In his job as a personal trainer at Healthtrax Fitness & Wellness in Warwick, Jon Tarbox meets a lot of people.
Two people he met in 2008 set him on quite a path.
They came to him as clients, one after another. The first was Steve Lewis, who told him about training for triathlons. The second was David Belhumeur, a member of the executive board of The Tomorrow Fund.
For Tarbox, a quest was born. He would compete in a triathlon and he would do it to raise money for The Tomorrow Fund.
Four Ironman 70.3’s later, Tarbox is still going, and he’s raised upwards of $7,500. He completed his fourth Amica Ironman 70.3 RI on July 10.
The way his journey began makes it seem like it was all meant to be.
“I had two clients back-to-back who really started the whole thing,” Tarbox said. “After I opened my big mouth and said I would do it, I thought it would be great to find a good cause and really do it for a good reason.”
The initial idea was borne out of a bit of bravado. Lewis was training with Tarbox and explaining the rigors that come with competing in a triathlon. He laid out his training regimen, and Tarbox immediately thought he could do it in half the time.
“He said no way,” Tarbox said. “I’m pretty determined, so when someone tells me no, I’ll try pretty hard to do it.”
The first-ever Rhode Island Ironman event was scheduled for later that year, so Tarbox had a target.
His next client gave him a cause.
Belhumeur has a son who’s a cancer survivor, and he’s been on the board of The Tomorrow Fund, the Rhode Island based charity that works to ease the financial and emotional effects of childhood cancer.
“I knew there was no sense doing it just to prove that I could do it or to prove somebody else wrong,” Tarbox said. “David said he would sponsor me and that’s when it all started.”
Serendipitous as it was, the beginning was the easy part. Tarbox was in good shape but had never done anything more than a road race and didn't consider himself a very good distance runner.
"This is by far the most challenging thing I've done," Tarbox said.
But he trained and when that first event rolled around, he was ready. Or as ready as he could be; he was happy to get the worst part over with first.
"I knew the swimming was going to be the hardest thing for me," Tarbox said. "I had never really swum in open water for that distance. You stand on the beach and look out there, and you realize how far it really is."
For the first three years of the Amica Ironman 70.3, the swimming portion of the race was held at Roger Wheeler State Beach. It moved to Lincoln Woods State Park this year. Back in 2008, Tarbox wouldn't have minded a different spot for the swim.
"The waves were just relentless," he said. "Based on my training, I knew I was going to make it. It was just a matter of how long. I tried to treat it as a necessary evil -- just get to the beach and get on the bike."
Tarbox made it through that first swim, hopped on the bike and the rest was history. He finished in six hours, nine minutes and 21 seconds.
And he was going to do it again.
"I heard that the race officials were really pleased with the event, so I knew it would come back to Rhode Island," Tarbox said. "And I was excited about how I did. I eclipsed the time I had kind of set for myself. I had gotten a good response for raising the money, so I decided to do it again."
Tarbox went back to work and improved his time by nearly 20 minutes in 2009. After seeing his time go back up in 2010, he cruised past his previous record this year, finishing 13 minutes better than his time from 2009.
"I couldn't be happier," Tarbox said.
All the while, Tarbox has been steadily raising money, averaging about $2,000 a year. He's hoping to finish at $3,000 this year, with one of his clients, Andy Siegal, pledging to match what he collects.
"People have been great," Tarbox said. "At the start, I just reached out to our clientele at the gym. I think because cancer affects everybody, people were more than willing to donate."
From here, Tarbox isn't sure what the next step, but he's thinking about organizing a team of his clients to compete and raise funds.
"I'll cheer them on," Tarbox said.
Whatever happens, the quest won't stop.
Anyone wishing to donate can do so online at tomorrowfund.org.