Fallston man competing in Ironman triathlon to benefit others

It's amazing what a new stove can do for a person – just ask Dwight Griffith of Fallston.

A custom home builder, Griffith was facing financial difficulties a couple years after the housing crisis hit around 2008. He was a single dad of five kids who went from living in a 4,000-square-foot house to a 750-square-foot shop, he said.

The stove wasn't working in his house, so cooked on the grill outside. Someone from his Scout pack dropped off papers one day when Griffith was cooking on the grill. It was particularly cold and while the man saw what was going on, didn't say anything.

"Three days later, a group of parents bought a stove for us," Griffith said two weeks ago as he practiced at the YMCA in Abingdon for his upcoming triathlon.

That stove, which cost about $300, was the impetus behind the Griffith Never Give Up Foundation, which he is hoping to promote awareness of by participating in the Ironman Maryland on Saturday.

"It helps hard working people, contributing to society, facing some kind of adversity, to overcome that adversity," Griffith said. "Those people are everywhere, struggling. So many are giving what they can, doing what they can, and they're too proud to ask for help."

Just like he was. And that's why the stove was so special.

"Without asking they brought it to me. It was pretty remarkable," he said. "That stove was $300, but it was everything."

Ironman

In 2011, friends wanted Griffith to run a 5K.

"Running is not in my program," said Griffith, who shattered his ankle when he fell off a roof in 1980. His foot doesn't move. "But I thought, 'OK, I'll do it.'"

Griffith didn't make it all the way around the track his first time out, but each time he added a little more and ultimately finished the 5K.

For him, that was it, not plans to run a race again.

"It wasn't on my bucket list," he said.

A few months later, he was with a friend from the Rotary who was preparing for a sprint triathlon, the shortest of the triathlon distances – a half-mile swim, a 12.4-mile bike and a 3.1-mile run.

"I had done a 5K, I knew I could ride 15 miles, but I can't swim," he said. "I thought I'd try it. I like to go outside the box, to challenge myself."

Griffith finished.

"It was very ugly, but I did it," he said.

As he crossed that finish line five years ago, he decided he wanted to do an Ironman Triathlon, the longest of the triathlon distances – a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride followed by a marathon, a 26.20-mile run.

He would build up to it, he thought, participating in bigger races each year. He's start with an international distance triathlon – 1.86-mile swim, 49.6-mile bike and 12.4-mile run, followed by a half-marathon (13.1 miles), then a half-Ironman – 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run. The next year he'd run a full marathon and finally the full Ironman this year, when he turned 60.

Griffith didn't make all those goals along the way – he did the international distance, and his first half-marathon was when he did the half Ironman. He finished the full 26.2, running the Marine Corps Marathon because one of his sons had just become a marine, he said.

The races haven't been easy, particularly the half-Ironman, through which Griffith said he really struggled. He didn't have the proper nutrition or hydration.

For the full Ironman, he hired a triathlon trainer, someone to prepare him. But halfway through, he suffered a back injury – broken bone fragments - that ultimately required surgery.

Griffith thinks he did it putting on his wet suit at the beginning of a triathlon he competed in in April.

"Literally during this race, they paddled up to me four times thinking I needed to be saved," he said. "Eventually they just kayaked next to me."

He only swam one of the two laps, but finished the bike and the run and the next day rode his bike 60 miles.

"But the next day, I shut down I hurt so bad," Griffith said.

He tried ibuprofen and other non-surgical treatments, but had surgery June 29 performed by Dr. Clayton Dean at Mercy Hospital.

"He did a fabulous job," said Griffith, who resumed his training July 25 and competed in a race Aug. 4.

The foundation

Griffith started the foundation earlier this year, with the help of his five children, Felicia, 25, Alex, 24, Doug, 20, and William and Katrina, 18.

As a family, they want to help others who were having difficulties like there were in 2010.

They want to provide assistance and resources to hard-working, giving members of the community who face adversity – a job layoff, a medical situation.

"They have been good, responsible members of society, often giving back to the community through active service in community organizations, PTA's, places of worship, coaching sports, etc.," according to the foundation website, www.griffithnevergiveup.org. "Most are too proud to even ask for help. They are not playing the victim role waiting for others to take care of them. They are still out there fighting the fight. These are the types of people the Griffith Never Give Up Foundation wants to help."

Griffith is using the IronMan to kick off fundraising for the foundation.

He is selling corporate sponsorships for $60 (because he's 60 years old) or $140 (the combined distance of the swim, bike and run of an Ironman).

Visit the website to see ways to donate.

All contributions go directly to helping others, Griffith said. The foundation has no employees and no administrative costs.

The foundation provides help in several ways, from creating a sustainability plan to address underlying issues; helping with medical expenses; fixing someone's house with a new ramp or other access need, retrofitting a home for a veteran, providing energy efficient upgrades or making safety repairs; scholarships for hard-working students from broken homes or bad environments or someone who needs occupational training for a new career or to re-enter the workforce; or providing cash grants for single moms re-entering the workforce with two jobs to cover day care, for clothing or shelter to abused or neglected adults and children, for rent, utilities or food expenses for people laid off or struggling financially.

"It is much bigger than one man pushing himself," Griffith said. "It's about drawing awareness to the foundation so people who need help can know there is someone here to help them and to raise money to provide that assistance."

Help where he can get it

Griffith is confident in his biking, comfortable with his running, but unsure about his swimming.

So for the Ironman he enlisted the help of the YMCA Blue Crabs swim team. On a recent Friday afternoon during the team's practice, the swimmers joined Griffith for a training session.

He wanted to simulate some of the race circumstances, when 1,300 people will be setting off together.

"I'm trying to maintain my stroke as people swim over me," he said.

"I want you to bank into me, swim over me," Griffith told the 16 swimmers on this Friday.

The clumped around him as he swam lap after lap, splashing as big as possible, bumping into him.

"Less arms, more legs, more splash," Head Swim Coach Sue Butler, who's done Ironmans, yelled to her swimmers.

"We're here to help him get used to the mob scene at the start. I know what it's like to have 2,500 people swim over you," Butler said. "It's chaos in the river."

Her swimmers love "Dwight Nights," as they've come to be called.

"This is really good for the kids," she said. "Look how much fun they're having."

Two weeks out, and Griffith said he's no where near being ready because of all the time he lost from his back injury.

"I started from scratch, doing in 73 days what I should do in 180 days" in terms of training, Griffith said. "It's going to take everything I've got."

But Griffith knows it's mind over matter. It's how he's gotten through all his other races.

"No matter what, I just have to put one foot in front of the other," he said.

His goal is to finish, to reach the finish line before they take it down at midnight.

It's one day, 18 hours of his life – he can push it, Griffith said.

"If I can inspire other people to fight, or exercise, or deal with adversity head on, then it's worth it," he said.

After the Ironman

Griffith says he's done with races after the Ironman.

"There will be no more races," he said.

It's been a five-year buildup to the Ironman.

"To be quite honest, I hate running and I don't like swimming. I sort of like biking, but on the NCR Trail," Griffith said. "But it's paying my dues, what I have to do for the Ironman."

He plans to auction off his bike, the proceeds going to his foundation. Then he plans to transition from the home-building business into his second business, DTR Group, to help families with financial issues.

"I want to transition to something where I'm going to make a difference in people's lives," Griffith said.

That's where his foundation comes in.

The former Cub Scout and Boy Scout leader used to tell the boys in his den: "Whatever happens in life, you can lay over and let it happen, or you can pull yourself up and move forward."

"I tried to instill that in the kids. You have to keep moving forward no matter what adversity you're facing," he said. "And I carried that over to the foundation."

He wants to spread the word about the foundation that also involves his children.

"We're here to help people. For you to know we're here to help your neighbor," he said. "I want to let people know we exist and it's OK to get help."

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