Story by MICKEY GOODMAN/Photos by JASON GETZ
In every competition, the Pease brothers ring a bell attached to their equipment to let others know they are approaching. It’s a sign of the brothers’ competitive spirit in such events as the New York City Marathon, the Ironman 70.3 Raleigh and the AJC Peachtree Road Race, taking place this summer.
Brent and Kyle live in Dunwoody and Buckhead, respectively, and compete as a duo. Kyle, who was born with cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia that affects all four limbs, rides in a three-wheel wheelchair as Brent pushes him.
Halfway through the 2015 New York City Marathon, the brothers were moving at a swift pace when suddenly they were forced to take a timeout. One of the two side wheels on Kyle’s chair literally disintegrated.
Brent flagged a police car that took him to a bicycle shop for repairs while Kyle waited in the medical tent. With the race still in progress, Brent learned the chair could not be repaired that day. During an exchange of calls between the brothers, a race official warned Kyle that time was running out for them to continue the race. Kyle decided they indeed would go on somehow, some way.
Upon returning, Brent decided to hitch the broken side of the racing chair, in which Kyle was seated, to his shoulder. Then two separate runners, a man and a woman, stopped their own runs to help by supporting and balancing the wheelchair on each side as Brent pushed from behind.
“We could have never finished without them,” says Kyle, 32.
The foursome crossed the finish line at the 7 hour, 28 minute mark.
“At first I was mad, then embarrassed that we had taken so long to complete the race,” says Brent, 34. “But when I turned on my phone, I had hundreds of messages from friends and strangers. One said, ‘You and Kyle gave a real gift to others and showed that despite the odds, you never gave up.’
“It took me a couple of days to realize that it was not ‘poor us’ who needed helpers, but ‘lucky us’ that we had powered through. It helped us both realize what we were made of and hopefully showed others that perseverance pays off.”
Kyle says the brothers did a lot of bonding that day.
Believing they had unfinished business, the Peases qualified for the New York City Marathon again in 2016.
“The second time around, we finished in 3 hours and 27 minutes, ahead of a lot of able-bodied runners, and the entire family, including Evan [Kyle’s twin], who lived in New York, was on the sidelines cheering,” Brent says.
Kyle likes to apply a famous New York City song to their feat.
“People say, ‘If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.’ We proved we could,” he laughs.
On their marks
In between tackling marathons and other competitions, the Pease brothers live normal lives. Kyle is a full-time greeter at Piedmont Hospital and Brent is an endurance coach at the Dynamo Multisport Center in Chamblee.
They plan to compete in their sixth AJC Peachtree Road Race in July, just a month after the Ironman event in Raleigh, N.C.
Through the Kyle Pease Foundation, the brothers partnered with the Shepherd Center in a pilot program for wheelchair-assisted racers, known as push-assist. The Shepherd Center and the Atlanta Track Club started an official division for push-assist competitors in 2016.
This year, nine push-assist teams from the foundation will compete in the AJC Peachtree Road Race. The foundation matches healthy runners who would qualify to finish the race in 45 minutes with wheelchair athletes.
The Pease brothers were among 58 such pairs that competed in the 2018 Georgia Publix Half Marathon in March.
“[The foundation] provides assistance to help others meet their individual needs through sports,” says Brent, who serves as executive director.
The 501c3 nonprofit supports disabled athletes with adaptive sports equipment, medical equipment and funding opportunities. For example, the foundation, which has more than 100 members, has paid entry fees and covered the cost of overnight trips for competitions.
The Pease foundation raised $450,000 in 2017.
Equipment costs run $3,000 to $6,000 for a racing wheel chair, $12,000 for an adaptive bicycle and $850 for a kayak.
For some sporting event participants, finishing the Peachtree Road Race is enough. Others want to compete in half-marathons and more.
“We couldn’t do it without our army of volunteers [who assist during races] and our wonderful board members,” Kyle says.
Matt Sours, a partner at Morris, Manning & Martin law firm, is one of the foundation’s most engaged volunteers. “I’ve watched the organization grow from a fledgling nonprofit into one that touches the lives of hundreds of disabled and able-bodied athletes annually,” he says. “Their overt selfless love and devotion to one another is the heartbeat of the foundation.”
Brent and Kyle’s bond is also a driving force.
“My wheelchair is a part of me, but it doesn’t define who I am,” Kyle says. “As a kid, I always knew I was different, but I didn’t quite grasp the differences because my family always helped me. It took me awhile to understand that everyone has challenges. Mine were just a little more noticeable.”
The brothers, Kyle, Brent and Evan, grew up in the Morningside community, where their parents struck a balance between protecting Kyle and encouraging his independence.
On a memorable Saturday morning when the boys were small, Janis Pease was alarmed when her usual routine of lifting then 3-year-old Kyle from his crib to carry him downstairs was interrupted — because he was not there.
She was soon relieved to find him downstairs watching cartoons with Brent and Evan. Demanding to know how Kyle got there, 5-year-old Brent simply looked up and said, “I carried him.”
The moment brought their mother to tears. “I realized that no matter what, Brent and Evan would always take care of Kyle,” Janis says.
Kyle attended different elementary and high schools from Brent and Evan because theirs was not wheelchair accessible.
“Before Kyle turned 18 and went to college, we cared for him without outside help,” Janis says. “I don’t think we ever considered any other way. We did whatever was needed by helping him dress, eat, shower, and transfer from the wheelchair to the bed, shower or bathroom and back again.”
Kyle lives with his parents and remains completely dependent on others to assist him. “Some come from Emory University’s Department of Physical Therapy where they get practical experience that furthers their careers,” Kyle says, adding that therapists stay for a semester or two. “Others I’ve hired have been with me for years and years.”
How the race was won
The Pease brothers’ athletic matchup was Kyle’s brainstorm.
In 2007, Brent, a Florida State University graduate and former high school swimmer, felt out of shape and overweight. He dropped 30 lbs. and started running. He competed in 5Ks and 10Ks before running his way up to half marathons and triathlons.
His first Ironman competition was Ironman Louisville in 2010. The Pease family was there to cheer him on.
“It was pretty amazing,” Janis recalls. “We celebrated at a restaurant. Shortly after we were seated, Kyle turned to Brent and asked, ‘Can people in wheelchairs race, too?’”
Looking back on what inspired his desire to be in an Ironman event, Kyle says, “It was exactly what I go through on a day-to-day basis.
“I loved how each athlete, including Brent, gave it their all to get to the finish line.”
Brent had mixed feelings. “I was outwardly excited, but there was some doubt as to how we could pull it off,” he says.
To train for their first event, St. Anthony’s Triathlon in St. Petersburg, Fla., Brent swam using an enclosed five-gallon bucket of water tied to his waist to try to mimic the activity of pulling Kyle’s weight inside a kayak. He rode his bike in the North Georgia Mountains to build his strength.
“It didn’t take me long to realize that Kyle should be involved,” Brent says. “Exercising with someone else is much more fun, and we learned together.”
To prepare for most races, Brent exercises seven days a week, but for an Ironman, he trains almost twice as much. Kyle is often at his side.
“He’s a very driven, compassionate and competitive guy,” Brent says of Kyle.
Both men say they enjoy competing alongside elite athletes.
“[We] can’t play golf on the Masters course in Augusta, or play tennis in Wimbledon, but we run on the same tracks as people who are the best in the world,” Brent says.
The brothers believe they live their motto, Kyle adds. “’Where there’s a wheel, there’s a way,’ and [we] help others with challenges find success.”
The Kyle Pease Foundation. kylepeasefoundation.org.
Push-assist partners from the Kyle Pease Foundation will participate in the 36th Annual Pace Race 5K and 1 Mile from 9-11 a.m. on April. 21. The 5K is a qualifying event for the AJC Peachtree Road Race. Pace Academy, 966 W. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta. active.com
Brent and Kyle Pease give inspirational speeches to schools, religious institutions and organizations. Their talks motivate people with disabilities to step outside of their boundaries and give able-bodied individuals insight into what it’s like to live with extreme physical hindrance.