This is Jeff’s final update sent to his family, friends and donors after completing the ‘Million Dollar Challenge’ cycle down the coast of California:

I delayed and anguished before sending you this final note –a part of me just didn’t want the experience to end or acknowledge that this was the final time the million-dollar challenge (MDC) would be ridden down the coast of California.  Another part of me did not know how to do justice to the tenacious, inspirational personalities I met and the shared experiences.  But here are a few vignettes that I will carry with me for years to come:

Jeremy Watson elected to have his leg amputated below the knee only eleven months prior to tackling the MDC.  He had shattered his ankle and lower leg falling from an apartment whilst wrestling to save the life of a friend.  The friend landed in a bush – Jeremy was not as fortunate and landed on his feet on the concrete below.  Jeremy went on to experience such indescribable pain that after years of struggling, amputation was the more palatable option.  We rode together side-by -side traversing 17-mile drive in Pebble Beach and some jaw dropping scenery.  Then we reached Trump National Golf Club, located unsurprisingly on One Trump National Drive, Rancho Palos Verdes.  The only thing that undulates more than the fortunes of Trump are the short, sharp rises and falls on the road adjoining the course.  On one particularly sharp rise my chain came off the large chain ring.  No sooner had I got it sorted then it popped off the small chain ring on the next ascent – rookie error.  Once fixed I raced to catch up to the group and complain about my misfortune.  But Jeremy had also had to stop ahead – his leg had fallen off!  I said nothing, I learnt a real lesson in gratitude and perspective.

Paul Martin rolled his car as a 25-year-old.  After 6 weeks in hospital, he describes himself arriving home and standing on one leg in the bathroom (the other having been freshly amputated below the knee).  He catches himself singing along to the radio whilst brushing his teeth.  Then it dawns on him – shouldn’t he be sad?  A young man in the prime of his life and a fine athlete and he has lost a leg and yet – here he is happy.  As Paul describes it happiness is not to be found in your leg.  Instead, he works on himself willing himself to go further and faster.  Today Paul is considered one of the foremost amputee triathletes in history.  In 1997, Paul was named the USA Triathlon Olympic-Distance National Champion for the first time; he has since won it five more times (1998, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2007).  However, his most impressive performance, fuelled by thinking of his dying father-in-law in South Africa and competing in his honour, was finishing the Ironman Coeur d’Alene in Idaho in 10:09:17, which set the then Ironman world record for leg amputees.  He crossed the finish line, bent down and pulled off his prosthetic leg, brandishing it above his head for the cameras like a victorious warrior waving his sword.  In that race he beat 95% of the able-bodied field.  To really draw inspiration from this incredible man, try one of the two books written with his characteristic wit and charm: “One Man’s Leg” and “Drinking out of My Leg,” both of which detail his life and athletic accomplishments as an amputee.  Paul is a model of perseverance, positivism, and purpose:

I think I have encountered my fair share of disabilities and disabled athletes, but nothing I have experienced prepared me for my encounter with Liza, Beth, and her partner Kurt.   Anyone who follows the sport of triathlon will tell you that the premier event is the Kona Hawaiian Ironman.  Just qualifying is an achievement, finishing the 2.4-mile (3.9km) swim, 112-mile (180.2km) bike, and 26.2-mile (42.2km) run under gruelling conditions makes you one of triathlon’s elite.  But Liza and Beth made history by becoming the only women team to ever compete and then complete the event – pushing and pulling a chariot / pram.

This year Beth and Liza joined us to complete the MDC after only 5 days post tackling the Kona Ironman – most athletes would take a least week off before doing anything – if they could even walk properly afterwards.  I don’t think Beth ever read the instruction manual- she just fights on.   Moreover, when I rode with Kurt and Liza, and then Beth and Liza, I struggled to keep up!  I did what little I could to lend a helping hand to push Liza’s carriage, whilst simultaneously trying to hold back tears.  My words can’t do justice to what I saw or felt, so instead, I share this clip and a photo so you can gain an understanding into this incredible pair.  This exemplifies the love of a mom for her daughter and their shared joy of triumphing over adversity:

But what of the lady that I had come to meet and for us to support, Rosalie Parker?  She turned out to be all of what I expected and more.  Positive, engaging, resilient.  Her only match were her parents, and her mom openly shared that it was Rosalie that had held the family together.  Over a shared love of cupcakes, I came to appreciate that Rosalie is just like any other 13-year-old at that age.  It is hard to be different at any age and for a few days a year Rosalie gets to meet other young people who have similarly lost limbs, look different and must overcome daily challenges.  Finally, I learnt that in Australia there is another little girl, who like Rosalie has lost all four limbs.  They are pen pals and hope to meet someday here in Australia.  I hope I am present to see that.  The power of community is so strong, especially in times of challenge.

I was up close to see Rosalie’s pride and excitement as she participated in the swim leg of the SDTC triathlon– towed in a small boat, for two miles by the legendary triathletes and founders of CAF, Bob Babbitt and Jeffrey Essakow.  Take a look at this:

My final prize was to swim and ride in the triathlon, whilst my daughter Sabrina, alongside me, completed her first ever 10 mile (16km) run – for us to cross the finish line at the same time.

I am so proud that with the help of friends, family and business associates, Sabrina and I were able to raise U$41,885 or over A$65,000 – smashing our A$50,000 target.  Moreover, the team of 169 cyclists including 28 athletes with physical disabilities and the hundreds of participants in the triathlon together raised over U$5.3m (A$8,333,133).  I want to especially thank John – who stepped up when it really counted to back me and to motivate me to share my thoughts and sentiments with you.

I leave you with a quote from Paul Assaiante’s, “Run to the Roar – Coaching to Overcome Fear” that really speaks to me:

Life is not just about peaks and valleys, about wins and losses. Life is about the journey. You hear that all the time. You’ve got to absorb that. You’ve got to know that. The journey has to become the destination because there is no true destination. There is no endpoint. There is no goal. All rivers run to the sea and yet the sea is not full. Life goes on; accept what life gives you.”

Warm Regards and thanks

Jeff Zulman

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