All around Kevin Sandoval, runners collapsed like rag dolls.
Sandoval, a junior studying biomedical science, tried to suppress his fears of being the next to drop from heat exhaustion and instead focused on completing the Ironman 70.3.
The Ironman 70.3 has nothing to do with Tony Stark or the Avengers. It’s a triathlon in which athletes swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles and run 13.1 miles for a total of 70.3 miles, which is half the distance of a standard Ironman.
Surrounded by seasoned runners, Sandoval was the youngest competitor in the event held on June 12 in Warsaw, Poland.
Denys Sandoval, Kevin’s mother, had been nervous before the race, but she trusted Kevin when he told her not to worry. That changed when she saw the ambulances picking up athletes.
“I prayed a lot before, after (and) during,” Denys Sandoval said. “While I was waiting for him, I was seeing people collapsing, people going on ambulances, and I was just praying for them and praying that (it) wasn’t my son but also praying because (it) was somebody’s son, somebody’s husband, somebody’s wife that was in the ambulance.”
As if the fears of heat exhaustion weren’t enough, the running portion of the course looped in front of the presidential palace, where protesters of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine gathered. Some of these protesters strayed onto the course, forcing the competitors to run around them until security could clear the path.
“I really hope nothing escalates further, that there (isn’t) violence or possibly a terrorist attack,” Kevin Sandoval said. “That always comes in mind after the Boston bombing. Whether it’s on a marathon or in the Olympics or a big event, there’s always a part where you need to be cautious and know your surroundings, making sure that you’re safe while you’re doing what you love.”
Those fears would resurface each of the four times he passed the palace to complete his 13.1 miles.
Kevin felt his legs cramp during mile nine. With low glucose and amino acid levels, he felt like he had hit a wall. He decided to pray for the strength to continue.
“Heavenly Father, this is how I’m feeling,” Kevin prayed. “I’m not feeling too well. I asked You to give me strength. I glorify Thee. I want to be an instrument in Thy hands and put all glory in Thy name. This is no longer me. This is the Lord helping me accomplish these great things.”
Having put his faith at the center of his running career, he had asked his father for a priesthood blessing and prayed for protection before the Ironman.
“I remember those words that I pronounced were the promises that he receives through his obedience and the word of wisdom and also the endowments that he’s received,” said Ruben Sandoval, Kevin’s father. “I felt pretty confident that the power of the Lord will be with him.”
Kevin Sandoval was not only overcoming the odds as the youngest competitor in the event — he has been overcoming them since birth.
Born weighing only four pounds, he spent the first five years of his life in and out of the Phoenix Children’s Hospital. At one point, doctors told Ruben and Denys Sandoval that there was nothing that could be done for their son because he wasn’t expected to live much longer.
Despite the serious health issues he experienced as an infant and child, Kevin started running at age 12 and has spent the last nine years preparing for his Ironman moment.
In six hours, 47 minutes and 36 seconds, Kevin finished the 70.3 mile triathlon. As he approached the finish line, Ruben Sandoval handed his son an American flag.
“When I saw him crossing, I was very happy that he represented the States with honor,” Ruben said. “He represented who we are as the Sandovals with honor.”
Drenched in sweat and tears, Kevin hugged his parents.
“It just makes my heart burst with happiness and thankfulness to our Heavenly Father that he crossed the finish line, and he was healthy and happy, and we were there to see it,” Denys said.