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The competitive spirit never dies
Lancaster's Missy Sperle and Joe Krantz complete Racine half ironman in friend's honor
Missy Sperle and Joe Krantz share a smile after completing the Ironman 70.3 in Racine on Sunday, July 19. The two participated in the race in memory of Bryce Heckdorf and to support his parents Jenna and Kyle.

     RACINE — Whether they are competing in a half marathon, a full marathon or a sprint triathlon, Joe Krantz and Missy Sperle, both of Lancaster, almost always have ulterior motives for putting themselves through the rigors of the most physically and mentally demanding races imaginable.

     They aren’t seeking glory or necessarily trying to prove something to themselves or to someone else. They aren’t adrenaline junkies, or middle-aged athletes looking to cross items off their bucket list.

     They do it for the most unselfish of reasons; for someone else.

     The racing resumes for Joe and Missy are quite extensive and very impressive, but their motivation for competing in every event always comes from someone else.

     For nearly 10 years now, Missy has participated in the Susan G. Komen walk, which is a 3-day, 60-mile walk, which raises awareness and money for breast cancer research.

     Her main motivation for the walk comes from the passing of her friend, Kris Keene, who lost her battle with pancreatic cancer.

     She’s also done a full marathon in honor of another friend, Clint Sitzmann, who passed away at the age of 20 with Ewing’s Sarcoma.

     Just one day after learning of Clint’s passing, Missy signed up to run a marathon in his honor.

     Prior to running the marathon, Missy had raised $1,500, which she split three ways for pancreatic cancer research in honor of Keene, to the Iowa Dance-a-thon in Iowa-City in honor of Sitzmann, and to the Grant County Cancer Coalition.

     No matter what event she is competing in, Missy also keeps the memory of MaKayla Hore and Doug Pink with her.

     MaKayla, as many know, was involved in a fatal car accident in 2012, and Doug died from a brain tumor a couple of years ago.

     For Missy, Doug had always been somewhat of a role model when the two would be working out at Suppz Gym.

     “I just always looked up to him, and so I always keep him in my thoughts,” said Missy of Doug.

     Like Missy, Joe also thinks of Doug often, and wears a bracelet on his wrist supporting the National Brain Tumor Society.

     Joe also wears bracelets for Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA) in support of Kendra Bausch and Avery Pitzen, as well as a B.Strong bracelet for Bryce Heckendorf.

     Joe has run in numerous Tough Mudder competitions and sprint triathlons. He has also done a full marathon in Green Bay, and an Olympic triathlon in Verona.

     Never before have Missy and Joe competed in the same event together, but all that changed last Sunday, July 19, when they both wanted to show their support for a long-time friend that they both shared.

     Last November, Jenna (Kuenster) Heckendorf, a graduate of River Ridge High School, and her husband Kyle, had to endure a parent’s worst nightmare with the passing of their infant son, Bryce.

     Bryce was diagnosed with Krabbe Disease in November of 2013, and just one year later before his second birthday, the disease took his life.

     Krabbe disease destroys the protective coating of nerve cells in the brain and throughout the nervous system.

     In most cases, signs and symptoms of Krabbe Disease develop in babies before six months of age, and the disease usually results in death by age two.

     There is no cure for Krabbe Disease, and treatment focuses on supportive care. It affects about one in 100,000 people in the United State.

     Joe remembers the day he heard the news of the diagnosis, which immediately affected him.

     He was in a tree stand  hunting when a Facebook post informed him of the news.

     “Immediately I started crying,” said Joe. “It just tore me up. I got down from the tree, went home and told my wife what their situation was and we were trying to figure out just what this disease was.”

     “I had told them that I would help them out at any banquets or anything that they were going to do,” Joe added.

     A banquet was held later that winter, which raised a significant amount of money, and it was there that Joe learned of the B-Strong for Bryce campaign established by Jenna and Kyle.

     The campaign encouraged people to be strong for Bryce, and featured a shark logo colored blue to resemble the color of Bryce’s eyes.

     It was then and there that Joe decided he was going to do the Ironman 70.3 in Racine in honor of Bryce and his family.

     “I had this idea to do this Racine race,” said Joe. “I had seen a few Ironman races on T.V., and I always thought to myself that I wouldn’t mind doing one of those someday.”

     “When you think you have it rough, somebody else has it worse,” said Joe. “Thinking of how strong the Kuenster and Heckendorf families have been through all of this, I honestly don’t know if it was one of my children, if I could go through the things that they have gone through and be as upbeat and as positive as they have been.”

     It was then through a Facebook post that Joe and Missy got in touch with each other, and before long, Missy had committed to join Joe in the race.

     “Joe had told me that I should do it too, and I was like I don’t think so,” said Missy. “The more I followed Jenna and their story and saw their struggles, their whole platform was B.Strong for Bryce. I thought about it for a couple of weeks and then I thought, just do it.”

     “I wanted to support Jenna and Kyle, as well as Sue and Tom (Kuenster), and I thought this is a way I could support them,” Missy added.

     “I have kids, and just kind of putting myself in Jenna’s shoes, I can’t even imagine. So for me to do something like this, I didn’t even think it was that big of a deal,” Missy said.

     For those who aren’t familiar with the Ironman 70.3 Racine race, it involves a 1.2-mile swim along Lake Michigan’s North Beach, followed by a 56-mile bike ride through the countryside of Racine County, and ends with a 13.1-mile run along the Lake Michigan coastline.

     “Honestly, I never ever in a million years thought that I would do this,” said Missy. “I’ve done a couple of sprint triathlons, but I am not a super strong swimmer, and I’m not a super strong biker, and I’m just an O.K. runner.”

     The registration web site for the Ironman 70.3 kicks you off the page if it take you longer than 20 minutes to sign up. Missy was kicked out three times before she got herself to push the submit button on her computer.

     For 16 weeks starting in March, the two trained their bodies and their minds for the Ironman 70.3, putting in countless hours and numerous miles early in the morning and sometimes late at night.

     Competing in their first ever Ironman event, there was a level of uncertainty by both of them when it came to understanding the physical and mental demands that they were about to embark on.

     Missy and Joe both shared two common goals when it came to the race. One was to show their support to Jenna and Kyle, and the second was simply to finish the race.

     “I’m not ready to win it. My whole mentality is that I’m in it to finish,” said Missy prior to July 19.

     “I think Missy would say the same thing, but we’re not built to be out here to be beating anyone,” said Joe. “We’re out to just finish, and we’re out to raise awareness.”

     Prior to the race, it was clear that Missy was more nervous about it than Joe, but when times got rough, she knew where to go to get her motivation.

     “Whenever I get tired I’ll be thinking about Jenna and Kyle,” Missy said. “They have to keep plugging forward every day, they don’t have a choice. Yes I am making this choice to do this, but there is no doubt in my mind that I am going to finish. There’s going to be moments in the race I’m sure that I’ll think about wanting to give up. I wear a B.Strong bracelet on my right hand that I looked down to a lot during my training. There are a lot of people that I look to when I get tired.”

     Made special for the Ironman race, Joe wore a running/cycling shirt made up by Imprints that had the B.Strong logo on the front and the back.

     Missy had shirts made up for all the friends and family that were going to be at the race to support Joe and herself.

     On the day of the race, Missy had “B.Strong” written on one of her bike gloves and MacStrong written on the other. On one of her arms she also had written “Faith is bigger than Fear.”

     “Every time I thought I couldn’t do it, I just kept thinking about Jenna and Kyle,” said Missy. “There were days I’m sure that they thought they couldn’t do it. I thought about them the entire time.”

     “I would get emotional on the bike thinking of what they have gone through and thinking of Bryce, and then I’d have to regroup my thoughts and focus on why I was there and what I was doing it for,” said Joe.

     Joe finished the race in a time of 6:08.54, and has since made the promise to himself that he will someday do a full Ironman.

     Missy finished in a time of 7:33.49, and leaves this Thursday to participate in yet another Susan G. Komen event.

     Both have said the Ironman experience was amazing, and with the two goals met, it was well worth the training the sacrifices.

     “I think when you do things like this in honor or in memory of someone, I think it keeps their memory alive,” said Missy.

     “Doing it in memory or in honor of people is a way to do something for families when you feel like you can’t do anything, like there’s nothing you can do to take their pain away. But, maybe you can show them your support and love and let them know that you’re thinking about them.”