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Triathlete answers call to help

by: Submitted photo, Despite being a relative newcomer to the sport, Steve White competed in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon last month.

Since Steve White was a young boy, religion and athletics have never strayed too far from each other. Early mornings at Rolling Hills Community Church and fun times at youth group coincided with his rising status on the soccer field.

At youth group in eighth grade, White learned from pastors that he could develop an intimate relationship with God. From then on, he has kept his faith close to his heart. It helped keep him humble during a highly successful soccer career and now, as a triathlete, it has motivated him to give back to the athletic community.

White, in his second year as a triathlete, raced in last month's internationally renowned Accenture Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in San Francisco.

The triathlon consisted of a 1.5-mile swim in 55-degree water from Alcatraz Island to the San Francisco shore, an 18-mile bike ride through the city and an eight-mile run through the Golden Gate Recreation Area.

When White was training for the prestigious event, he had a revelation from God asking him to bless the underprivileged athletic department of Horizon Christian High School. The Tualatin-based school acted as a second home for White, who trained there several times a week for a month and a half.

'I was riding my bike one day and God said, 'You know what Steve? I created you to have a voice. I want to work through you to help this school,' ' White said.

After sustaining injuries caused by rigorous two- to three-hour workouts, six to 12 training sessions per week, a friend referred him to Scott Olson, a coach at Horizon Christian. Olson worked with him on his mechanics and form to solve his running troubles.

It wasn't long before White was running comfortably again, which was a blessing for a man who has been plagued by injuries his entire athletic career. He has had seven blood clots from a hereditary clot condition and a broken leg that required nine screws to mend.

'(Olson) is very gifted at working with athletes. He is the best around at athletic conditioning,' White said.

To help White train, Olson invited him to work out with the high school's track and field team. When the 35-year-old joined up with the rest of the team, he was amazed how welcoming the kids were. According to White, they were not hostile toward him, didn't ask any questions and just went with the flow.

'I could have been some random guy trying to lose weight,' White laughed.

As he became acquainted with the Horizon team, White was shocked how little athletic equipment they had. There was only one set of dumbbell weights, one treadmill and one weight machine. There wasn't even a track. The equipment they did have was handled with great care.

'I remember one person telling me, 'If you break that javelin, they can't compete with it,'' White said.

White, who was a standout soccer player at West Linn High School and Pacific Lutheran University and played a season semi-professionally, understood the importance of basic equipment.

White wanted to help the high school. His focus was still on the triathlon, but it soon took the back burner as his heart was set on a new project: raise money for his non-profit fundraiser called Escape for the Youth.

'As I became blessed by these students, the school and their support of what I was doing, I had a natural desire to give back to them,' White said.

The triathlete admitted that his attitude toward the race shifted from achieving his personal goals to a complete focus on the students, since finishing the triathlon guaranteed money towards the school.

'In the beginning, the triathlon was for me. Then I realized, 'It's not about you, but the students,' ' White said.

For six years, the Stafford native had tried to compete in the race. In 2001, White, who is in his 13th year as a licensed realtor for RE/MAX Equity Group, decided he wanted to compete in triathlons after meeting a professional triathlete while giving a house tour.

The following week, he purchased a triathlon bike.

At the time of his decision to start racing, he was nowhere near the triathlete he is today. But his competitive athletic mentality motivated him to pursue a new challenge.

'I wasn't a swimmer, biker or runner,' he said. 'I wondered, 'could I do this?' '

White looked for the hardest race to complete and finally set his sights on Alcatraz. He hoped to do what hardened inmates during their incarceration only dreamed of, to swim across the bay to freedom.

In December 2006, White was accepted into the race by winning a lottery position. Qualification is achieved by winning sub-races across the world in an individual's respected age brackets, which White explained is nearly impossible to do.

White competed with nearly 1,600 people in the amateur race, with athletes representing 36 countries and all 50 U.S. states. He finished 413th overall, with a time of 2:51.01.

While White's achievement is nothing short of impressive, the most important figure is the $7,000 that has been raised. White was able to spread the word of his fundraiser to businesses and people of influence through a promotional video and newsletters. The students had no idea of White's behind-the-scenes work.

White feels his work will be a blessing in disguise for these students later in life.

'It is most rewarding knowing these kids are going to get blessed,' White said. 'Do I know what impact this little fundraiser will have on the students' life? Nope. This fundraiser helps students with day-to-day athletic equipment, but also how they see the world, think and give.'

Although the race has ended, the fundraising continues. White still advocates for donations of unused equipment or money. Although White's faith is very important to him, he remains adamant that religious orientation plays no role in giving to a Christian school.

'The students need assistance in athletics and need your support. They just happen to go to a Christian high school,' White said.

Looking back on his achievements, White explained that he had to work outside his comfort level. He does not usually appeal to the masses to ask to donate to a school.

At times, White found it difficult to find success, whether it was recruiting people to donate or running 140 stairs at Mt. Scott at night. What always pushed him to continue was the students.

'I would think, what in the world am I doing out here? The faces of the kids kept me motivated,' White said.