(Masters swimmer/triathlete J.R. Rosania, is a professional trainer. One of his clients, and closest friends, was Pat Tillman, the National Football League player who gave up a $2 million contract to join the US Special Forces to fight the terrorists responsible for the 9-11 attacks that killed almost 3,000 innocent people.
When Pat lost his life in a fire fight in Afghanistan last April, J.R. vowed to dedicate his athletic efforts this year to honor his friend. Later this month, J.R. will compete in triathlon's premier event, the Hawaii Ironman, wearing Tillman's football jersey. Here, J.R. explains his motivation) — P.W.
DEDICATION TO A HERO
By J.R. Rosania
PAT Tillman was a friend of mine.
Pat lost his life on April 22nd, fighting for our country. At the time of his death, Pat was trying to help others. Part of his platoon was under gunfire, and Pat led his men in to help.
Pat was only doing what he knew best. For the three years I knew Pat, he would always go out of his way to help others. Pat played NFL football for the Arizona Cardinals. He was a free spirit, racing marathons and triathlons in the off season, "just for the challenge."
Our relationship began when Pat asked me to train him for a Half Ironman. It was a thrill for me to train him and we developed a mutual respect for each other.
Our commitment to each other was to compete together in the Hawaii Ironman when he returned from duty. Pat came to me again four months before he was to report to boot camp. He then told me of his enrollment into the US Army, asked me to not tell a soul, and to get him in the best physical condition possible. I was honored.
Over the next 14 weeks, I drilled Pat. At times I forgot we were friends, and I tried to break him. He never failed. Pat was deeply affected by the horrific events of 9-11, and this was his way of giving back and doing his part. I wish I thought this way….so unselfishly.
The media were amazed when the news of Pat's decision finally became public. Who in this day and age would voluntarily give up millions of dollars playing pro football to fight in a far-off land against an elusive enemy?
Pat didn't see it that way. He never felt that he was doing anything unusual, and never felt that, in making his decision, that he was "better' than anyone else. That wasn't Pat.
For Pat, it was personal. It made no difference that he was a multi-million dollar NFL player. Had he been an accountant, a garbage man or a college professor, he would have made the same decision.
Pat trained his heart out. This wasn't football, it was war.
As Pat readied to go, he talked of returning to play football and do the Ironman. I'll always remember the day Pat said, " JR, when I return, I want you to train me for football again and then we'll train for and do the Hawaii Ironman."
Well, Pat will not be coming back. He will not be playing football again. And he will not be doing the Ironman. I, though, can do it for him. I have completed seven Ironmans, however I have never raced Hawaii.
I now have entry, thanks to TIMEX, to race for Pat. I need this race as well. It will help me heal and give something back to Pat. This will be for Pat. I will carry pieces of him with me thru out the race, and at the finish, I will cross with his game jersey.
This whole race season, I will race in honor of Pat Tillman. My perspective has changed due to Pat's tragic death. I now think less of me and more of others. Something I learned from Pat.