Until a little less than four years ago, Jason and Bronde Greer's life could have been a Norman Rockwell painting, as perfectly Americana as Thanksgiving, swim meets and the toy fire engine in the driveway all rolled into one.
They woke up each morning to three strong and healthy sons, the oldest of whom, Tristin, was an all-city middle school soccer player. The twins, Austin and Justin, five years younger, were similarly energetic.
Their side business -- Nutzo's coffee shop at Northgate -- was prospering.
Beyond that, Jason felt blessed every day to go to work at the Chattanooga Fire Department. Or to use his words, "It's an honor to serve the public."
Even his favorite college football team was coming off a surprising Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance under some new coach named Lane Kiffin.
Life was good. The present warm and fuzzy. The future bright on all fronts.
Then Feb. 4 of 2010 arrived.
"When the doctor comes in and tells you one of your children has cancer," recalled Greer, his voice breaking Tuesday afternoon, "that's really hard."
They call it neuroblastoma, and it usually appears before a child turns 2 years old. Tristin was 13 when he first began suffering from back and stomach pain. But doctors not only found neuroblastoma, they said it had reached Stage IV.
"When they told us it was Stage IV, they said it would be a rough road, and they were right," Greer said.
The 45 months since have taken the Greers all over the country in search of a cure, their months and years filled with chemotherapy, radiation, clinical trials, hope, despair and mountains of medical bills. The Make A Wish of Foundation of East Tennessee has reached out to them. And our town's own Emily's Power for a Cure.
"And that's meant everything," he said. "Those two amazing organizations have done so much for so many."
So much so that Jason Greer decided to give something back. Upon hearing that the Ironman Triathlon was coming to the Scenic City in September of 2014, Jason made a decision to compete, hoping donations would pour in, the gifts to be evenly divided between Make A Wish and Emily's Power for a Cure.
"I just wanted to do something big," he said Tuesday from Hub Endurance on Cherokee Boulevard, where co-owner Andy Sweet is helping Greer train. "It's an incredible opportunity to do something for others."
Any parent no doubt will feel his or her eyes moistening at this moment. Committing to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and finish the grueling ordeal with a 26.2-mile run would be a mammoth undertaking for the best athletes among us, be it LeBron James or Maria Sharapova.
But Greer made this decision in August, when he was carrying 306 pounds on a frame that's roughly a top hat shy of six feet. His most strenuous workout had become lifting a slice of pizza. A marathon was making two trips to the mailbox on the same day.
And not everyone immediately believed his resolve.
"Tristan basically said, 'I'm proud of you, Dad. Best of luck with that,'" Greer recalled with a grin.
Perhaps that was because even Tristan's pop initially had underestimated the size of his challenge.
"When I first started studying it online, I was hoping the Chattanooga Ironman was going to be the shorter one," he said. "The I realized it was the longer one, just like Hawaii, the Super Bowl of Ironman competititions."
Yet the hard work is already paying off. The 41-year-old former Hixson High School baseball and basketball player has already lost 35 pounds. He's working out 8-10 hours a week. He's sworn off pizza and fried fish. He's trying to cut back on his lattes.
"I'm probably enjoying the swimming best," Greer said. "It's taking a while to get used to the seat on the bicycle."
To help out that third of his training, elite bicycle maker Quintana Roo is donating a $3,500 bike. Make A Wish and Emily's Power for a Cure soon will assist with the motivational side, posting monthly updates on Greer's training and how donations can be made over their websites at www.emilyspowerforacure.com and www.etn.wish.org.
But can he really pull it off in 12 months, going from 306 pounds to 185, swimming and biking and running for more than 140 total miles over one day?
"I wake up every morning excited to work out," Greer said.
Sweet isn't worried. He understands the power of the human spirit.
"I watched my first triathlon in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2002," he said. "I was in a neck brace. I was told I could never, ever compete in a triathlon. I've done eight of them now. The Ironman is a lot less physical and a lot more mental than people give it credit for."
Someone asked Sweet if that could be Greer's edge, the mental part.
"I've trained him for more than a month now," Sweet said. "He's completely driven and determined. No one could convince him not to do it now."
To that end, his voice again shaky, Greer added, "If I can just put in half the commitment that Tristin has shown the last four years, I'll do fine."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at email@example.com.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...