Atlanta UCC Pastor Completes Ironman Competition while Raising $36K for Charity

UCC pastor and chaplain Katie O’Dunne Kilpatrick, her husband Sean (also a pastor), and her father Peter all recently completed the Ironman Competition in Lake Placid, New York. Between the three of them they raised over $36,000 for the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation, a cause close to their heart as Katie’s mother has this cancer. Here is her reflection.

On July 23, almost a year of preparation culminated in one of the most meaningful events of my life: 140.6 miles of racing while working to find a cure for blood cancer. I am a competitive triathlete who has utilized endurance athletics as a part of my self care and as a spiritual practice for over a decade. However, when my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma three years ago, triathlon took on a whole new meaning.

Multiple Myeloma is the second most common form of blood cancer, and unfortunately carries one of the lowest five-year survival rates of all cancers. Soon after my mom’s diagnosis, when it seemed like there was little hope, my family became connected with the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMRF). We quickly learned that their Team for Cures program encourages endurance athletes to compete while fundraising directly for this cause, with 90% of funds going towards blood cancer research. This very same research stemming from many athletically-based funds has led to ten new FDA approved treatments, with four in the past 18 months. These are the same treatments my mom is currently utilizing and that are keeping her with us each day.

Triathlon has always been a spiritual practice for me, with the intersection of spirituality and endurance athletics even serving as the topic for my graduate research.

My entire family knew we had to be involved! As a result, my dad, my husband, and I took on Ironman Lake Placid as a family this year, seeking to raise as much money as possible for the cause. In addition to a year of fundraising, we committed to preparing for 140.6 miles of racing, which included a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run through the Adirondack Mountains. On July 23, we completed the challenge! Each of us conquered this difficult race, while we collectively raised over $36,000 for the MMRF. The race itself was one of the most difficult experiences of my life, and yet it was one of the most meaningful.

Triathlon has always been a spiritual practice for me, with the intersection of spirituality and endurance athletics even serving as the topic for my graduate research. In this race, the connection took on a whole new meaning. I felt God in each high and low moment over the 14 hour race, while also feeling an overwhelming sense of connection to each person out on the course. I had amazing teammates out there supporting me, but even the strangers competing in the race began to form a type of community. Competitors differed in age, background, ability, and beyond.

And yet, for those 14 hours, none of those differences mattered. We were completely united with one another through hugs and tears. The chance to hear so many stories as we were out on the course was life changing, as each athlete chose to conquer the course for a unique reason. My reason was to show my mom that I will be there fighting alongside her through every step of the journey. Seeing her throughout the race and running towards her at the finish line made every moment worth it. It also made the decision for the three of us to sign up again easy…as the work is not over yet. I want her to know that as we take on this challenge again in the coming year, we are with her and other cancer survivors every step of the way!