The toll the human body pays in the mere attempt of competing in a triathlon can make most any man want to wilt and quit.
And Ryan Monaghan — a veteran San Mateo cop hardened by 19 years of police service, 16 of which were spent on a SWAT team — is no exception.
But as the mental and physical fatigue began to cripple his chances of completing his very first Wildflower Triathlon this time a year ago, Monaghan just remembered the gaunt and balding 8-year-old kid he had visited at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford who, despite his wide smile, was dying.
“Going to the hospital and seeing his attitude, and how he always had a smile on his face even though he was battling this deadly disease … it inspired me even more,” Monaghan said of Jake, the adopted son of his 19-year police buddy, who was diagnosed with leukemia. “This guy’s not quitting the battle he fighting. And he’s fighting a righteous battle. I’m just competing in something for fun.”
That was inspiration enough.
The detective sergeant capped a 3½-hour trek of running, swimming and bike riding hell in finishing his first Olympic-distance triathlon at Lake San Antonio in Bradley, located in Central California. And come May 4 during the 32nd annual event, the 42-year-old Monaghan will take on Wildflower all over again.
“I’m a guy that loves challenges,” said the Peninsula native, who now trains under the guidance of accomplished Ironman competitor and online Triforce Triathlon team coach Kevin Coady, a luxury he didn’t have when competing in his first such race in 2013. “It was probably one of the coolest experiences that I’ve ever had just crossing that finish line and the sense of accomplishment that I had.”
Since crossing that first finish line, Monaghan has competed in two Olympic-distance races and is slated for two more this year, including the U.S. Police and Fire Championships in San Diego in late June.
And it’s fallen police — including Gordon Joinville, the San Mateo sergeant who was gunned down in May 1968 while investigating the theft of chemicals used to make LSD — whom Monaghan will dedicate this year’s Wildflower to.
“In 19 years of doing this job, I’ve gone to more police officer funerals than I’d ever care to go to,” he said. “For me being able to compete in a triathlon shows me that I’m one of the lucky ones. So far up to this point, I’ve made it home safe every day.”
And Jake is almost home safe, too. Two years after his initial cancer diagnosis, Jake is on the cusp of remission.
“Are they totally out of the woods yet? No,” Monaghan said. “But his prognosis is fabulous.”
Olympic-distance course breakdown:
40-kilometer bike ride