PLAINVIEW, NY — An annual Ironman event in Maryland was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, but a Plainview father and ultra-runner won’t let that stop him from completing the event, even if it means racing himself a little closer to home.
And he’s dedicating the now-solo race to a teenager and friend who lives with cystic fibrosis.
Jay Asparro, who grew up in North Bellmore and attended Kellenberg Memorial High School in Uniondale, has become a bit of a familiar name on Long Island. Last year, he ran 100 miles to honor his late grandmother, who died of Alzheimer’s at 95. In 2017, he ran 75 miles to honor what would’ve been his grandparents’ 75th wedding anniversary. And in 2016, Asparro ran 90 miles — from Montauk to Plainview — to raise money for Alzheimer’s disease.
This year, however, Asparro wanted to something a little different. He has trained for more than 21 weeks to compete in an Ironman triathlon event in Maryland. He planned to dedicate his performance, scheduled for Sept. 19, to Michael Caruso-Davis, a Delaware teen whom Asparro met three years ago when he was 13.
Caruso-Davis is the son of a former coworker of Asparro’s. The teen wakes up at 4:30 a.m. for an hour-long breathing treatment — something he has to complete twice a day — consisting of a nebulizer, inhaling medications, and putting on a vest that loosens mucus in his lungs to help him get it out. He also takes about 40 pills throughout the day.
Diagnosed with the disease at 3 weeks old, he’s endured countless grueling treatments and lengthy hospital stays. According to the National Health Institute, Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease characterized by the buildup of “thick, sticky mucus” that can damage organs.
“The disorder’s most common signs and symptoms include progressive damage to the respiratory system and chronic digestive system problems,” the agency said.
The disease, once considered to be fatal for children, is also quite common, seen in one in every 2,500 to 3,500 white newborns. It is far less common in other ethnic groups, affecting about one in 17,000 African Americans and one in 31,000 Asian Americans. Through treatment, many people with the disease can live well into adulthood.
Caruso-Davis hasn’t let the disease stop him. He played lacrosse at Middletown High School, and it’s his story that continues to inspire Asparro.
Prior to meeting Caruso-Davis, Asparro learned the teen was training to run a half-marathon in New York City.
“When I heard that, it just sparked an interest to meet this kid,” Asparro told Patch in a phone interview. “At 13, to want to do that, I thought it was just unbelievable.”
At the time, Asparro was training for his own run. He felt nervous training for such a lengthy run, and got an earful from people who discouraged him from trying such a run. He reached out to Caruso-Davis’s mother and asked if he could help the teen train.
Thus, a friendship was born.
“We ended up running the New York City half-marathon when he was 14 years old with 80 percent lung function,” Asparro said.
Caruso-Davis and Asparro crossed the finish line. Their time: 2 hours and 18 minutes.
“We from that point were just connected,” Asparro said.
The following year, the duo ran again, shaving 16 minutes off their time. Asparro helps the teen train during the week, texting him training exercises to complete throughout the week. They also continued to meet up at certain events and run together.
As they trained, Asparro learned more about Caruso-Davis’ views on life. He missed months from school due to hospital stays. Classmates wondered why he was absent.
People with the disease have an increased risk of lung infections, which remain a “serious and chronic problem for many living with the disease,” according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
“You look at him and he looks healthy. But he’s not,” Asparro said. “So everyone thinks he’s ok.”
Caruso-Davis helped Asparro reach his goals, too. On the tough days last year training for the 100 mile run, it was Caruso-Davis pushing Asparro to keep going. On the day of Asparro’s run, Caruso-Davis was there to support his friend.
“He came there with his family and from 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. he ran with me for my goal of Alzheimer’s,” Asparro said. “We have this bond, this relationship that is so strong that this year, I said, ‘Listen Michael, I want to do this Ironman for you and Cystic Fibrosis.'”
He signed up for the event in January, but three weeks ahead of the triathlon, organizers canceled the event.
Disappointed, Asparro refused to let his hard work go to waste.
He decided to proceed with a triathlon of his own. The solo race, scheduled for Sept. 19 at Tobay Beach, includes a 2.4 mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run. The entire course will take him between 12 hours and 14 hours.
Caruso-Davis will be in attendance as well, and may even participate in a portion of the triathlon.
Asparro, a father of two kids ages 7 and 4, trains every day for the triathlon, biking at 6 a.m. and then running 12 hours later after work. He also swims three times a week, and completes a five-hour workout on weekends encompassing all three activities. With the coronavirus, pools closed for much of the summer, making an already grueling training even more challenging. Asparro pivoted, throwing on a wetsuit and swimming at Tobay Beach on the South Shore and Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park on the North Shore.
“I really don’t have a life outside this,” he said. “But for me, it’s like I know why I’m doing it: Create the platform to let people know about Cystic Fibrosis and what these great people are doing, how they appreciate life. “
He added: “Knowing Michael and how he fights for life every day, they’re inspiring. It keeps me going.”
It’s also a healthy activity his kids can get behind that supports a good cause. Both helped their Dad run the track during his 100-mile jaunt.
“They actually love it,” Asparro said with a laugh. ” It’s another bonus of doing all this. They see what I’m doing and it’s a good lesson to just be active and help others.”
Anyone interested in following Asparro’s progress can do so through his Instagram. He also encourages people to donate to Team Boomer, a program that encourages people with the disease to incorporate exercise into their daily lives. The program is named after former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason, whose son Gunnar was diagnosed with the disease as a baby.
Charity Navigator gives The Boomer Esiason Foundation, which operates the program, a 4-star rating.