Updated at 4:27 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019, with more information.
Scott Sandlin will have a special guest as he finishes Saturday's Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
"I'm not supposed to know about it, but I do," the Shaw Industries executive said.
Sandlin will have the supporter's initials written on his arms while he finishes: WPK.
They're not the initials 11-year-old Kiara was given at birth. They represent a nickname she earned during her fight with brain cancer: Warrior Princess Kiara.
She's been Sandlin's inspiration. The warrior princess turned 11 about two weeks ago, the same day as Ironman Chattanooga where Sandlin was competing in the bike leg of a relay to prepare for the world championship race. Kiara is now in recovery and relearning motor skills.
She will be at the finish line Saturday, cheering for the Chattanooga resident.
Support Scott Sandlin’s fundraiser for St. Jude at stjude.org/ironmanscott
"You just suck that right into your mind the minute you start hurting really bad," Sandlin, who is in charge of residential sales for the flooring giant, said. "Training for one of these is nothing like what they, and their families, are going through. When you're out running and sweating and hurting, that's really no big deal."
Sandlin will be the first athlete to compete in the race as a St. Jude Hero, a community of individuals that raises money for the Memphis children's hospital while training for an endurance event.
He began fundraising last week and surpassed $45,000 Wednesday afternoon — largely by donations from the flooring industry and its clients. His initial goal of $30,000 will soon be pushed to $50,000. The donation page will remain open after the race and can be accessed at stjude.org/ironmanscott.
The goal is to bring the St. Jude mission to an elite group of athletes and their supporters who may not otherwise know about the progress the hospital is making in child cancer research, according to the organization.
"We're sincerely grateful to Scott and his family for sacrificing their time together during his grueling training to help support and inspire patient families at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital who are battling childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases," said Richard Shadyac Jr., president and CEO of ALSAC — the fundraising and awareness organization for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital — in a statement.
Shaw Industries has long partnered with St. Jude. Its employees annually make up one of the largest teams at the St. Jude Memphis Marathon and have raised more than $10 million since 2012 for the research hospital.
They sell merchandise, compete in events and take donations. Sandlin got to know the hospital's fundraising team through the efforts.
"They're an organization with a good soul," he said.
But it was the death of the child of a dear family friend that encouraged Sandlin to start running.
Christian Bryant, an 18-year-old Girls Preparatory School student, died in May 2012 from complications of acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
She ran on the school's cross country team; Sandlin began running in her honor. He started with 5K races and worked his way to half-marathons, marathons and, ultimately, the 2016 Ironman Chattanooga. He raised money for the Christian Bryant Foundation, as well as St. Jude.
The organization knew of Sandlin's work. It reached out to Ironman about reserving a spot in the Ironman World Championships for one of its athletes.
Race organizers agreed, so the nonprofit contacted the local man in July about training for the race. They set him up with a coach — Washington, D.C.-based Lloyd Henry, who has competed in more than two dozen Ironman races — and they began to train.
"There was a short turnaround to get him ready," Henry said. "Most people who know they're coming to Kona have six months to a year to train and prep."
The Kona course is much more difficult than a typical Ironman race. The route pounds cyclists with strong winds nearly every year. There are also scorching temperatures and a hilly run course.
Sandlin doesn't expect to be ultra competitive in the race. Most of the competitors have met strict qualifying restrictions to compete. They are some of the top athletes in the world for their age groups. However, he does believe Chattanooga has given him a distinct advantage. The local race has brought 90-plus-degree days in recent years when Sandlin has competed. It has a hilly course that he regularly trains on.
It's about finishing within the race's time cutoff and raising money for the cause.
"Lloyd keeps telling me, we're going to finish with a St. Jude logo on my chest and a smile on my face," Sandlin said.