Brett Kessler

Colorado athletes heading to Kona!

Name: Brett Kessler

1. What are you most excited about in competing in Kona?

This year is a “bonus” for me.  Last year,  I had the opportunity of a lifetime to do this race through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training through a charity slot.  It was one of the best days of my life as I checked off a lifelong dream to cross the finish line in Kona.

It was a “one and done” for me (or so I thought).  I’m not fast enough to qualify.  I don’t see myself being fast enough to qualify anytime soon (if ever).

I signed up to do the Honu 70.3 in June to keep the triathlon racing going.

In March, I got a weird alert from Google that linked my name to a “Honu to Kona” lottery.  I clicked on the link and it went to a page that was under construction.

Whoa, what if I was chosen to do Kona again?

I obsessively clicked on the link all night long.  I spoke to some of my friends that were planning to do Honu with me to see if they received any notifications similar to mine.  No one had received anything like that.

I found out that there was, in fact, a Honu to Kona lottery and the names were chosen.  However, Facebook went down that day and Ironman was waiting until all social media outlets were working to announce the winners.

That was also the day that the infamous “bomb cyclone” snowstorm happened.  I was supposed to travel to Chicago for a business meeting.  My flight was canceled and I attended the business meeting via Skype.

And then I received the announcement.

At Kona last year, Mike Reilly was on break when I crossed the finish line. I didn’t get his, “Brett Kessler, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” but I didn’t care because I crossed the finish line.

On this cold, snowy morning in March, he announced the winners of the lottery.  My name was the first one called.

I went nuts! I started yelling and screaming, “I’m going back!  I’m going back!”

The conference call that I was on immediately disconnected me as I was a distraction to those on the other side of the connection.

I was in a total state of shock. Can I do it again? Can I do the training required again?

Or the most important question, Should I do it again? It took a lot if time away from my family and work.  I received my wife’s blessing.  I made it a point to show up to as much family time as possible.

And most important, my wife and had an Italy trip planned and I can’t interfere with OUR “trip of a lifetime”!  (I am writing this from Italy).

So with the blessings in place,  I decided to go for it!

2. What is your favorite career IRONMAN memory so far?

I have two:

Last year, my wife asked a bunch of friends and family to write letters to motivate me.  She shared the packet with several dozen letters with me 3 days before the race. It was so moving to me that it brought me to tears.

Last year crossing the finish line, I was welcomed in by family and friends.  This is an individual sport, but for me, it took a village!  To celebrate my finish in that was was a gift,  I will not forget.

3. Is this your first time competing in Kona and if no how many other times have you done so?

This is my second time.

4. If someone were watching that is new to the sport, what would you tell them is the coolest thing about being a triathlete and competing in this venue?

I am humbled to be able to compete at this venue again as an average athlete.  I feel like the luckiest person on the planet.   I am a totally average athlete.  In the Ironman world, the saying, “Anything is Possible” is not a cliche.  It is a reality.  With a solid training plan, dedication to the process and support from my family and friends has afforded me the opportunity to toe the starting line for one more go.

5. What do you think is the hardest thing about doing an IRONMAN?

The training is the hardest part but also the funnest part.  So many mornings, the alarm went off at 4:45 my brain and my soul would start to argue – sleep in or get up and train?  Most of the time, my soul won.

The goal is to cross the finish line.  I am most proud of who I have become in pursuit of this goal.  I have embraced everything it takes to do the Ironman and incorporated it into my life.  With dedication, discipline, humility and gratitude I have proven to myself that I can accomplish anything in my life.

Why train for a cause?

Team in Training Athlete Dr. Brett Kessler at the turnaround in Hawi

By Bill Plock

Dr. James DeGregori PhD
(Photo by Casey A. Cass/University of Colorado)

Those reasons often transition into causes and those causes are often taken on by a group of people working to help the same cause and obviously most of those causes involve medical conditions, awareness and advocacy.

Clearly many things motivate people to exercise, train and perhaps ultimately compete. We all know of someone inspired by unfortunate circumstances that might have impacted their life or of those they care about. The reasons are countless and often tear jerking and deeply personal.

This past week, 303radio sat down with Dr. James DeGregori PhD and Brett Kessler, DDS to talk about the community of like minded people they train with–Team and Training.

Team in Training is the largest charity endurance training program in the world. They have over 650,000 athletes that have raised over $1 billion to fight cancer, Leukemia and Lymphoma more specifically. Like many teams the connections and friends that are made ultimately make cause the greatest memories.

In this interview James and Brett talk about those connections, their own personal reasons and why’s, but more, they both know Leukemia and Lymphoma first hand as medical professionals that work directly with those effected and by doing research to help find a cure.

Not only will you learn how Team in Training helped them compete in century rides, marathons and even the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, but you will learn a little about the disease from people on the front lines and extremely driven advocates that will likely offer you some inspiration into your own why.

Racing for a Future Without Cancer

Brett Kessler

Brett Kessler was helping blood cancer patients long before it became personal. He did an oncology fellowship after dental school where his focus was on treating patients affected by blood cancer. Then, he moved to Colorado in 1999 and joined The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society‘s (LLS) Team In Training to meet new people, train and raise money for blood cancer research. He then went on to be a triathlon coach for the program.

Brett shared, “I did not treat this population anymore and still wanted to support them. I was hooked.”

Brett’s mom was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) eight years later. She took imatinib (Gleevac®) through clinical trials which were funded by LLS. Sadly, Brett’s mom passed away in 2016.

He shared, “I felt like I directly contributed to her care from the work I did with LLS. The universe works in amazing ways as Gleevec was not even approved when I started with Team In Training.”

The fundraising Brett has done for the LLS mission through Team In Training is in memory of his mom but is giving hope to future patients through the efforts of local researchers.

The work of Dr. Dan Pollyea and his team of clinical researchers at the University of Colorado School of Medicine is funded by grants such as those from LLS. Three years ago, the team began a clinical trial program for the first therapy that could effectively eradicate leukemia stem cell populations. Dr. Pollyea shared that if you can really eradicate the leukemia stem cells, then you can potentially cure this disease. The results so far have been described as “unbelievable” because they can get 80-90% of people into complete remission with their approach.

Dr. James DeGregori

The work of Dr. James DeGregori at the University of Colorado School of Medicine has also been funded by LLS. He is researching how the human body ages and its effects on how cancer cells find a way to take hold. He is looking at how can we mitigate those changes and interfere with cancer growth with clinical intervention. Dr. DeGregori’s team has done some work on mice to reduce cancer incidences but will they will be approaching their work with humans a bit differently when the time comes.

“As a practicing dentist in Denver, several of my patients have had various forms of blood cancers,” shared Brett. “Knowing that we have some of the best treatments available here in Denver due to the research of people like Dr. Pollyea and Dr. DeGregori makes me feel good that they have a chance to beat this awful disease. Twenty-five years ago, many of these diagnoses were a death sentence. Now they are manageable.”

The success of local researchers continues to inspire Brett. He earned a coveted spot in the 2018 IRONMAN® World Championship event in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, crossing the finish line this past October. He is still raising funds for this event and has raised $67,000 and counting in memory of his mom.

“This is an emotional journey for me,” shared Brett. “I am able to honor my mom by bringing awareness and raising money to help eradicate blood cancers. I am also able to honor the many people who are connected to the disease that I have met along the way.”

Team In Training is the world’s largest and most successful endurance sports fundraising and training program. Since its inception in 1988, Team In Training has raised more than $1.5 billion, trained more than 650,000 people and helped LLS invest more than $1.2 billion in blood cancer research.

Team In Training offers a lineup of innovative high caliber domestic and international events, and prepares teammates for marathons, half marathons, and triathlons, as well as cycling, climbing and hiking experiences, with experienced coaches, training resources, a supportive community and world-class fundraising tools.

Join the team for the Lavaman Waikoloa Triathlon or the Wildflower Experience. To learn more, click here. Use code TRI303 for free Team In Training registration ($100 value, expires 12/31/18).