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A barking dog, a squealing child, breakfast — this chaotic scene is no different than mornings all over the county.  But for one person in this house on Des Moines’ east side, this is a break.

That’s because his day started hours ago – when the city is silent.  Streets are dark and most homes are too.  But Caleb Pike is not only awake, by 3 a.m. he’s getting ready to ride.

“It doesn’t sound like a very good idea,” Caleb says while setting up his bike, “but i think the end result will be worth it.”

Medals hanging on the wall are proof that he’s got what it takes to compete.  Now he’s preparing for an endurance event like none other.  A 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile bike ride, and finally – a marathon.

Caleb Pike is training for an Ironman.

“I don’t know that many people really understand how much time it takes to train and it hasn’t really started to get real long yet,” he says in between deep breaths.  Today’s workout is considered short – but the road to this point has been long.  “It’s a completely different world now…everything’s different.”

Four years ago Caleb was pushing 300 pounds, sucking down cigarettes and soda.  His health was bad and so was his attitude.  “I remember seeing runners – who knows how far they’d run, it didn’t matter – it could’ve been ten feet and I thought they were crazy for even wanting to run,” Caleb says with a smirk, “and the same went for bikers, why would you ride a bike when you could drive a car?!?”

He wasn’t alone.  His wife Nicole was with him for every meal, drink and drag.  They knew they had to do things differently when Cadence came along.  “Yeah, she’s a big part of why we started getting in shape.  Once she was born, I think we started looking at the way we were living.”

It wasn’t easy to trade TV for training or doughnuts for egg whites.  Life is a lot different now.  “Some people think we’re crazy,” Nicole says with a grin, “and it is crazy hours and insane workouts.  A lot of people are really encouraging.”

Including Caleb’s grandfather.  “I went and talked to him after I did the Chicago Marathon.  I remember him being pretty amazed that I did that.”

R.M. Travis had many loves.  Among them family, fishing…”Oh yeah, he was like me,” Caleb laughs, “he loved food…he really loved food!”

His health suffered.  He survived knee replacement, bypass surgery, and diabetes.  “He wished he’d taken better care of his body.  I think he was realizing that you’ve got to take care of yourself so you can be strong if you get sick.”

Cancer proved to be too much.  The loss triggered something in Caleb, something different.  “I think about crossing the finish line a lot, seeing my family and my daughter there.”

He decided to devote his training to R.M.’s memory and to helping kids with cancer.  “I think about my grandpa and the people suffering who don’t have a choice.  You know, I get to choose to do this but they don’t have a choice in that.”

Kelsey Michelsen doesn’t have a choice.  “It feels tiring… it’s very hard, actually.”  Like Caleb, she’s putting in long hours – because she wants life to be different.  Last fall she was in a wheelchair, struggling to talk as her dance team rallied around her.  Months earlier she’d been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.  Doctors told her parents she probably wouldn’t survive.  She did, and she continues proving everyone wrong.  In January surgeons at the Mayo Clinic were able to remove a significant portion of the tumor.

“Before the surgery we were climbing uphill,” says Kelsey’s mom Tammy, “after surgery, I feel like we’ve made it up the hill and we’re on the downward side now.”

But any competitor will tell you, there’s always another hill to climb, always another challenge and always something or someone pushing them toward the finish line.

“I think his attitude was probably his strength,” Caleb says about his Grandpa R.M.  “I think your attitude in everything is what can get you through.  Once you give up it’s pretty much over.”

Giving up isn’t an option.  Not when you want your life to be different. “I wanted to dance again,” says Kelsey.  And she is.

“Things are getting better and we’re gonna make it,” Tammy says through tears, “she’s gonna make it through this!”

Caleb is training for Ironman Wisconsin.  To help him raise money for the Children’s Cancer Connection visit his website