This mother-son team is paving the way for other triathlon families.
Megan Beer started running in 2010. The 37-year-old single mother had difficulty finding childcare during her workouts, so she put her son Adam in a jogging stroller and logged the miles in and around their hometown of Owatonna, Minn.
“Had I known how much he’d enjoy it, we would have started much earlier, when his stroller wasn’t so huge!” Megan laughs.
Adam, who is blind, non-verbal and autistic as the result of a premature birth at 23 weeks, was 8 years old when he began joining his mom on runs. That year, the team ran their first 5K together, each pushing the other: “We started in the back with the regular strollers, but Adam kept clapping (his sign for ‘more’), requesting to go faster, so we did.”
At that first 5K, both mother and son were bitten by the racing bug. Megan signed up for more races and longer distances with her son. When someone suggested Megan take up triathlon, Adam came along, too.
“I didn’t have care arranged for him one day, and when I told my triathlon group I couldn’t meet them for practice, Dave [Chabot, Megan’s boyfriend] suggested I bring him. On the spot, he created a harness for one of our kayaks so I could pull Adam during the swim portion,” says Megan. “My triathlon friends swam right with us. We were all constantly watching Adam to make sure he hadn’t decided to join us in the water and that he was enjoying the ride. He loved it!”
After a few practices, Adam expressed his desire to go with his mom every time she trained, protesting loudly when she went for a workout without him. With the help of her triathlon group, Megan arranged to enter a local triathlon with Adam. On race day, Team Beer arrived with two kayaks, a bike trailer, stroller and a crew of friends and family.
“I thought we’d just go quietly participate so I could give Adam the experience of race day,” recalls Megan. “I was overwhelmed by the support we encountered. By the end of the triathlon, many of the athletes knew his name, cheered for him and encouraged us through the event.”
Even without the ability to speak, it’s clear Adam loves racing. He breathes excitedly and smiles big before the starting gun, and if his mom’s pace slows, Adam hits the sides of the stroller to encourage her. He’ll proudly show off his race shirt and finisher medal.
For Megan, medals pale in comparison to the gift the triathlon community has given her: “While I had lived in town for seven years, Owatonna became ‘home’ for Adam and me the summer we started doing triathlon, and I became more myself than I had ever been. Our life can be quite lonely and isolating. There are no soccer games, swim meets, play dates, birthday parties, summer camps or sleepovers—none of those are experiences Adam would enjoy. Our friends, family and triathlon community remind us that we are not alone.”
It’s a gift Megan now pays forward. Her triathlon club, based out of Straight River Sports in Owatonna, has become a place for families to experience the same joy Adam and Megan have found through endurance sport. A child with Down syndrome rides with his parents and is the star of a yearly cycling event to raise money for the National Association for Down Syndrome. Another child with Fragile X syndrome competes with his father in many of the same events as Megan and Adam.
The owner of Straight River Sports, Ann Paulson, has watched this evolution of the triathlon group with immense pride: “Because of the visibility of Megan and Adam, we now have a network of families who use physical activity to deal with the stress of raising a child with special needs. We are able to network with these families and give them names and numbers of people who are in the same situation or have ‘been there, done that, I get it’ advice for them. As the local bike shop, we have also been able to modify and build special-needs bikes for these kids in order for them to be able to participate in family rides and events.”
The sight of Team Beer enjoying race day together is heartwarming—spectators are sometimes moved to tears when they see Megan carrying her 90-pound son through transition, and watching the two giggle as they toast their finish with post-race libations (butterscotch malt for Adam, Bloody Mary for his mom) is a picture of pure joy.
“Adam gives us perspective on what is truly important in life,” Paulson says. “It’s a humbling moment to see your good friend stumble in transition while carrying her 12-year-old son in her arms like a small child. Still, Megan doesn’t want anyone to see them as a pity case. She’s a firm believer that we all have our own challenges—hers is just more visible.”
What is the best thing about being Adam’s mom? “Simply, Adam is my hero,” Megan says. “When I think about what he has overcome to not only survive but thrive with the consequences of his prematurity, I am amazed and humbled by his strength, perseverance, patience, humor and unconditional love.” Megan smiles before continuing: “He also gives the best squeeze hugs in the whole world.”