The late Dan Ford always wanted to compete in an Iron Man competition. His sister, Patti Ford, didn't learn that about her brother until after he died of urethra cancer on April 7, 2009.
The 47-year-old Haverhill woman is now preparing to compete in a triathlon this Sunday as a tribute to her brother, with the possibility of eventually competing in an Iron Man.
Ford, who is the creative services director at Manchester Radio Group in Manchester, N.H., has been training for the race that will involve biking 12.5 miles, swimming a third of a mile, and running five kilometers Sunday at the Massachusetts State Triathlon at the Lake Dennison Recreation Area in Winchendon.
She has decorated her bike helmet with slogans and photographs of her brother, who was a Methuen High School Hall of Fame athlete.
Her helmet says things like "hero," "love you" and "for you." She even has the Ford car company's logo, "Built Ford Tough."
"Danny was very focused when he was an athlete, and I'm not as disciplined as him," Ford said. "It's kind of like for motivation."
The Fords hail from Methuen. Dan graduated Methuen High School in 1988, and Patti graduated in 1981.
Patti Ford is using the triathlon to raise money in her brother's honor. She initially set out to raise $2,000, but she already has raised $2,775. The money will go to the Dan Ford Foundation, which helps cancer victims pay medical bills, go out and have fun, and get to and from medical appointments. The foundation has held two road races to raise money so far.
"He really changed a lot of people. A lot of people told us they do things differently," said Ronnie Ford, Dan Ford's father. "They do more for people than they did before."
Ronnie Ford said the foundation gave six $1,000 college scholarships to Methuen High School athletes, $2,500 to Massachusetts General Hospital last year, and another $3,000 to Massachusetts General Hospital this year.
"They use it for the children's ward," Ronnie Ford said of the gifts to the hospital. "When Danny was down there, he used to go through the children's wards and he would bring them candy and stuff like that."
The foundation paid for four children affected by cancer to go to Canobie Lake Park last year, Ronnie Ford said.
"We lost him (Dan Ford), but then again we didn't," the father said.
Dan Ford was inducted into the Methuen Hall of Fame in 1997 for his athletic accomplishments at Methuen High School from 1984 to 1988. As one of the region's top football running backs, he scored 10 touchdowns as a junior and six as a senior while being credited with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He also was a top quarter-mile runner on the track team and a force on the hockey team.
Patti Ford has been training for this weekend's triathlon, her first, since March. She has been swimming twice a week, biking twice a week, running twice a week and strength training twice a week.
"I feel like I did in my 20s," she said. "It's all about what's in your head."
"She was a pretty good athlete in high school," Ronnie Ford said of his daughter, who played softball.
Next year, Patti Ford plans to compete in the Mooseman triathlon in Bristol, N.H. She wants to do at least half an Iron Man the following year. She hasn't ruled out competing in a full Iron Man, which consists of swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles.
To learn more or to donate to the Dan Ford Foundation, visit Patti Ford's website, firstgiving.com/pattiford.