Inspiring legacy keeps Joe’s Team in the running
THE MUSKOKAN — Joe Finley was not going to let cancer beat him. Diagnosed in 2004 with nasal pharyngeal cancer, he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment, only to learn it had spread to both his lungs. He had surgery on one lung in the spring of 2006 and the other in the fall; however, that did not stop him from completing his first triathlon in Gravenhurst that same year. An amazing feat, but he did not stop there.
He decided to kill two birds with one stone: encourage others to experience the euphoria of completing a first triathlon, while at the same time raising money to fight the dreadful disease that had him and so many others in its grips.
“He came to me that fall and he said ‘I’m trying to organize a group to do a triathlon next summer in Gravenhurst,’” related Brian Smith, a fellow Lake Joseph cottager and Finley’s tennis buddy in Muskoka. “I said, ‘Joe, I’m not supposed to do that. I’ve had a hip replacement,’ and he sort of looked at me and he said ‘OK, well, here’s the dates it’s on, let’s count on it and plan on it.’ He just sort of ignored me saying that. I guess compared to what he was going through it was pretty small potatoes what I was facing.”
Smith did participate with Joe’s Team that first year, along with 200 other would-be triathletes, and in doing so completed his first triathlon. The more than $500,000 raised by the group went to support cancer research at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto.
Smith joined the Joe’s Team organizing committee and after the overwhelming participation that first year, the group moved to the CNIB Lake Joseph Centre to hold their own event.
The Joe’s Team Triathlon is now in its sixth year. Over 500 people participate annually, to date raising more than $4.5 million dollars to help in the fight against cancer.
Finley’s desire to share the sense of accomplishment he felt upon completing his first triathlon continues to be a focus for Joe’s Team. The majority of the participants’ only goal is to finish the race.
“It really is just an event. It’s not a competition,” explained Smith. “For the most part, it’s just people who followed Joe Finley’s dream and want to try and be part of finding a cure for cancer, which is what Joe’s ultimate goal was.”
Smith, 59, has completed the triathlon each year, raising $4,000 to $5,000 annually for the cause. It’s the only triathlon he does and his finish time has stayed pretty much the same since he started.
“As you get older, that’s not such a bad thing,” he said, and added, “I’ll keep doing them for as long I can.”
And he is not the only one who feels that way. Finley had a lot of friends and admirers who will continue the legacy in his honour.
“Joe was just an amazingly inspirational character and that fact that he did all this while fighting cancer pretty much nonstop for the six years was just an amazing story,” explained Smith. “He never ever complained and what he went through physically was just incredible — the chemo he was on for so many years, the surgery — and you never ever heard this guy complain. It was pretty inspirational just for that.”
The universality of dealing with cancer and losing friends and relatives to the disease provides a personal note for many of the participants, including Smith who lost his youngest brother to cancer five years ago.
“I honestly believe that somewhere, somehow, somebody will find a cure for cancer,” said Smith. “It might take another five or 10 years, or who knows how long, but it’s all been started because of research and programs such as what Joe has financed down at Princess Margaret… and I would like to be part of that.”
Finley succumbed to his disease in October of 2010. Though it may appear that in the end, cancer has beaten him, odds are good that he, and his legacy, will have the last laugh.
This year’s Joe’s Team triathlon takes place on July 7 at the CNIB Lake Joseph Centre. For more information on participating or volunteering for the event, visit joesteam.ca.