Jon “Blazeman” Blais
Born and raised in southern New England, Jonathan S. Blais had always been an elite athlete and multi-sport competitor. Given a death sentence in the form of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease) in May of 2005, at the age of 33, Jon accepted his diagnosis and decided to do incredible things with it. He began waging a “War on ALS®” from the very beginning. This was his way of dealing with it; this is how he lived out his days… fighting for research dollars and raising awareness.
A decade before his diagnosis, Jon decided to move from his home in Seekonk, Massachusetts to San Diego to finish school and eventually get his Master’s degree in teaching. Focusing his energy on helping kids who were emotionally challenged and learning-disabled, Jon became a teacher at the AseltineSchool. This is also where he became better known as “The Blazeman.” Jon did amazing work with the Aseltine kids. Through summer recreation programs and outdoor activities, his students learned to overcome obstacles and become stronger through hard work and determination. When Jon was told he had ALS, and subsequently only 2-5 years to live, he left the life he’d built, and the many he’d touched behind, and headed back east. In a poignant moment, once caught on film, Jon’s Dad, Bob was quoted as telling his son, “You’re coming home to live, not die.”
Competing in triathlons for 20 years, Jon always wanted to compete in an Ironman – especially in Hawaii. On October 15, 2005, only five months after being diagnosed, and with the blessing on the Ironman Kona, Medical team, Jon became the only individual with ALS to complete an Ironman, this one in Kona, finishing in 16:28:56. He crossed the finish line by log-rolling over it, and since then, the “log roll” has been graciously performed by countless athletes as a symbol of hope, and more importantly, as a means of raising awareness for ALS.
In one short year, the devastation of ALS had taken over Jon’s existence, but he refused to let it break his will. He went back to Kona in October of 2006, not as a competitor, but as a voice for ALS and as a cheerleader; because someone did the competing for him. Brian Breen, a Chicago native who won a lottery spot that year, learned of Jon’s battle and decided to race in his honor at the 2006 Ironman. A more emotional scene one could not imagine as Breen, the “Crazy Irishman,” log-rolled over that line and ran to Jon’s side. They victoriously embraced each another as one more battle in the War was won. Luckily, NBC was there to “get it on the film” and share it with the world. Thanks, Wooman.
Jon’s impact on the sport of triathlon is one that many will never forget. In February 2007, Jon was awarded the Competitor of the Year award at the Endurance Sport Awards ceremony. Two months later, the NBC broadcast of the 2006 Ford Ironman World Championship won a Sports Emmy Award for Outstanding Edited Sports Special, of which Peter Henning dedicated it to Jon. Jon passed away on May 27, 2007, and less than one month later, the World Triathlon Corporation announced a new initiative where all domestic Ironman and Ironman 70.3, events will reserve race number 179, Jon’s Kona number, for a special athlete, a first in the world of triathlons. Since then, many warriors have requested number 179 at various sporting events throughout the country.
In two short years, Jon became a powerful voice for ALS, using the sport he loved to help promote awareness and fundraising to find a cure for this horrific disease. While Jon is no longer here to Fight his “War,” he is missed dearly by those close to him, and his spirit and the lessons he has taught us all live on.
Jon, “The Blazeman” always believed in ending a story with a quote. Others have already said it best, so it’s better to remember those and go out strong. So here goes… “The meaning of life is to live life”…