On March 27, 2010, Martin Reisert will compete in the ROHTO Ironman 70.3 California Triathlon. This is the kick-off event to the US Ironman season. Taking place in Oceanside and on neighboring military base Camp Pendleton, the Ironman 70.3 California features close to 1,800 athletes from around the world. They will be competing for 20 qualifying spots for the Ford Ironman Triathlon World Championship, 100 qualifying spots for the Foster Grant Ironman 70.3 World Championship as well as a $30,000 pro prize purse. The length of this course is a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run, and just as he has done in the past, Reisert will dedicate this event to one of his former students, Tehya Foussat.

Two years ago, Martin Reisert competed in his first full Ironman Triathlon. Under the sweltering heat of the Arizona summer sun, Reisert completed a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run in less than 14 hours. With a small group of family and friends to cheer him, he crossed the finish line, hand in hand, with his student, Tehya Foussat. Tehya, who lives with the medical challenges of Spina Bifida, left her wheelchair behind, and walked the last few 100 yards with her teacher to break the Ironman Finisher’s tape!

Tehya - Student Star“The feeling of crossing the finish line with Tehya was miraculous. For Tehya and I to both walk across that line, defied all odds of what I thought was possible just several months prior. This experienced proved to me that miracles do happen, and you can truly achieve anything you put your mind to. It may take some time to get there, but with persistence, determination and most importantly inspiration, it comes down to a matter of ‘when’ it will happen not if.”

Fifteen years ago, Tehya was born with the most severe form of Spina Bifida: Lipomyelomeningocele. Many children with this condition are unable to walk or run, and they have multiple medical challenges that affect their daily lives. Although her parents were told she might not walk, Tehya overcame many obstacles and became a cheerleader, gymnast and swimmer. When she was twelve, she had another spinal cord surgery that was meant to preserve her internal organ function, but it interfered with her ability to walk, run, and even stand on her toes. She could no longer attend school, and her chronic and severe pain kept her at home and in bed, instead of enjoying the activities that kept her active and happy.

Motivated by Martin Reisert, the teachers, and the administrative staff at Oak Valley Middle School in Rancho Bernardo, were pivotal in Tehya’s recovery. Although she missed most of her seventh grade year, Tehya came back to Oak Valley in eighth grade, campaigned for and became the Student Body President, and earned the Presidential Award for Academic Excellence. But there are two awards that she holds dear. Only Tehya and one other student were presented with The Heart of Oak Valley Award during promotion ceremonies. This special award recognized and celebrated her ability to inspire her School Community, while consistently demonstrating the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship. The other award that she holds close to her heart is the 2008 Ironman Arizona Finisher Medal, which Mr. Reisert immediately removed from himself at the finish line, and put around her neck. Although no words were exchanged, there was a deep understanding and appreciation of his selfless, and meaningful act.

“Crossing the finish line with Mr. Reisert is the one memory that I look back on when I’m in pain. I just think to myself that anything is possible and I can get through this moment – I know I can make it!”

One of Tehyathon’s missions is to raise funds to help research Spina Bifida and the many related complex medical conditions often associated with this illness. Along with creating and maintaining an online database of medical and community support resources for patients and their families, Tehyathon has plans to produce an annual conference where the many different medical specialists and surgeons can gather and share their knowledge and new techniques with each other, with their patients, and with their families. Many Spina Bifida patients have at least five different specialists that monitor and maintain their conditions, including neurosurgeons, orthopedic surgeons, urologists, and gastroenterologists, so establishing this type of forum could potentially lead to strong alliances within the medical community, and maybe one day a they will find a way to prevent Spina Bifida.

Student Star

The second mission of Tehyathon is to raise funds to assemble and distribute “Tenderness Totes by Tehya”. These tote bags are filled with toiletries, first aid items, food and water. Designed to be kept in a vehicle and ready to give to those in need at a moment’s notice, each Tenderness Tote will have an uplifting and inspiring message card created by children with Spina Bifida.

Reisert and Tehya’s family have worked countless hours to build this non-profit organization, and in 2009, Martin completed his second Ford Ironman Triathlon in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho. But this time, he wasn’t alone in his quest. Inspired by Reisert’s amazing feat at the 2008 Ironman Arizona, Tehya’s father, Tony Foussat spent one year training with Martin. On a cold and rainy Father’s Day in June 2009, Martin crossed the finish line in 12 hours and 55 minutes, shaving off over one hour from his previous Arizona event. Two hours later, Tehya’s father Tony, crossed the finish line and fell into his daughter’s arms, successfully completing his very first full Ironman Triathlon!

This year, the pool of Tehyathon athletes has grown to five, and what started off as one teacher’s quest to help inspire one of his students, has turned into a group of amazing athletes who are inspired by Tehya’s perseverance, her fortitude, and her desire to help those in need.

As a 9th grader at Del Norte High School, Tehya continues to receive A’s in all of her classes, and just like her middle school, her teachers and the administrative staff of Del Norte have rallied around Tehya; moved by her drive and touched by her kindness. Tehya is a Del Norte Cheerleader, and although she is not as strong as she used to be, nothing stops her from working twice as hard to perfect her skills. Her goal is to tumble again, so in addition to her regular cheer/tumble practice, she’s back in the gym two days a week with her private tumbling coach, Aaron.

Although she tires much easier now and the painful progression of Spina Bifida continues to cause more dysfunction and loss, Tehya won’t have it any other way. “All I want to do is be a cheerleader and to tumble again. I want to do it as much as I can – for as long my body lets me.” She is quite an inspiration!

You can find out more about Martin and Tehya at www.Martinsmission.com, and if you are interested in learning about Tehyathon and donating through their Sponsored Athlete Program, log on to www.tehyathon.com.

– Courtesy of Martin Reisert