I write this feeling both heart-broken, and blessed.  Jim Brewer, my homestay from Ironman Chattanooga, passed away on February 1, 2018. He was a man I met, a stranger, who soon became a dear friend. This was all thru the Ironman Homestay program – a program where Ironman helps professionals find places to stay, while competing at their events.  

This is a tribute to this man, who touched many lives, and truly embodied the kindred spirit of Ironman.  In the last 4 years, Jim and Sandra Brewer have opened up their home to almost a dozen professionals in Chattanooga, TN.  I would have never had the chance to meet such a great soul without racing the inaugural Ironman, in 2014. 

I was Jim’s first homestay athlete. We conversed a little over emails and text, before I met him. Right away, he made me feel at home, and I had a few friends that were also racing that needed a place.   I asked him if he had some extra room, and he quickly replied, ‘Hell Yeah!’ – a phrase I would learn, shortly after meeting him, that epitomized his soul, and life.  

I was there for a week, spoiled no less, with food, good company, and laughs. Little did I know, Jim was a very social man who invited the entire neighbourhood for backyard BBQs almost every weekend.  They had a very close knit group of friends that celebrated life. And to have the Ironman in their home town, everyone joined in on the fun. It’s a week of my life I’ll never forget.

And it’s been like that year after year, race after race.  And recently, I was just conversing with Jim about planning my return trip to Chattanooga for this year’s 70.3.  He already had three rooms filled, and my private room and bath, had my name on it.  We’ve stayed connected over the years, meeting up where we could. Last I saw him in person was this past August when I passed thru Chattanooga, to help with a Red Bull Women’s event I was hosting. He surprised me by being down at the buffet breakfast, the only morning I had there. That was Jim, he just made things happen, and always with love and an addictive smile.  When he found out I was going thru divorce, he reached out to me.  He supported me. He gave me advice. He was there for me. If you venture over to his Facebook page, it’s filled with pictures and pictures of friends, family, and every athlete that stayed at his house. I truly can’t say enough about Jim. He is a man who truly gave life to those around him. 

 

Jim Brewer passed away from a fall that left him with some medical complications. He was on life-support for over a week, and his wife, Sandra, and good friend, Ju-Hsin (neighbor) reached out to me.  I was lucky and fortunate to be able to say some last words that were relayed to Jim while he was in the ICU. The night Ju-Hsin and Sandra did this for me, I received a video-phone call from them. On the other line, was Jim.  He wasn’t able to open his eyes or speak, but he acknowledged my voice, my words, and gave me a kiss, and a smile. We both cried. I will forever have this man in my heart. 

I want to share the words I said to him – as it embodies how much he meant to me, and the athletes he connected with over the years.  He truly supported and loved Ironman in his city, and was one of the biggest, if not THE biggest supporter of the event. He loved sharing the week, and celebration of the races. 

“I love you Jim. You have given me memories that I cherish. In all my years I’ve done this sport there’s one time that truly sticks out – my time I spent with you, and your family during my first Ironman win.  Your love, vulnerability, and support for me at that finish line, is my favourite memory I’ve had in my career, my favourite feeling of all time.   You were a man, whom I only knew for a mere 3 days and you gave me the deepest, most sincere hug of support and care I’ve ever had.   I remember getting up every morning, early, and you were up.  We’d talk like old friends and I loved it.  I’ll never forget how much support and love I felt from you since the day we met – from a complete stranger at the time, no less.   

The morning of that race, you were up and ready to roll, and had the music blazing in the car. I was sitting in the front seat, and you and I were laughing, and smiling.  I remember the top was down, and you were just as excited as we all were for the race to start.  The entire race – you were there, and poured your heart out to me that day.  You had the entire community cheering for us, and I remember running past you guys with such big smiles, and love.  You raced to get to the finish line – where I will never forget the feeling and moment I had with you.  It was a true embrace of joy and care. It reached my core.  We were both crying and I’ve never felt such vulnerability and joy from someone I knew for such little time.   I will forever cherish that. 

And for the rest of my life, I’m living with the words you said often for everything, ’Hell yeah!’.  You give such meaning to this phrase for me, and since the first day we met at the airport, I was in love with your joy, and way of being.  You live by these words, and I hope to do the same.   These two words.  ‘Hell Yeah!” I’m reminded daily – enjoy life, it’s now or never, live for the moments, and cherish those to you close.  You’re a beautiful soul, Jim.  I love you.  – Angela “ 

And to this, I truly have to thank Ironman.  This is one of the reasons I love this sport – the connection of community, athletes and individuals like Jim Brewer.  Jim was never an Ironman – heck, I don’t think he even rode a bike in the last 30 years of his life! However, he supported each of us who stayed in his home, and embraced our goals like they were his own. His finish-line tears and hug, were truly indicative of who he was, and how much he gave to all of us.   

I’ve been involved with homestay’s thru Ironman since I started the sport. When this adventure of triathlon racing as my career began, I barely had enough money to train full-time. Homestay’s helped me survive, and race.  I’ve made friends across the globe (Andrea from St. Croix, Bill from New Hampshire, Hud and Sandra from Galveston, to name a few).  It’s a core reason and desire of why I created iracelikeagirl – a women’s endurance community.  We connect, share, and support one another in our lives.  

This sport changes lives. Ironman brings communities together, people together, and friendships that last a life time.  While Jim is gone, I’m blessed to have the opportunity to have had him as a part of my life.  

Angela Naeth, Professional Triathlete