Becky Elkins takes on 2017 Ironman Chattanooga
John and Becky Elkins started in the same place as overweight smokers, but in 2010, the couple took the first step toward regaining their health. They started a biggest loser challenge with several friends. While the others eventually bowed out, Becky stayed committed. She was going to an MMA gym six days a week and eventually moved over to Urban Fitness Kickboxing. After seeing her finish her first 5K, John decided to jump back into exercising. He started attending classes with her and also ran his first 5K. Road races led to biking and then swimming. Before long, he was a triathlete.
The couple was always training together, and John encouraged his wife to do a triathlon with him. They bought used road bikes and completed the 2012 Memphis in May Sprint Triathlon. After several more races, they upgraded their bikes and did 2013 Ironman 70.3 Augusta. Following that, John was ready to take on a full Ironman race and registered for the inaugural Ironman Chattanooga in 2014.
John began experiencing unusual symptoms during training. “As athletes, we stay in tune with our bodies and assume all setbacks are minor injuries,” Becky says. Going back over video from one of his finish lines, John realized how much his gait was off. John and Becky consulted with doctors, but it wasn’t until July 2016 he was finally diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. With the diagnosis, training fell to the wayside, and Becky focused on taking care of her husband. John urged her to run and bike, but to Becky, nothing was more important than spending time her husband and their daughter, Kayleigh. Still, John encouraged her to complete the 2017 Ironman Chattanooga and even registered her for the race. John passed away on Dec. 15, 2016.
Finishing His Journey
After John’s death, Becky’s racing team was there for her. She got a coach to help her reach her and John’s goal of completing Ironman Chattanooga. “I had terrible workouts, and I had great ones,” says Becky, “I kept telling myself that nothing, even an Ironman, would be as hard as battling ALS.”
Becky, now 42, trained for nine months. Some days she bawled on bike rides, and other times she thought it was more than she could handle, but she never gave up. “I would always tell myself, ‘John didn’t have a choice, I do; don’t quit.’ I always gave 110%.”
Not long before the before the race, Becky learned of a Kona athlete, John Blais, who competed with ALS. Participants could apply to wear his bib number, 179. Sharing her and John’s story, Becky was offered the honor of wearing John Blais’s number in her upcoming race.
On Sept. 24, 2017, Becky stood at the starting line wearing No. 179 in honor of great athletes brought down by ALS. Becky kept part of her husband’s ashes with her while she completed the race. During the bike ride, along John’s favorite stretch of the route, Becky dispersed John’s ashes and let part of her husband go as she finished the journey they started three years prior.
Becky remains involved with the ALS Association, and her racing team continues to wear “#4JE” on its kits. To get involved with the ALS foundation, or to learn more, visit alsa.org.
By Christin Yates