Elder Art Rascon, an Area Seventy, drew upon spiritual strength and physical grit to finish the 2023 Texas Ironman Triathlon after suffering several injuries in a bicycle crash. Right, Elder Rascon presides at the 2020 groundbreaking ceremony for the McAllen Texas Temple. (Photos courtesy of Elder Art Rascon and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
What an Area Seventy learned about doing ‘hard things’ after suffering injuries in Ironman race
Elder Art Rascon’s goal to complete grueling triathlon was almost upended by a bicycle crash — but prayerful determination (and a bit of good fortune) pushed him to the finish line.
By Jason Swensen
4 May 2023
Most people will never compete in an Ironman Triathlon.
But anyone simply old enough to register for the storied endurance event (age18) can likely relate to the obstacles that Elder Art Rascon encountered — and then overcame — during his recent Ironman “adventure.”
The 60-year-old Area Seventy completed the April 22 Texas Ironman in The Woodlands, Texas, with a finisher’s medal hanging around his neck — along with two broken wrists, scrapes, bruises and ugly road rash.
Elder Rascon believes it was “only through the grace of God” that he was able to complete the grueling Ironman despite suffering multiple injuries in a bicycle crash.
“But I have no regrets,” he wrote on his Instagram page. “I’m grateful for the experiences. The Lord has remarkable ways of teaching us that we do hard things.”
Elder Art Rascon, an Area Seventy, fractured both wrists after crashing on bicycle during the 2023 Texas Ironman. (Photo courtesy of Elder Art Rascon)
An “Ironman” battles COVID-19
Trials and troubles await us all — including those who are well-prepared for their respective journeys. Elder Rascon knows that truism well.
Several years ago, the veteran television journalist and Church leader set a goal to compete in the Ironman Triathlon after his son successfully completed the event.
He knew it would not be easy. The single-day, long-distance endurance race includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride and a traditional road marathon of 26.2 miles.
Training for and completing the Ironman Triathlon is a beast, even under the best of circumstances.
Then COVID-19 nearly waylaid Elder Rascon’s Ironman ambitions. He came down with the respiratory illness at the end of 2020 and spent several days in the hospital.
“I was on oxygen for nearly eight weeks and it was rough,” he told Church Ball Magazine. “I could not walk to the end of my driveway. I lost 22 pounds and all my muscle mass.”
But battling the coronavirus only steeled the Area Seventy’s determination to recover his health and eventually compete in an Ironman Triathlon. With time and patience, his physical endurance returned. Walks to the end of the driveway eventually extended to the middle of the street — and then to the end of the block.
And with each step of his COVID-19 recovery, he traced God’s guiding hand.
“I just feel so blessed because I don't have any doubt whatsoever that the Lord was helping me through the process,” he said. “The Lord wants us to be healthy. The Lord wants us to be strong and successful and to be able to accomplish the goals which we set for ourselves.”
For Elder Rascon, training for the triathlon's open water swimming segment was the most challenging element. He had to learn how to freestyle swim. And, once again, he measured his improvement in individual strokes and gradual distance gains.
While struggling to master freestyle swimming breathing and stroke techniques, Elder Rascon sometimes wondered if his Ironman goals were unattainable. “But then, step-by-step and precept-by-precept, here a little and there a little, the Lord gives you that grace and help and mercy to help you along the way.”
Soon Elder Rascon’s 10-lap swimming training sessions became 20-lap sessions. In the months leading up to the Ironman, he was swimming 2-mile-plus training sessions a couple of times each week. He also made the challenging transition from training in a swimming pool to the open water.
He was ready for the Ironman.
Pain, persistence — and a 'perfect' bicycle
Elder Rascon remembers feeling great after completing the daunting open water swim element at the beginning of the Texas Ironman. He jumped on his bicycle eager to tackle the second element of the triathlon.
“I had my best time ever in my in an open water swim. I felt really good. I felt strong, I felt healthy. Everything was going great — and I knew that biking was one of my strong points.”
Then his Ironman experience took an unexpected, painful turn at about the 8-mile point of the cycling segment. While navigating through a crowd of fellow cyclists, he glanced to his left for a split-second.
“Then when I looked forward, and, with no time to react, I slammed into one of those massive 55-gallon barrel drums that was placed in the middle of the road to guide the path,” he said.
The Area Seventy remembers flying through the air and thinking, “Nope — I don’t want this to happen.”
He landed on his head, severely damaging his helmet. Scraped and bleeding, he did an immediate self-examination. “There was so much pain in both of my wrists. I looked at my left wrist and knew it was broken.”
Despite his multiple injuries, Elder Rascon’s primary concern was for his bicycle, which had been tuned meticulously to endure the rigors of the Ironman course.
Was it still rideable following the crash? He knew that even a slightly damaged bike would mean the end of his Ironman experience.
Elder Rascon stood up, picked up his bike, put the chain back in place and spun the front wheel.
“I was amazed — there was nothing wrong with my bicycle,” he said. “It was truly a miracle. I almost wept at that point.”
Bruised, broken and bleeding, Elder Rascon climbed atop his bicycle and continued the race. Nothing was easy from that point on. More than 100 miles of cycling awaited him, followed by a marathon-length road race. Every bump in the road triggered stabbing pain, causing him to howl in anguish.
Mentally, he felt the weight of being alone. There were no teammates or coaches to lean on.
“So I offered dozens of prayers,” he said. “Most of them were quick and simple: ‘Father, please help me get through this’.”
An exhausted and injured Elder Art Rascon is greeted at the finish line of the 2023 Texas Ironman by his mother, Cristina Rascon. (Photo courtesy of Elder Art Rascon)
Each subsequent mile brought him closer to the finish line, where he knew loved ones were waiting. He finished the Texas Ironman in 15 hours, 16 minutes and 37 seconds.
“The Lord strengthens us”
In the two weeks prior to the endurance race, Elder Rascon offered frequent prayers that the Ironman would offer him learning opportunities. “I wanted to learn more about the things that the Lord wanted to teach me about life and challenges.”
Now, several days removed from the race, Elder Rascon said that his Ironman experience was defined by such lessons. His prayers were answered. He discovered new reserves of physical, mental and spiritual strength.
“The Lord allows things to happen so we can be strengthened by them,” he said. “I see how the unexpected challenge that I faced has increased my testimony about the grace and the love and the mercy of the Lord.
“He strengthens us during times of great need.”
Elder Rascon added that he also finds strength in the people he serves in his ecclesiastical calling as an Area Seventy.
“As I have traveled around in my assignments as a Seventy, I am always brought to tears when I hear of the incredibly tough experiences that so many people have had to endure,” he said.
“But as they have endured those experiences well, there is also a remarkable understanding of who the Lord is — and how we can become better acquainted with Him through the struggles of our grief and our hardships.”
Elder Rascon’s bruises and road abrasions remain. And casts now protect his two broken wrists. But he has been able to continue with his Church duties. Last weekend, he presided over a stake conference in Arizona wearing a short-sleeve shirt and no suit coat to avoid aggravating his injuries.
“But I feel fine. I’m just sore — and I’m moving differently.”
The Area Seventy’s Ironman story has been shared widely by the Houston-area media, where he is a trusted and familiar face in the community. He has also utilized his social media pages to revisit his Ironman experience and share his testimony about relying upon the Lord to “do hard things.”
“No doubt, there are trials in your life that similarly confront us with the same question: Will I go on — or will I call it a day, quit, throw in the towel, give up?
“We are doers. We are believers. We make things happen. Because we can do hard things.”