LUBBOCK, Texas – Mitch Monroe took off on his first triathlon two decades ago at Ransom Canyon Lake. He remembers it like it was yesterday.
“I was scared to death,” Mitch said. “You put on a wet suit and get in the lake and you can’t see. The swim is almost like a contact sport because you’re getting kicked and hit, and you can get your goggles knocked off. You think you’re gonna drown, and so you have to calm yourself down.”
Since then, Mitch has raced in over a hundred triathlons. He’s competed in most of them with his son, Sean Monroe, by his side.
“Once you start doing them, it’s hard to stop,” Sean said. “You always have the next goal, and you can keep moving up to the next distance or a harder race. It’s just been a lot of fun this last almost 20 years doing this together.”
About six years ago, Sean noticed something was off with his dad.
“We were doing full Ironman races,” Sean said. “He had just competed in a 50-mile run, and so seeing where we could jump back into it just a few weeks after that and start training again for the next item, he started struggling with that recovery quite a bit.”
Those signs eventually led to a Parkinson’s Disease diagnosis in 2020. The neurological disorder affects mobility and gets worse with time.
“It just makes life hard,” Mitch said. “Physically, it’s just a struggle. I’ve gone from doing all those sports to I can’t walk a mile now or I’ll need a wheelchair to get beyond that.”
Mitch said he wasn’t ready to call it quits just yet.
“I don’t expect that next year I’ll be able to do anything like I’m able to now,” Mitch said. “It’s just progressive, and there’s no cure. I just wanted to do one more and be content.”
Mitch had a full-circle moment when he embarked on his final race at Ransom Canyon Lake, the same place it all began.
“I didn’t expect to see that type of crowd,” Mitch said. “I was blown away. I really tried hard then. I fell a couple of times, but they picked me up just in a race as life. I’ve got friends and family that pick me up and carry me. I’ll never forget it.”
He competed at a shorter distance with Sean next to him every step of the way.
“We all went through the finish line together,” Sean said. “All of these guys who’d been doing this for years were there to support him, and then a group of nearly 50 people, they’re encouraging him and clapping for him. It was really inspiring to see that.”
Mitch isn’t done with triathlons forever. He said he hopes to be a volunteer and use his knowledge of what it takes to race to support others.
“With Parkinson’s or any type of disease, you still have to finish the race,” Mitch said. “You still have to pick yourself up, get out of bed and say, ‘I’ve got a new day to live. I’m going to do what I can and be a blessing to others.’”