."
-- Follow Robbie Levin on Twitter @RobbieLevin.