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Brother’s memory spurs local triathlete

The part about water worries her. She hates not knowing what is beneath her as she swims.

“I just hope,” Brittany Herlean said, “my wet suit helps me float a little.”

If she needs a pull, the memory of him will be there. It always is.

Herlean will compete in her first triathlon today, one of about 800 participants in the Aflac Iron Girl event at Lake Las Vegas.

She has run a 5K, a half-marathon, a marathon — the daughter of triathlete parents whose father and husband each have competed in two Ironman competitions.

She is a personal trainer locally and also works for Isagenix, a company that promotes nutritional cleansing. She beat cancer as a child, conquered it like she hopes to the course (800-meter swim, 30-kilometer bike ride and 5K run) in less than two hours today.

She and her family eat clean, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t include many stops at the place with yellow arches for her sons, ages 2, 4 and 6. She is big on shopping just the perimeter of a grocery store, of never wandering down those inside aisles unless searching for some oatmeal or flour.

“I might be one of the few moms whose sons like asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and will fight over the last sweet potato,” she said. “Ice cream … that’s a treat.”

She is guided through obstacles like a frightening swim by the image of her brother.

Brittany and Garrett shared a dream that they one day would work together as trainers in Las Vegas, that they would open a business promoting good nutrition and the importance of exercise to countless others. It was their own little Bucket Wish item.

Then her husband, Nathan, a police officer with Metro, called with the news one September day in 2008.

“I thought he was playing a cruel joke,” Brittany said. “But I could tell he was crying.”

Garrett had taken his usual cocktail of prescription drugs the night before and never woke up, a young man of 20 whose family thought he finally had discovered a healthy path far from the steroids and other drugs that had disrupted life’s journey time and again. He was a bodybuilder who had wandered over to the dark and often deadly side of his sport.

But there had been talk of him getting clean and possibly walking on to UNLV’s football team. Everything seemed better. Brighter. There were more good days than bad. Everyone was hopeful …

Another’s death has this way of motivating us to chase our goals a little harder. A year from her brother’s passing, Herlean had become a certified trainer.

She is 26, plays the harp and was born and raised in Las Vegas, except for the time she spent as a child in California, where she received chemotherapy for the same type of leukemia that had taken her uncle. He was only 8 at the time of his death. She was 4 when diagnosed.

“I remember the first doctor’s visit, the blood test, sitting in the room, the doctor coming over to my grandparents’ house the next day with the news, him being devastated it was the same type my uncle died from,” she said. “I lost all my hair and wore a wig. I was still getting heart scans at the 10-year mark. But three years ago, I received a clean bill of health.”

Still, she worries. One of her sons gets a cold, can’t kick it, and she worries. A doctor once told her childhood leukemia is not genetic, so she and her husband began a family.

One son was followed by a second, then a third. They soon learned it was genetic. They look for signs, pay close attention, but thankfully all three boys are healthy.

She will take it all into the race today, the memory of Garrett, of beating cancer, that the idea of a healthy lifestyle for herself and her family is paramount in her daily thoughts.

“I was training for my first marathon when (Garrett died) and just sort of shut down big time and went on auto pilot,” Brittany said. “I had a really hard time getting through that race. … He would have been alongside me or waiting at the finish line. Definitely, having him in my mind (today) will give me momentum. It keeps me motivated. We were so connected. I’m not nervous about the running part. I teach spin classes, so I’m not nervous about the bike.

“But I’m pretty scared about the swim. I’m pretty terrified. But if I need a push, I’m sure he will be there with me …”

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618.

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