Triathlete for Trisomy: Man Defends Severely Disabled Trisomy Children through Ironman Competitions

Fri Aug 8, 2008 - 12:15 pm EST

By Hilary White

SAN ANTONIO, August 8, 2008 ( - Michael Hennessey of San Antonio, Texas, has become the Triathlete for Trisomy. This year the father is competing in numerous Ironman qualifying competitions around the world, as well as the official Ironman competition itself in Hawaii, all the while speaking to local news about the challenges faced by children with Trisomy and their families. In an Ironman competition, competitors complete a swim of 2.4 miles, a 112 mile bike ride, and a full marathon (26.2 miles).

While many are aware that another name for Downs Syndrome is Trisomy 21, fewer know about the devastating genetic illnesses Trisomy 13 and 18. Hennessey is determined through his Ironman competing to raise awareness about these illnesses. Hennessey, after competing for some years in Ironman meets, decided "with much prayer, discernment, and trust" to found the non-profit foundation Ironman for Kids. He hopes to compete in 18 Ironmans in 2008 and 4 in 2009 for children living with Trisomy.

In a lengthy interview on the weblog of the Batiansila family, a couple whose youngest child suffers from Trisomy 18, Michael said his family felt "guided" through prayer, to take up the challenge of raising Trisomy awareness.

"We were still in the beginning phase of what our mission was supposed to be about, and had been praying for the right fit and to be guided as far as a charity was concerned. All we knew was that we wanted to promote life and its value no matter how it was given us. We also knew we wanted it to involve children, but how?" The family found their calling when shopping for a new car. The car dealer had lost his son to Trisomy 19.

Trisomy 13, or Patau syndrome, in which a patient has an additional chromosome 13, causes a variety of developmental problems including structural eye defects, deafness, heart defects and cleft palate or hare lip. Trisomy 18, Edwards Syndrome, is caused by an extra chromosome 18, and results in kidney malformations, structural heart defects, mental retardation and growth deficiency, as well as a host of other problems.

Babies with these disabling conditions frequently die in utero, and those who survive to birth do not usually live more than a few months. With Edwards Syndrome only 50 percent live to 2 months, and only 5-10 percent will survive their first year of life. It is now routine for doctors to recommend abortion in cases where Trisomy disorders are detected in utero. But the abortion solution is not good enough for Michael Hennessey.

He told a television news crew covering the Ironman event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, "There’s a lot of challenges they face. And they’re very worthwhile, they’re very precious, but a lot of people think that if they’re not productive, why fight for them. But they’re wonderful little babies and we should all fight for them."

"We would hope that by creating an awareness for these disorders it would open people to the peace and beauty in belief in a God and His providence as the author of life and that He doesn’t make mistakes," Hennessey said in the interview published on the Batiansila family blog.

Hennessy’s wife Janelle told LifeSiteNews that her husband has competed in the official Ironman competition three times since he was 18. "He did one in 1985, one for our deceased daughter, Rachel, in 2004 and one practice race in 2007 for this year," she said. 

"He really just has average talent but wants to serve the Lord with passion for His most vulnerable - making this year all the more a calling from God and a special grace, truly guided by something we feel called to promote."

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