Jacob Smith is pulled by Daniel Bocock during a recent training ride in Lake Geneva. Smith, a student at Burlington High School, and Bocock, the director of buildings and grounds for the Burlington Area School District, forged a partnership as members of My Team Triumph, which provides endurance event experiences for people with disabilities.

Fast friends hope to make the most of their first triathlon

By Ed Nadolski

Editor in Chief

Jacob Smith and Daniel Bocock come from very different stations in life, but they share a powerful connection forged by competitive personalities and a desire to go fast.

Jacob, 17, and a rising senior at Burlington High School, has spinal muscular atrophy – a form of muscular dystrophy – and relies on a motorized chair to get around.

Bocock, 31, is the Burlington Area School District’s director of buildings and grounds, who also happens to be an accomplished triathlete.

Their partnership allows Smith to experience an exhilarating freedom his motorized chair cannot provide and gives Bocock a satisfying chance to share his love of endurance competition with someone who would otherwise go without.

“I get out of the chair and get to do things I don’t get to do while I’m in it,” Smith said.

It would be appropriate to call it a fast friendship that defies the bonds of disability and celebrates a shared love for the thrill of competitive freedom, the partners said.

Jacob Smith is strapped into his racing chair prior to a training ride with partner Daniel Bocock.

Triathlon partners

On Sunday, Smith and Bocock will participate in their first event together – the Big Foot Triathlon at Big Foot Beach State Park in Lake Geneva.

The two will start out the day in Geneva Lake, with Bocock swimming while tethered to an inflatable raft that carries Smith. From there they’ll transition to a “chariot” (a specialized racing chair) towed by Bocock’s bike and finally to the run portion of the event with Bocock pushing Smith in the chariot.

The sprint distance triathlon – 750-meter swim, 20-kilometer (12.4-mile) bike, and 5K (3.1-mile) run – is a relatively short distance for an experienced triathlete like Bocock.

He estimates that in the past 10 years he’s completed between 200 and 300 triathlons – including three full (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile ride, 26.2-mile run) and eight half. The rest were sprint or Olympic distances.

“It’s kind of been my life the past 10 years,” Bocock said. “It’s one of the things that defines my life.”

So how does a husband and father of two, ages 2 and 4, find time to train?

“Whenever I can,” he said, noting that he has a supportive wife. Not surprisingly, the two met at an endurance event.

My Team Triumph

While the training Bocock does with Smith is just a small part of his preparation, it will go a long way in building their relationship as members of My Team Triumph.

My Team Triumph is a national organization that pairs “captains” (people with disabilities) with “angels” (athletes who power the team). Together the teammates share the thrill of competition and raise money to purchase the adaptive equipment needed to accommodate other captains and pay for entry into events.

Bocock has been a member of the Lake Geneva chapter of My Team Triumph for about three years. He’s participated in two other events while paired with a captain. Last fall, after taking the job with the Burlington Area School District, Bocock began looking to make a connection closer to home.

“I saw we had a special ed. population in our school and I wanted to build a relationship with someone in our community,” he said.

In stepped Kathy Merlo, the district’s director of special education.

“She contacted us and said, ‘I think Jacob would be great for this,’” said Bobbi Smith, Jacob’s mother. “These two are like kindred spirits. They both like to go fast.”

Not defined by disability

Bobbi Smith said she is thrilled for her son, but also admits to some apprehension, especially when it comes to the transitions from the swim to the bike and the run. But, she said, the benefits far outweigh her fears.

“One of the things we always hoped is he wouldn’t let the chair define his life,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see him develop all the friendships.

“Dan has been amazing,” she added. “In just a short time he’s really become important to (Jacob).”

Bocock said the experience with My Team Triumph has been enriching for him as well.

“What I really like about Team Triumph is everyone is so nice,” he said. “You meet people who share the same passion.

“Not only am I building a friendship with Jacob, but I’m building them with the members of the group.”

The Lake Geneva chapter of My Team Triumph holds training events on Wednesday evenings under the direction of chapter leader Jeremy Hautaker. The group stresses safety and inclusiveness ahead of event performance, Bocock said.

Fast…and safe

Bocock and Smith have been training together for less than two months and, until Tuesday, they didn’t have a chance to practice the swim portion of the event together.

“We just have to figure out what we have to do to keep me comfortable in the raft,” Jacob shrugged, indicating he didn’t believe it would be an obstacle.

The training runs and rides have provided a chance for the two to get to know each other.

“When we’re out on the ride we talk the whole time,” Bocock said.

“Whether it’s running or biking that relationship gets built the whole time,” Smith added.

On Sunday when the captain and his angel leave the starting line it’s a safe bet there will be a little less talking and a little more effort.

“They say it’s not a race, but we both know it’s a race,” Smith said with a sly smile and a nod toward Bocock.

“We’re going fast…and being safe.”

How you can help

  My Team Triumph has a mission to enrich the lives of people with disabilities by fostering authentic relationships through the teamwork of endurance athletics. To support the organization and Team Jacob click on the following link: TEAM JACOB. Donations to the non-profit organization will make it possible for others with disabilities to know the thrill of crossing the finish line.