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After his daughter lost her leg to cancer, he was given the chance to show her what’s possible in Kona

This athlete was given the chance to race at the Ironman World Championship to support his daughter

Photo by: Kevin Mackinnon

It’s not exactly the way that you’d like to celebrate a holiday. Almost exactly a year before this year’s Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on Thanksgiving weekend 2021, the Richards family got the news – 13-year-old Samantha had Osteosarchoma, the same cancer that Terry Fox suffered from.

“I never thought that at such a young age I would be going through something as serious as cancer,” she said, seemingly a world away from her home in Whitby, Ont. I am interviewing her at the Subaru Breakfast at the Ironman World Championship in Hawaii. “I didn’t quite believe it until I was being taken to the hospital for my first chemo. It was unimaginable and so scary.”

Samantha and her father, Geoffrey, are here in Kona because he had been chosen as Subaru Canada’s Road to Kona winner, giving him the chance to compete at an event that had inspired him to become a triathlete. After Samantha’s diagnosis last year, the family’s focus has been on her, which meant Geoffrey wasn’t able to gear up for a full-distance race. He was able to put in enough training to compete at Ironman 70.3 Victoria this summer, though. Samantha’s twin sister, Abigail, made the trip out west with him. While there, she saw the information about the Subaru Road to Kona award program, asking for nominations for athletes to compete at the Ironman World Championship. She nominated her father. She wasn’t alone, either. In the end Geoffrey received over 40 nominations, many from fellow members of the Durham Region Triathlon Club.

“She is a battler,” Geoffrey said of his daughter. “This is a chance for me to show Samantha what’s possible.”

Related: Road to Kona winner Brent Smyth is ready to race

Photo: kevin Mackinnon

Geoffrey’s not kidding. Samantha is a fighter. She can still remember asking the doctors if she was going to die if she didn’t go through the chemotherapy treatments. (Yes, she would, she was told.) Eventually she would lose her foot – she had a trans-tibial amputation just above the ankle. She now has a prosthetic and will eventually be able to be 100 per cent active in sports – she really wants to get back to playing hockey, and will hopefully be able to play at the AA level again. My guess is her hockey aspiration of “playing on my university team” could very well still be in the cards, too.

“I have gone skating – it’s like riding a bike, you never forget it,” she said. “I was happy to be back on the ice. I’m hoping that in the future I’ll be able to get back to playing hockey and live my life normally again.”

So, what has she learned from the last year?

“Anything is possible, I guess,” she said, displaying maturity well beyond her 14 years. “Good and bad. I didn’t know how many people cared about me as much. Just seeing the support that everyone gave me has been amazing.”

For Geoffrey, that support has been a pleasant surprise, too.

“One of the things that we’ve learned is to lean on that support,” he said. “Whether it be Samantha’s school, or the hockey community, or the triathlon community for me – the support that is out there, and your friends and your family, and your friends that become family, are so inspiring.”

In the end, Geoffrey nailed the day in Kona, finishing the race in 11:10:50. Of course, there was never any doubt he would cross that finish line – when you watch your daughter deal with losing her foot, it’s hard to complain about a day of racing, no matter how difficult the wind or heat. But his effort has also inspired his daughter to pursue her dreams.

“I know he’s been inspired by me and my journey,” Samantha said. “Seeing him do this course, which is insanely hard, it’s going to be inspirational to see him get through it and cross the finish line.”