Tom and Jennifer Gerstle looked forward to the birth of their son Joe just like any parent would. It was 2003, and they wanted a child so badly. Joe was their first.
But on the August day that Joe came into the world, Tom and Jennifer got more news than they ever expected. Joe had a congenital heart defect and would need surgery. He also had Down syndrome. Both conditions had gone undiagnosed during Jennifer’s pregnancy.
"We were just not prepared," says Tom Gerstle.
In the coming hours, the Gerstle family got a lot of information on what Joe faced from the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Cincinnati (DSAGC). Tom says it was a huge help to his growing family. He says he and his wife went from knowing very little about his son’s diagnosis to knowing so much about the resources available in the Cincinnati area to make sure his son could have a full life.
In a way, the DSAGC stepped in to the Gerstle’s life at a time when they really needed a hero.
"We knew we were not alone, it was great relief to us to know that there was a resource here locally," says Gerstle.
A few months later, as Joe recovered from surgery and started to get healthier, Tom says he and Jennifer started kicking around the idea of doing some sort of fundraiser that would give back to the organization that had been a unlikely hero and help in their lives.
"I had done a few triathlons over the years, and we decided to try to organize one that would help this great resource we have right here in Cincinnati," says Gerstle. He called a few places, and Coney Island agreed to host the first Tri for Joe in 2005.
Tri for Joe is a sprint distance triathlon, du-athlon, 5K run/walk and kids fun run.
"Coney is a great place to host this, they are so nonchalant, and it just worked out," says Gerstle.
That first year, the family hoped to raise $5,000 with 300 people participating. Instead, Tri for Joe had more than 500 participants, and raised more than $10,000 for the DSAGC. Joe’s parents knew they had something big on their hands. In fact, it the following years, the event got bigger and bigger.
"We have over $100,000 raised in five years," says Gerstle. He told <i>Cincy Chic</i> the event quickly became a main fundraiser for the DSAGC.
And as is often the case with good things, this event has gotten big enough that the Gerstle family is no longer at the front of the operation. This year, they’ve taken more of and advisory role, allowing the Powers family and the DSAGC itself to continue running this event.
But don’t expect to stop seeing Jennifer, Tom and Joe at the race. They’ll be there every year.
"It’s still so close to our heart, "says Gerstle. "We just weren’t expecting it to grow as it has."
With any luck, it will keep on growing.
Photographer: Rick Lohre