Chad Hawker had a brain tumor.

That in itself is not unusual. The fact Chad competed as a triathlete for two and half years before he was diagnosed is.

Triathletes are a breed set apart. They swim. They cycle. They run. And they do it over long distances, whether they’re competing in the Olympic Triathlon, which includes a one-mile swim, a 25-mile bike ride, and a two-mile run; the Long Triathlon, which increases the distances to a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a half-marathon; or the ultimate Triathlon, the Ironman, in which the swim is 2.4 miles, the cycling course is 112 miles, and the run is the full 26.2 mile-marathon. By the time the marathon actually starts, top triathletes have already been racing for five and a half to six hours. At the end of the day, the elite racers have been pushing their bodies at optimal levels for eight to nine hours, depending upon the course.

The sport is the fasting growing in the world. Not only is there a growing number of triathletes, there are also those who are actually professional triathletes, who make their living performing in long distance competitions.

One such professional long distance triathlete is Chad Hawker, a 28-year-old resident of Monterey, California who turned pro last year, and has been competing for six years.

Chad, who went to Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo on a tennis scholarship, had always been a runner, competing in marathons during high school. When he lost his passion for tennis, he turned his focus toward triathlons, and began the journey that would change his life.

In 1996, Hawker competed in his first Ironman triathlon. He experienced a condition called hyponutremia, and remembers very little of the marathon. "I would literally close my eyes and just run for mile after mile. I remember finishing the race and collapsing into the arms of some people. They woke me up and told me to stop moving my legs because I was still running even while I was sleeping." He fell into a coma that lasted two hours.

He recovered, and continued to race in Ironman competitions through 1997, and continued to have problems, although not to the extent experienced in his first race. His problems always began during the run. He finished 64th in the 1997 Ironman Hawaii, but was 20th at mile 20. He was sitting in the medical tent, hooked to an IV, and was praying about his future in the sport. "I was frustrated. I was working hard but not making a breakthrough."

A doctor, who also happened to be from the Monterey Peninsula, approached him, and a relationship was begun. "He asked all the right questions. He wanted to run tests and do some blood work." The test results were startling. They showed that Chad’s thyroid was not working, his metabolism was impacted, and, most significantly, his anti-diuretic hormone wasn’t working. "I thought it was normal to get up six to eight times a night to go to the bathroom."

It was the failure of the anti-diuretic hormone that was puzzling. It usually indicates a problem with the pituitary gland, most often a tumor. The doctors were skeptical. They didn’t think it was possible for Chad to compete at that level of physical endurance with a tumor.

They were wrong.

Through a confluence of circumstance, which included the misreading of an MRI, Chad was diagnosed with Pituitary Adenoma, a brain tumor. From the size of the tumor, doctors estimated it had been growing for about five years, and had not reached the point of being out of control. Another year or two and the results might have been different.

The tumor was successfully removed in February of 1998, and by April of that same year, Chad was back in competition.

"I finally experienced breakthroughs. By the end of that first year, I had grown an inch. I added 10 pounds of muscle. I was becoming stronger and stronger.

But there was more adversity to come. During a race after the surgery, the fork on his bike snapped, sending Chad tumbling, tearing his shoulder muscle. Later the same year, in Ironman Hawaii, the wind blew him off his bike, and he tore the same muscle.

If 1998 was Chad’s year of adversity, 1999 was his year of achievement. "I knew, after what I’d been through in 1998, that God had a big year in store for me. I came in 6th in Ironman New Zealand, my first top ten finish, then won three major races, and was named a Monterey County Athlete of the Century. I know that without experiencing the adversity I did in 1998, I wouldn’t have had the faith and strength to accomplish what I did in 1999."

Poised on the verge of becoming the top performer in the sport of Ironman triathlons, Chad sees his platform as an opportunity to communicate his faith in God. "Sharing my faith is what it’s all about. Even if I win the Ironman World Championships, nothing compares with being able to serve God. I’m a living example that God sometimes allows adversity into our lives to make us stronger and more dependent upon Him."

His brain tumor is gone. His body is stronger.

So is his faith.