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Iron Wills

Inspiration from father drives Davis

PROVO - Mark Davis swims one yard, and he thinks of his father. Mark Davis pedals one revolution, and he thinks of his father. Mark Davis runs a single step, and he thinks of his father.

He thinks about what his father said, what his father did, how he inspired his son. The words still ring loud and clear, like they were spoken a moment ago. They'll course, through Davis' veins Saturday in Ironman Utah, where this once-368-pound man, who'll compete in the 45-49 age group, will take his third try at a full Ironman.

"It doesn't even fit," Mark said. Lawrence stared straight in Mark's eye. "It will," he said.

Cancer attacked Lawrence, Mark Davis' father. One day in 1991 when Lawrence's battle was nearing its end, Mark went to Lawrence's home to provide care. Lawrence peered up at his son and wondered aloud, "Are you doing this on purpose?" "What," Mark asked. "Losing weight."

Mark shows off his old pants

Of all the people in Mark's world, it was his father who was the first to notice he'd shed 30 pounds.

"Then he shocked me," Mark recalls. Lawrence got out of bed. He walked toward the closet. With him he lugged the oxygen tank pushing air into his lungs and the morphine pump injecting numbness into his world of pain. But he made it. There, he grabbed a XXX large sized shirt hanging limply in the darkness. He handed it to his son. "Try this on," Lawrence said.

Mark did. Its buttons fell inches apart. The sleeves squeezed his arms. The shirt was way too small.

"It doesn't even fit," Mark said. Lawrence stared straight in Mark's eye. "It will," he said.

Lawrence died two weeks later.

"I've hung on to that shirt and every time I started exercising and started feeling sorry for myself, thinking I couldn't handle it or couldn't do it. I started thinking about my dad walking those few steps to hand me that shirt and what it meant," Mark says. "So I kept on working out. It took me four years. I lost almost half my body weight."

Today, Mark, who weighs 198, calls himself a "recovering C.P.A." Two months after dropping the weight, Mark was let go from his accounting job. "It took me about three days to think long and hard, and I said this is a sign from God," he says. "Maybe I was not put on this Earth to count other people's money. I should actually be out helping people lose weight like I did."

Lawrence got out of bed. He walked toward the closet. With him he lugged the oxygen tank pushing air into his lungs and the morphine pump injecting numbness into his world of pain. But he made it. There, he grabbed a XXX large sized shirt hanging limply in the darkness. He handed it to his son. "Try this on."

At 40, Mark went back to school, to Cal-Berkeley, and studied exercise science. He became a personal fitness trainer and now works at the San Francisco Bay Club in his hometown, where he lives with his wife and 22-month-old daughter.

He's helped clients from 17 to 86 years old lose a little or a lot of weight.

He dealt with the emotional side of his own overeating and learned to control it.

Mark's ultimate goal is to finish the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii in October. At Ironman Canada, he missed the bike cut-off by five minutes. Mark's next try in California ended after he got ill during the race.

"Saturday by midnight, I hope I make the ultimate transition from fat man to Ironman," he says. If he makes it Saturday, he'll finish the marathon leg wearing a shirt that pictures his father. He'll be thinking about Lawrence, whose parents divorced when he was 2, and who was raised by whatever relative could take him at the time. He'll think about how Lawrence dropped out of high school and joined the fight in World War II as a Merchant Marine.

Lawrence went back to school years later. It was confusing for 8-year-old Mark to see his father graduate high school, right around the time his brother was doing the same thing. It all makes sense now.

"I keep thinking about what he did for me," Mark says. "He gave me that spirit. He had to struggle just a few steps to grab that shirt."

"My ultimate goal is Ironman Hawaii - that's where I can really get the story out about my father," Mark says. "He was the original Ironman as far as I'm concerned."

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