Three normal guys who grew up in the small town of Millington, MI. Brandon Coleman is a respiratory therapist and is married with three young children. Lon Coleman is a software delivery consultant at Plex with three children. Trevor Coleman owns Michigan Commercial Fitness, a fitness equipment company. The Coleman boys were close as children and young adults, they played team sports and began their adult lives and families together in the Lower Peninsula. But their youngest brother, Chase, would never get that opportunity.
Chase’s personality was dynamic and unforgettable for anyone who met him even briefly. He seemed to pack a lifetime of laughter, adventure, and loving into his 20 short years. Stories emerged after his passing about his selfless giving and caring for people that none of the family was aware of and it was fitting that his final act on earth was to give a gift with a rippling effect.
Chase was a basketball player with a joy for riding and rebuilding bikes. He made people laugh hysterically every day and surprised others frequently with what he would do next. At just twenty, he was a young man on the brink of the rest of his life when a car accident left him with a severe brain stem injury. For a time he was kept alive by machines at Hurley Med Center in Flint. With no treatment or recovery possible, the Coleman family had to say good-bye on May 10, 2003, the day before Mothers’ Day. At the strong urging of the staff, especially a nurse who had lost a son in a similar fashion, the Colemans agreed to donate Chase’s organs. From their tragic loss, they allowed Chase to donate the ultimate gift, life.
A few weeks later, Nancy and Buck, parents of Chase, Lon, Trevor, and Brandon, received a letter from the wife of the recipient of Chase’s heart, then 50-year old Terry Gould. She had a remarkable story to tell. As Terry was prepping for surgery that Mothers’ Day, he asked his wife and five children to go down to the hospital chapel and say a prayer specifically for the person that had died to give him his heart and for the family that must be grieving the loss.
As they prayed, the Goulds noticed several other families in there praying and speaking quietly. Soon, they realized that each family there represented a person receiving one of Chase’s organs. Heart, lungs, both kidneys, liver, small intestines, pancreas, along with cornea and tissue donation. With his death, Chase saved seven lives overnight and likely improved dozens more.
The Colemans watched Terry Gould walk his daughters down the aisle, hold his newborn grandchildren, laugh and cry. Birthdays, holidays, cookouts, and everything in between. None of this would have been possible without Chase’s gift. The Colemans’ message is the other side of that story: how organ donation and meeting the recipients can heal a broken family the same way a new heart healed a broken man.
Terry Gould is now like a member of the Coleman family. He and family spend most holidays with the Colemans. Terry competes in the US and World Transplant Games in swimming and several other events every two years. He has medaled in several events. His success and ability to compete at a high level as brought a lot of healing to the Colemans. You’ll see Terry at the race on August 1.
The Coleman brothers themselves also took to multisport to honor their brother. Chase was an avid cyclist, and shortly after Chase’s death, Trevor started cycling again. It was something that he and Chase had shared. Shortly thereafter, Lon and Brandon began riding, too. By 2005, the Coleman brothers were training for their first triathlon. Organically, they formed Tri For Life, a triathlon team focused on raising awareness for organ donation. Since those early days, they’ve spent years traveling to races and speaking with medical professionals, donor families, and other organizations about the incredible story of their brother.
They’ve continued spreading awareness for the gift of organ donation through forming a non-profit and putting endurance events near their hometown in Michigan. They started small, with 5k and 10k’s, then moving into triathlon with their first Olympic race in Otter Lake, MI. Now, in it’s third year, The Experience at Frankenmuth is the Colemans’ marquee event.
With ~350 racers in 2014, the Coleman’s have built a strong local race, but their vision is to use this incredible venue to build a world-class event, spread the message beyond the area and even Michigan, and serve as the much needed connection between donor families, recipients, living donors, and those not yet affected by donation.
I consider myself very fortunate to have met the Colemans at The Experience in 2014. I had driven in expecting it to be just another race. I had no idea the special place it would hold for me. Earlier that same year, my father had had a double cornea replacement after being diagnosed with Fuch’s corneal dystrophy, a disease that would have left him blind without the surgery. As the surgery for each eye was several weeks apart, he received corneas from two separate organ donors. Because those two people registered to be organ donors, my father can see. To my mind, being an organ donor is a no-brainer. If I die, I won’t need my organs anymore. Why would I care if they are removed from me? Especially if they can save or improve the quality of life for a dozen people. What a simple and effortless final act of generosity we can all perform!
Please consider becoming an organ donor. You can do so when you renew your driver’s license or by signing up with your state’s Organ Donor Registry.
For those of you interested in learning more about the town of Frankenmuth and The Experience at Frankenmuth, see below.
Nestled on the Cass River, Frankenmuth, Michigan is a town of 5,000 that while only 90 miles from Detroit, feels like you’ve traveled 200 years into the past. Settled by Bavarian Lutherans in 1845, their spirit still haunts the attitudes and the architecture of the town. When you head into town for the race, book a stay at the incredible Bavarian Inn (also the host hotel) and plan on spending an extra day. You’ll need it if you want to see Bronner’s Christmas Wonderland. Bronner’s claims to be the “largest Christmas store in the world” and is visited by over 2 million people annually (in fact, Frankenmuth’s expressway ramp exits more motorists than any other on I-75 between Saginaw and Ft. Lauderdale!). Have a stein at the Frankenmuth Brewery that’s been operating with minimal interruption since 1862 and then take the family to an all-you-can-eat chicken dinner at The Bavarian Inn.
Prize Purse: $8000 ($2500, $1000, $500 M/F)
The race itself is top-notch. In addition to the standard Olympic-distance race (the pro race is OD), they also offer a sprint race held concurrently.
The swim is in the nearly current-less Cass River and is a slight fish-hook out-and-back. (They run a lane-line down the middle of the river to keep you on course!) The pro wave starts at 7:45 and the AG-ers immediately follow with a TT-start. It was wetsuit legal last year in early August, though just barely. Spectators line the grassy hillsides on both river banks as well as the wooden covered bridge spanning the Cass just above.
A pancake flat bike course takes you out of town and through the corn, soybean, and wheat fields surrounding Frankenmuth. With a single out-and-back, this highly non-technical bike course is suitable for all ability levels. There’s a good chance you’ll see a man in leiderhosen playing an accordion at some point on the bike.
The mostly-flat two-loop run (one loop for sprint) takes you down Christmas Lane, through Grandpa Zehnder’s Farm, over 3 iconic bridge crossings, and through the quaint River Place Shops Village. Here, you will definitely see a man in leiderhosen playing accordion. There’s a good chance you’ll see Santa Claus and his elves, too.
Post-race, there’s a catered chicken lunch and beer to keep you busy during the awards ceremony. Winners get HUGE beer steins.