News Article Details

Father, son triathletes inspire

The Hartwell Sun - 6/27/2018

Like many of the athletes who participated in the Lake Hartwell Y Triathlon on Saturday, Jim Sayih and his son Michael Sayih, competed in the longer, olympic-style version of the event.

However, their story goes beyond the ordinary demanding tasks that athletes endure. Their story is one of strength, determination, relentlessness and love.

Michael Sayih was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that affects movement, balance and posture, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although, you wouldn't be able to tell it with his can-do attitude, the 26-year-old even poked fun at his dad during the race, as he seemed a bit slower than normal.

Jim Sayih has two sons, Adam, 27, and Michael, 26, who both share a birthday, but a year apart.

"I live an active lifestyle. When my boys came into my life I just included them. There was no reason for why Michael wouldn't be included," said Jim Sayih about how he started racing with his sons.

The first race they ever competed in together was a duathlon, when Michael was just 5-years old. It consisted of a 5-kilometer run, a 30-kilometer bike and a 5-kilometer run to finish.

"So I kind of rigged this thing for the bike. I had to MacGyver this thing," said Jim Sayih as he and Michael laughed. "Even with all the problems, we liked it. I would ask him, ?You want to do another one?' ?Yeah.' ?Another one?' ?Yeah.' Never saying no."

Now, Michael Sayih picks out the locations for the anywhere between 20 and 40 races they participate in each year, including the one in Hartwell.

There is no doubt that Michael Sayih is a tough guy.

"Michael just has such incredible tolerance. It doesn't matter if its bumpy, hot, raining, or if mud goes in his face or if he gets dropped like when we're doing a spartan race. He just doesn't care. He's just into it," said his father.

Michael Sayih's favorite event is by far the bicycle ride.

"He likes being pulled," said Jim Sayih.

"And going down the hill," added Michael Sayih about his love for the speed and feeling the wind in his face.

When the pair isn't sweating and competing in grueling competitions, they are working to better their foundation, Special Compass.

Michael Sayih is the president of Special Compass and Jim Sayih is the executive director. They work together on fundraisers, social events and other board member activities.

"This is all with the mission to do what we do. It's to include people like us, families like us, to get out," said Jim Sayih. "Families like us a lot of times they'll just stay home and play video games or watch movies all the time and that is their life for years on end," he said about their foundation for the "differently-abled."

"We try to motivate them by not having to incur any expenses. We say ?We'll pay for your registration' We even got a bus donated to us so now we say, ?You don't even have to drive. You don't have to worry about transportation. We'll cover that for you. We'll pick you up,'" said Jim Sayih.

When Michael Sayih isn't engaging in his responsibilities as a board member, he is working at his two part-time jobs.

He works as a greeter at the entrance of the BB&T Center for the Florida Panther's hockey team, as well as concerts and events. He also greets fans as they enter Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins.

"He loves it. He actually has a fan base of people. If they don't see him they're like ?Where is Michael,'" said Jim Sayih.

It is not difficult for the father-son duo to stay motivated to keep participating in these events.

"Genuinely we like it. We just enjoy it," he said. "We hope that other parents will be inspired."

The pair enjoyed the race on Saturday at Big Oaks Recreation Area.

"It is a great course. I loved the lake, the whole course. There wasn't anything I didn't like about it. I just wish I wouldn't have been so sick," said Jim Sayih about why he felt a little more sluggish than normal.

The toughest part of the triathlon for them is the swim portion.

"I'm just not a swimmer. He always makes fun of me ?You alright dad,'" laughed Jim Sayih.

For Michael Sayih, crossing that finish line is unlike anything else.

"Its amazing to inspire other people," said Michael Sayih about finishing a race.

"He loves it when we come across and he hears people cheering him on," said Jim Sayih. "This is why we do it, we want other kids to feel that too."

Jim Sayih enjoys when he can bring his son to an event and meet complete strangers who embrace them and make them feel included.

"That's the whole reason behind the inclusion movement. We just want them out," he said. "Don't feel like just because you're different people are not going to talk to you because they may not understand your condition or may be shy to ask you questions. Just get out and be yourself and enjoy it."

For families that feel like they could not do what the Sayihs do, Jim Sayih has some advice.

"Just take one step. Just do a little one that is very doable. A 5-K run-walk, and just be out in the community and then you will be surprised to see how the public will embrace you," he said. "Once they get that feeling on the first one, the rest will just happen. It will be a domino effect. It is infectious. They'll do it again and again and again."


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