Dayton Hayward doesn't sweat the small stuff.
The 15-year-old can't afford to, not with a lifetime of goals in mind and a limited time to accomplish them. Dayton has cerebral palsy, but instead of thinking about what he can't do, Dayton thinks about what he can.
On Saturday, Dayton added an iron man distance triathlon to the can-do list with help from his mom and family friend. The team of three completed the Expedition Man Endurance Festival and Ultra-Distance Triathlon that began at Zephyr Cove Resort and ended at the Sparks Marina.
Together, in about 17 hours, they pounded out 142 miles of race that was paved by unyielding determination, unconditional support and a refusal to fail.
"We were not going to quit. We were going to finish the race even if everyone went home," Dayton's mom, Sherrine Hayward said. "This was not about us. This was about Dayton."
It starts with a swim
The frigid waters of Lake Tahoe were actually a welcome relief for Hayward and family friend Tasha Adams as they slipped in around 6 a.m. The two women were used to training in the toasty 90-degree waters back home in Gilbert, Ariz., while wearing wet suits. The cold water was a nice change.
They wore belts around their waists so they could attach Dayton's raft and take turns pulling him along the 2.4-mile swim at Zephyr.
As dawn approached, the three set out on the first leg of their journey. It was going to be a long day, but tough was nothing new.
"Dayton's life has been tough," Hayward said. "It's just been tough. So why not just keep going tough?"
Without a doubt, Dayton was dealt a tough hand. He has cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder and a visual impairment. Doctors gave him two months to live when he was born, but much like now, Dayton had other plans.
Although he can't talk, Dayton understands everything going on around him and blinks to communicate.
"He knew about triathlons but he didn't know how far an iron man was," Hayward said. "We started talking to him about it and asked him if he wanted to do it and if he could sit that long. He blinked. Blink, blink, blink - that means yes."
Now came the matter of finding an iron-distance triathlon that would accept them. Hayward started looking, but because of Dayton's young age and medical condition, she was met with rejection.
It was an easy way out, but Hayward didn't take it.
"I have never given up with Dayton. There's always a different avenue to take. When it's one of your children, and it's something you feel is important to them or that they would benefit from, then a 'no' doesn't mean there's not a different way," she said. "So I think I would have kept trying until I found somebody, somewhere who accepted him."
That someone turned out to be Expedition Man race director Ryan Kolodge, who spent the better part of a year slapping rejection in the face as he put together his first iron man distance triathlon.
"If people would have turned me down I wouldn't be where I am today," Kolodge said. "People at least need to be given a chance, an opportunity. Why deny this kid?"
Why indeed, because Dayton is just a kid who loves being outside, and like most boys his age, loves things that go fast.
"He loves roller coasters. He loves the wind in his face," Hayward said.
Riding against the wind
Dayton wore a huge grin as the wind whipped against his face on the downhill ride into Carson City. Downhill was the easy part.
Before the coasting was a grueling 8.7-mile climb to Carson Pass. The women switched off pulling Dayton behind them. The combined weight of Dayton and the cart was 125 pounds, but believe it or not the toughest part was yet to come.
Once the team reached Washoe County, the valley unleashed its windy fury as the women tried to pedal over the hills.
"The wind was pushing the cart backward," Hayward said. "We were only going 10 miles an hour down in that valley and that was a little bit discouraging, but when one of us was pulling the other was encouraging."
Their families met them along the way, acting as pit crew every 28 miles as the women switched off. It was the same family support system that got them through training in the first place.
With five and four kids respectively, Hayward and Adams still managed to train three hours per day, six days per week. This usually meant starting at 4 a.m. so they could get the kids to school by 7 a.m.
When Dayton couldn't train with them, the women would simulate his weight with 71 pounds of water in whatever they were pulling or pushing.
"Our team name is 71 Soul because he's 71 pounds and it takes a whole lot of soul to do the iron man," Hayward said.
We push together
It was getting dark as the three entered the final stage of the journey, a 26-mile run to Sparks Marina. Running was their favorite part, not just because it was their strength, but also because they could push together. The run also gave them a chance to talk to Dayton since he was right in front of them.
The majority of racers had long since finished, but the team pushed on into the gathering darkness hoping to finish before midnight. As the sun disappeared completely, two women in a golf cart appeared to light the final miles.
"I have no idea who they were," Hayward said, "but they helped us see once the lights were out."
The Haywards have always seemed to find a way through the dark, and as for Dayton, he became an iron man the day he beat his two-month life expectancy. The team finished 15 minutes before the midnight deadline, and was met by a barrage of friends and family. The real prize, however, was already won miles before the finish line.
"When we're all through and our days are done, I will look back and just be happy for what we've given each other. He gave me a totally different perspective on life. Little things are not as important. It doesn't matter what you look like. It doesn't matter what you wear or how much you make," Hayward said. "Being able to hold your head up is important. Being able to breathe on your own, being able to smile at someone - that's important."