Ironman Triathlete Michael Hennessey Races for Attention for Trisomy Children

National   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Jan 5, 2009   |   9:00AM   |   WASHINGTON, DC

Ironman Triathlete Michael Hennessey Races for Attention for Trisomy Children

by Liz Townsend
January 5, 2009 Note: Liz Townsend is a staff member with the National Right to Life Committee based in Washington and she writes for its newsletter, the NRL News.

Ironman triathlons–where athletes swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles, and run 26.2 miles–take strength, dedication, and sacrifice. But Michael Hennessey knows that these qualities are present every day in kids with the chromosomal disorders Trisomy 13 and 18, and he runs the triathlons in their honor.

"So many people think that these children are ‘defective,’" Hennessey told NRL News. "But if you know one of these children you can see they are just love. They’ve inspired me to do more than talk about it, to make sacrifices and show my support."

Hennessey has already beaten the Guinness World Record mark for most Ironmans in one year, although his record is still unofficial. But in the 15 races he’s finished since March 2008 his focus is on increasing awareness and knowledge about chromosomal disorders and the courageous families dealing with them.

Trisomy refers to the presence of an extra third chromosome. Down syndrome, where the 21st chromosome is affected, is the most well-known of these disorders. Hennessey’s Ironman for Kids Foundation highlights trisomies of the 13th and 18th chromosomes.

Many children born with these disorders succumb to life-threatening problems during their first year. They may have severe heart defects, sleep apnea (when breathing is irregular or stops altogether), difficulty sucking or swallowing, and cleft lips or palates, according to the Support Organization for Trisomy 18, 13, and Related Disorders (SOFT).

The idea for the Ironman for Kids Foundation arose from the Hennessey family’s love for children, and respect for the dignity and sanctity of life. With six healthy children, Hennessey and his wife Janelle decided to use the media attention and publicity that come from competing in endurance events around the world to create much-needed awareness and support for trisomy 13 and 18.

"These kids teach us compassion, deep love, and joy beyond accomplishments simply in living," Hennessey said.

In the past year, Hennessey has competed in Ironmans in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, Austria, Brazil, Canada, and around the United States. Many generous people have been inspired by his efforts and offered to help with funding and accommodations.

Hennessey has also met wonderful families and heard moving personal stories about dealing with the disorders. The father of Zoe, a girl with trisomy 18, gave Hennessey the foundation’s theme, "TRI-BE." According to the foundation’s web site, these precious children and their families must

* Battle "against pain, fear, death, against the very cells in a body. Against anger. Against ignorance."

* Breathe, since "trisomy babies are supposed to forget how to breathe and die. As a parent, you never take a breath for granted."

* Believe "that life is precious. Believe that today is a gift. Believe that there is eternal life for the redeemed. Believe that I have a Savior friend who will see me through this. Believe that there is strength in Him."

Seeking to provide specific help that will improve the lives of these children, Hennessey and his wife Janelle have started a charity called Trikes and Bikes for Trisomy. They plan to raise enough money to buy much-needed exercise equipment for the kids: specially made tricycles and tandem bicycles.

"The bikes allow the families to get out together, to feel normal," said Janelle Hennessey. "They can go to a park where everyone’s riding a bike and they’re doing it too."

The Hennesseys are planning a fundraising event called the "Spin to Joy" Spin-a-thon in their hometown of San Antonio, Texas, February 7. Participants in teams of 14 people will each raise $100 through pledges and ride stationary bikes for 25 minutes.

The Hennesseys are in contact with physical therapists in their area who know families that could benefit from the equipment but can’t afford the expense that such custom-made cycles require.

"We’re hoping it will turn into a fun annual event with lots of teams," Janelle Hennessey said. "There will be music and entertainment, and special needs families will be there."

Michael Hennessey plans to continue competing in Ironman triathlons and bringing his message of life and hope to the world. "We hope that Ironman for Kids will continue to grow with its focus still on creating awareness for trisomy but expanding to enlist others," Hennessey said. "It is our hope that this year-long quest only be a springboard in helping so many others in the years to come."

For more information on the Ironman for Kids Foundation and the Spin to Joy event, see

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