The first time Kyle Pease watched his brother, Brent, complete an Ironman, it was 2010. The Pease family had traveled to Louisville, Ky. to watch Brent compete, and Kyle was feeling particularly proud of himself.
“I felt like a grown up,” said Kyle, 36, a Buckhead resident. “It was the first time that I organized my own trip, with my caregiver. I booked my own hotel. I felt like I had a lot of swag. Like nobody could tell me anything.”
Watching his brother compete in the race, which includes a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, Kyle said he felt something more than a sense of kinship or support. The concept of fighting against his own body felt all too familiar.
“The Ironman is what I go through everyday,” said Kyle, who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy when he was six months old and now uses a wheelchair. “They were pushing their bodies until they couldn’t go anymore, to find the finish line. I was like, that’s what I go through on a day-to-day basis.”
Kyle, Brent, and Kyle’s twin brother, Evan, grew up in the Morningside area of Atlanta, where sports were a daily part of life. Growing up, Kyle said, the brothers watched sports like other kids watch Saturday morning cartoons.
“We grew up in a very inclusive household,” said Kyle. “Sports was our primary love.”
That combination of inclusivity and a love of sports is part of what led Kyle to graduate from Kennesaw State University in 2008 with a degree in Sports Management. It’s also what led Kyle and Brent to start the Kyle Pease Foundation – a nonprofit that helps disabled athletes participate and succeed in sports – in 2011. The inspiration and love of athletics had always been there. For Kyle, watching Brent complete his first Ironman was just the final straw.
“When I want to do something, nobody’s going to stop me from doing it,” Kyle said.
While that first Iron Man in Louisville was deeply personal for Brent, what happened afterwards pushed both brothers towards the creation of the Kyle Pease Foundation.
“Kyle’s experience watching [the race] created a conversation that really continued for six, seven months after we did that event, because then Kyle wanted to go do a race,” said Brent, who lives in the Brookhaven/Chamblee area. “And when we did that race, Kyle wanted other people to do races, too.”
But of course, to run an Ironman and to run a nonprofit, you need a fair bit of support and advice. So, Kyle said the brothers decided to consult the experts, Rick and Dick Hoyt. The Hoyts are a father-son duo who have competed in everything from the Boston Marathon to the Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. Rick, the son, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. For decades, his father Dick – who passed away in 2021 – would push him in races.
Kyle said the Hoyt family offered a lot of great advice, and he and Brent were itching to get racing. They tried to find an easy triathlon to get started, but after some advice from mom – “start small and build your way up” – they settled on the Charles Harris 10K in Atlanta. After completing the 10K in 2011, the brothers found themselves running their first triathlon in Florida a few months later.
Kyle said crossing the finish line was like a dream come true.
“That’s when I kind of had the ‘aha moment,’ because I wanted to share the gift … with other people that had similar disabilities to me, and give them hope,” he said. “So that’s really how the Kyle Pease Foundation was born.”
The moment hit a bit differently for Brent, who remembered breaking, adding, or changing rules when the family played sports as children – anything they could do to include Kyle, they did.
“We always had to change things,” Brent said. “For the first time, we were doing something together that didn’t require that anything be changed. It was just this exhilarating experience.”
So, in 2011, the Kyle Pease Foundation began in earnest. Since the foundation started, it has had 140 athletes cross over 2,000 finish lines, and has raised over $4.3 million to help people with disabilities participate in sports, according to a press release. At Atlanta’s Publix Marathon, Half Marathon, and 5K in 2020 – just before the world shut down because of COVID-19 – 65 running teams represented the foundation.
Kyle and Brent have gone on to be a pretty formidable team themselves. In 2018, the brothers completed the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, and they competed in their first Boston Marathon on Oct. 11, along with two other Kyle Pease Foundation teams.
“We both love Ironman. Ironman is this behemoth for both of us, and it challenges Kyle physically and mentally, which is what he loves,” Brent said. “But I think what Kyle is really going to appreciate is how special something like the Boston Marathon is.”
One of the foundation’s teams consisted of Buckhead resident Bentley-Grace Hicks and running partner Chris Nasser. They finished the race at 2 hours, 50 minutes and 20 seconds.
Other opportunities outside of racing have arisen for Kyle and Brent, including one the brothers didn’t expect – a photoshoot feature for Hyundai with renowned portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz. Leibovitz has photographed celebrities like Demi Moore, Whoopi Goldberg, and John Lennon and Yoko Ono.
“She has quite the credentials,” Kyle said. “So it was a blessing to meet her and see her talent go way beyond the camera.”
From Kyle watching Brent run his first Ironman to striking a pose for Leibovitz herself, the brothers have come a long way. On Oct. 2, the foundation celebrated its “Ten Years Together” celebration at the Ballroom at the Carlos Center in Atlanta. About 125 people attended, celebrating the athletes who have accomplished so much.
“To look back ten years and to see the impact that the foundation has had on my life, on Kyle’s life, and especially on the hundreds of families that have come through, it was really powerful,” Brent said. “It was emotional for me. It’s what I spent the last ten years of my life doing, and perhaps most importantly, sharing with Kyle.”
Correction: this story has been updated with the correct Boston Marathon race time for Bentley-Grace Hicks.