Until every child finds a home
By Matt Caulder
Published in News on June 1, 2014 1:50 AM
On Saturdays, Ray Fields and Scott Johnson bike up to 40 miles as part of a training regimen for Ironman competitions the two men compete in regularly.
Honorary team captain Ryan Hood sits between Johnson and Fields. The RODS logo on the truck's back window helps get the word out that Racing for Orphans with Down syndrome has a home in Wayne County.
Johnson, left, and Fields train for the swimming portion of the upcoming Ironman competition by taking a few laps at the Goldsboro Family Y.
Thursdays are spent lifting weights during lunch and running in the evening. Johnson and Fields, lifelong friends, began their RODS journey together after watching the world championship Ironman competition in Kona, Hawaii, on television and hearing the story of the organization's creator, Brady Murray.
When you start a triathlon, you make a decision -- a decision that no matter how hard, no matter how painful at times, you won't quit.
That's the way it is for Scott Johnson and Ray Fields.
"If you find me passed out on the side of the road, pause my Garmin," Fields said.
But there is more that drives the pair to get out and to swim, bike and run their way across a marathon course.
They are racing for Andrea, Heath and Eli -- and now, for Maddie, who are all fighting obstacles of their own.
The two, friends since childhood, are gearing up for the 70.3-mile half Ironman in Raleigh today -- that's a 1.2 mile swim, followed by a 56-mile bicycle ride before finishing up with a 13.1 mile half-marathon run.
Johnson and Fields began running a couple of years ago to get back in shape when the triathlon bug bit them.
"Me and Ray have been friends forever," Johnson said. "We were both out of shape and approaching 40, both of us with kids."
After their first triathlon, the Azalea sprint triathlon in Wilmington, the two were hooked.
"There is no feeling in the world like it, crossing that finish line," Johnson said. "We tried the first one, then we were constantly looking for our next race."
But with every race they are seeing more than just a ribbon, trophy or even simply a finish.
They see one more step forward to help find families for children who are coping with Down syndrome.
Johnson and Fields, along with their honorary team captain Ryan Hood, are RODS racers, sponsored by RODS, a charity that provides funding for families to adopt children with Down syndrome.
Maddie is a 3-year-old girl living in an orphanage in China who has Down syndrome. She is the latest orphan sponsored by Racing for Orphans with Down syndrome.
Wayne County residents Fields, Johnson and Hood make up 75 percent of the RODS racers in the state.
While not a large organization, a little more 100 racers, membership has exploded from the dozen racers who participated just a couple years ago.
Johnson and Fields were watching the world championship Ironman competition held in Hawaii each year when RODS racing founder Brady Murray's story came on TV.
"They did a few things on him throughout the day," Fields said.
Murray's son, Nash, was born with Down syndrome.
Murray decided that while he couldn't finish an Ironman for himself, he could do it for his son, and, by extension, all the children with Down syndrome in need of a family.
Out of this idea, RODS racing was born.
"We were watching Kona the year they did something on him, 2012, they did this whole thing on it," Johnson said. "It just kinda touched us so we looked up his web page."
The two were trying to order cycling jerseys to ride in when they encountered a problem -- one that turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
They were having difficulty ordering the jerseys over the site.
"So we started talking to the lady up at RODS about trying to get the jerseys," Johnson said. "So she asked us if we wanted to be RODS racers."
The two agreed and have been raising money for RODS for two years now.
The idea behind RODS came about from Murray's realization that the major hurdle to children with Down syndrome being adopted is the same with adopting any child -- the expense.
Fields knows that all too well.
He and his wife, Lori, adopted their daughter, Rylee, as a baby.
"It was $12,000 to adopt her," Fields said. "And that wasn't a very expensive adoption. You have to pay all the pipers."
This connection fuels Fields' fire to put himself out there as a RODS racer and to raise money so that others can experience the same joy he has.
"No one deserves to be an orphan," Fields said.
Fields also has son, Ashton, he and Lori's miracle baby born six months after Rylee came to them. The couple had been told natural children were not possible.
The price to adopt a child overseas is higher than domestic adoption, often $30,000 to $40,000, so RODS aims to raise about $15,000 for each sponsored orphan.
So far, 11 children have found families, with two more ready for adoption.
The reason the organization chooses overseas children is because in other countries children with Down Syndrome are often seen as a burden and placed in orphanages until they are old enough to be institutionalized.
"They pull these kids from dumpsters and help them into a family," Johnson said.
Both men have day jobs -- Johnson owns an upholstery shop and Fields is an inspector in the city Inspections Department. But their free time is spent with a local group of triathletes, the Trifectas, training for the punishing races.
They choose to do something that is at times extremely difficult, but ultimately rewarding, in part, so that children like Maddie can find their families.
People can donate directly to Maddie's adoption fund at www.rodsracing.org/meet-maddie/ or through Johnson and Fields' pages at www.rodsracing.org/scott/ and www.rodsracing.org/ray/.
And as if the motivation to help these children were not enough, their teammate, Hood, has his own story to tell. He joined RODS last year, but has been a friend of Johnson's for years.
He is the son of Johnson's childhood Sunday school teacher, Rex.
Hood is an avid promoter of RODS racing as well as serving as an ambassador to the Special Olympics of North Carolina in addition to working for Goldsboro Parks and Recreation.
He also has Down syndrome.
Hood works diligently to further the cause for both organizations by doing things such as speaking at Goldsboro City Council meetings asking for support and showing up for his team at races, he also has his own RODS racing page found at www.rodsracing.org/ryan-b-hood/.
"I asked the City Council to look down in their hearts to help RODS racing and the Special Olympics of North Carolina," he said. "I asked them to support the causes of RODS racing and the Special Olympics of North Carolina."
Johnson said that Hood is all about RODS and the Special Olympics, "24/7."
Watching Murray speak about the need to help children with Down syndrome and his own motivation for starting RODS still chokes Hood up.
RODS racing is very near and dear to his heart having known how difficult it is to grow up with Down syndrome even in a very loving home.
Johnson and Fields are preparing for the challenge ahead today, and their honorary team captain will be there as well, but they are also looking on to the next race.
There is no deadline on when money can be donated to RODS.
It’s not over at the finish line, besides they are already planning for the Louisville full Ironman next year — that’s 140.6 miles.