From couch potato to triathlete

Provided/ Johnson & Johnson

Khiro Sanchez admits that he was a couch potato.

A former cross country runner, mountain bike racer and member of a swim team in his younger days, he had let himself go.

That changed after a chance meeting at the water line of a triathlon with the doctor who had corrected his son’s life-threatening birth defect.

It got him off the couch. It got him competing.

The story starts in 2006, where Sanchez was working for Johnson & Johnson in Puerto Rico. At first he and his wife were having fun. But they got to see the condition of orphanages on the island. Pretty soon he and his wife adopted Gabriel.

Sanchez’s job took him back to New Jersey, where he and his wife, they noticed a wound that wouldn’t heal on Gabriel’s face. Sanchez said local doctors near his home in Hillsborough, NJ, couldn’t quite figure out what it was.

It turned out to be the tip of an iceberg.

At the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Gabriel, who was 5 at the time, underwent an MRI. The growth turned out to be part of a nasal dermoid cyst, doctors diagnosed a rare nasal dermoid cyst. That wound that wouldn’t heal was growing toward Gabriel’s brain.

Gabriel would need surgery.

This type of cyst “goes into the nasal cavity to the base of the skull,” said Dr. Ian Jacobs, who directs the Center for Pediatric Airway Disorders. “It was a complicated repair.”

The surgery took hours, with follow-up visits, Gabriel was was in Dr. Jacobs care for nearly a year. Sanchez grew to admire Jacobs. But then, Gabriel was all right.

“After we were done with that, we went on with our lives,” Sanchez said.

Four years passed. Gabriel grew bigger. Sanchez’s neighbor invited him to start training for a triathalon. He wasn’t ready.

Then, while taking photographs at the finish line of his neighbor’s first triathlon, he spotted Dr. Jacobs.

“I went through this rush of emotions,” Sanchez said.

They caught up.

“This is the man who saved my son’s life,” Sanchez said. “He has a smile that’s not a salesman’s smile. It’s a comforting, reassuring smile. That same smile is the same smile that he gave me when I saw him at the race. I was taken back to four years before.”

Sanchez came to realize that Dr. Jacobs is something of a triathlon evangelist. He has raced in more than 200 of them. He tells everyone about his passion.

For Sanchez, it caught on. He began training with in two weeks.

At first, there was a lot of walking, he said, and a lot of breaks between laps in the pool.

The experience of being a parent that pushed him on.

Children, “show you a level of caring love and affection greater than you could otherwise realize, Sanchez said. “It’s not until you are apparent until you realize what you are capable of.”

He’s run in over 20, he said, and he’s planning to run in the Johnson & Johnson TriRock Philadelphia Triathlon, which is held June 27 and 28. The race raises money to fight pediatric cancer at CHOP.

He likes to compete. But it makes him feel great that the money he raises is going to a good cause.

“We had made a promise to ourselves that someday we’re going to pay it back,” Sanchez said. “We left a lot of families behind.”

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