Team Agar’s Incredible Ironman Journey & 3 Ways They Raised an Independent Child

December 30, 2023

Thanks for joining me! With us for this post is Team Agar; I have the legendary Johnny Agar, and his parents Jeff and Becki. We’ll be taking a look at some of the amazing things the Agars are doing with Adaptive Star’s products, and discussing their absolutely miraculous and humbling journey competing in Ironmans while navigating the challenge of cerebral palsy.

We’ll cover:

  • Meet Team Agar!
  • Men of Iron | Training & Competition as an Athlete with Disabilities
  • 3 Ways the Agars Raised a Strong & Independent Young Man
  • What Does Team Agar’s Journey Mean for Us at Adaptive Star?

Meet Team Agar!

The Agar family is based out of West Michigan, and they’re such a motivated group of people! The team is made up of Johnny, Jeff, and Becki, along with a couple of family members who help them out on race days.

Johnny Agar | Walking Impossible Miles

Johnny Agar is 29, pushing 30 years old. From birth, he was diagnosed with cerebral palsy; doctors said he would likely never speak, let alone walk.

Today, he’s been a part of Ironman challenges, even completing one in Maryland last September with five minutes to spare: AND HE WALKED THE LAST MILE OF IT! He’s an active motivational speaker who has been at engagements in Tennessee, Texas, and Florida. He and his mother Becki have even written a memoir called, “The Impossible Mile: The Power in Living Life One Step at a Time,” which I’m so honored to own a copy of.

Johnny started racing in 2012 with My Team Triumph in Michigan. His first race was the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. While he and Jeff didn’t complete the race in time, the family is planning to return to Kona within the next year to finish what they started.

God has a plan, and you need the right people to execute it. Adaptive Star has been crucial to that plan for us.

Johnny Agar

Jeff Agar | Diligent & Determined

Jeff is Johnny’s dad, and such a diligent and determined athlete. You can find him out running 14+ miles in the middle of a Michigan winter to train for Team Agar’s next event!

He and Johnny have done 6 Ironmans together, along with numerous other races. While they’ve had some major successes, they’ve also had plenty of fails. Jeff recalls the time they didn’t finish their first Ironman in Hawaii; his perspective on the times they’ve fallen short is humbling:

I thought it was humiliating that a million people watched us fail on national TV, even after all the we work put in. But had we made it through that first time, I think people would have said, “Well, how hard can it be? It can’t be that hard.” Failing so many times shows us just how difficult it is, and it highlights that Johny’s whole life is difficult; he always has to keep working hard. It was a very difficult ride for a long time, but some amazing things have happened because of our fails.

Jeff Agar

Becki Agar | A Woman of Great Faith

Becki is Johnny’s mother and a huge part of Team Agar’s support. She does so much work behind the scenes to relieve the pressure from Johnny and Jeff; her aim is that the guys won’t need to worry about anything but the race. That includes:

  • Planning their travel
  • Making reservations
  • Maintaining equipment
  • Fundraising
  • Managing transition time during races

As mothers, we tend to want to shelter our children and keep them safe; I asked Becki how she keeps herself calm and focused when Johnny and Jeff are out racing.

My faith is very important to me, so I pray a lot. I can only control so much; in a world where we think we have a lot of control, in actuality we don’t. It reminds me of how little I really am in this world. So, I do a lot of praying, and I just ask God to watch over them and keep them safe. Some days are much better than others.

Becki Agar

Men of Iron | Training & Competition as an Athlete with Disabilities

Jeff and Johnny have attempted 6 Ironman competitions together, with their first being 2012. Before 2012, they had only completed a half Ironman. Every one of these races has come with its own unique challenges, and the training behind them is immense.

The Team Agar Ironmans

In 2012, Team Agar competed in the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii. While they were unable to complete the challenge, they’re looking forward to trying again in 2024 for Johnny’s 30th birthday.

Johnny and Jeff have competed in two Texas Ironmans; one had 100+ degree weather, and in the other they had a car accident damage their bike and injure Jeff. The Agars competed in Indiana where it rained for 8 unmerciful hours as they were cycling. There also was a race where they didn’t realize one of Johnny’s tires was flat for 40 miles; Jeff just thought the wind had picked up!

Despite these challenges, Team Agar finally completed Ironman Maryland with five minutes to spare and Johnny walking the last mile! It was such a huge achievement, and the Agar family celebrated by getting matching tattoos. Their journey was long and eventful, but even more rewarding due to the trials they’ve overcome.

Jeff’s Training Routine | Strength & Power

In an ordinary Ironman or triathlon, a male athlete weighs 180-200 lbs and is relatively unburdened. They can manage a 14-15 mph pace going uphill on the challenge course in Kona, Hawaii. This is not the case with Jeff. He has to manage a tremendous amount of weight – almost 400 lbs – which means he’s moving at only 3-4 mph going uphill.

Because he and Johnny are a team, Jeff’s training is vastly different from that of normal triathletes; it’s more focused on strength and power than speed. He’s been working with a group of coaches from Evolved Training Systems, some of which come from across the world and have a tremendous amount of expertise to offer.

Johnny’s Training Routine | Endurance & Flexibility

While you may think Jeff is the only one training, Johnny also trains rigorously. Every day, he has a morning routine, and he’ll walk 2-3 times a week. Johnny has been walking the final mile of their Ironmans using just a walker – something his doctors and therapists would have never imagined was possible.

Becki mentioned that it’s also really important for Johnny to stretch; in order to walk that final mile, he has to keep his muscles limber. Johnny has a yoga mat and a wall bar in his apartment downstairs. Other than his wall bar routine, he can train independently for the most part.

The Value of Good Equipment & a Competent Team

Something most people don’t think about during Ironmans is transitioning. When moving to the next event, it takes a whole team to transition Johnny into the proper equipment. Executing this takes flawless skill and practice. Becki usually heads this part of the race up, along with 2-3 other family members.

Johnny uses our Axiom Arrow race chair for competitions. The team has practiced transitioning him through equipment so well that sometimes they’re just waiting on Jeff!

I look back when Dick Hoyt was doing this, and they were figuring everything out as they went. There’ll never be another person like him doing it; we’re all beneficiaries of his efforts. We’re so far advanced with equipment, technology and planning now. Becki and our team do an amazing job of transitioning Johnny and getting ready for the next phase of the race.

Jeff Agar

3 Ways the Agars Raised a Strong & Independent Young Man

Becki and Jeff raised Johnny to be independent, despite having severe cerebral palsy. They didn’t believe in creating a protective bubble around him, but rather in encouraging him to face challenges head-on and to learn adapt to different situations. I asked Becki and Jeff what they would tell other parents who found themselves along the ride in a similar journey.

1. Have Faith & Don’t Give Up

For the Agars, their faith played a huge role in raising Johnny. They didn’t know what God’s plan was for their family, but they trusted that He had one.

Becki strongly felt that by raising Johnny as a typical little boy, he would begin to understand what he could or could not do. They had several doctors and therapists early on mistakenly think the Agars were in denial of Johnny’s condition, but Becki believed Johnny could and would learn to adapt.

It was really important for us to treat Johnny like he was just our typical son. Rather than placing any limits on him, we wanted him to be able to decide what his limits were going to be, not others.

Becki Agar

Becki emphasized that the family working as a team was crucial, especially given the extra challenges and decisions that come with raising a special needs child. They decided to focus on what was best for Johnny, rather than insisting on being right. This teamwork approach has benefitted their family as a whole and made the journey easier.

2. Take Life Day by Day

Jeff recalled that everything changed so fast when they found out about Johnny having cerebral palsy, and it’s been a huge challenge ever since.

We got some great advice from the very first doctor we dealt with about cerebral palsy. He said, “I don’t tell this to most parents, but I can tell I’m going to give you guys this advice: you can read a lot of books about what your child won’t be able to do. Or you can focus on what he can do, and just take it day by day.

Jeff Agar

Johnny is friends on social media with one of the greatest Olympic athletes of all times, Michael Phelps. Like Michael, Johnny has pushed himself to the extreme of what anyone has expected. His journey and transformation has been amazing, but it’s been 5-6 hours a day of flat-out hard work for weeks on end.

That doesn’t come without being pushed and having people with high expectations in your life. Jeff highly credits Becki for ingraining this drive to be independent in Johnny growing up, and they’re seeing the results of that early push.

3. Independence is Invaluable

About two years ago, the Agars converted their basement into an apartment for Johnny. While this was a big undertaking, it’s paid huge dividends for Johnny’s morale. For the most part, he’s able to live independently. The Agars were able to find things like a specialized microwave oven, and voice activated water fixtures.

Johnny’s got the whole downstairs, and it was designed in such a way that we can continue teaching him how to become more independent. If he needs help, we’re right there, but Johnny’s goal is to be as independent as possible. When he comes in from outside, he’ll say, “I’m going downstairs to my apartment!” It’s such a huge thing for him to be able to say, and to have that independence in his mind.

Becki Agar

One of the most helpful organizations in building Johnny’s independence has been the Conductive Learning Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It teaches kids and adults with different motor disabilities – specifically cerebral palsy and spina bifida – how to sit, stand, walk and other tasks that many can take for granted.

In some ways, the conductive Learning Center is like a school. Johnny feels there are a lot of people there that are likeminded, and they can bounce ideas off each other. The same is true for the parents of the students, who are able to come together to support one another.

They’ve taught me a lot about goal setting and given me a more positive outlook on my challenges with cerebral palsy, to focus on what I can do, not what I can’t. It’s been really beneficial for me and my parents.

Johnny Agar

The Agar family wants to give a huge shoutout to the Meijers. They not only helped kick off Johnny’s journey in Ironmans, but also helped him learn to walk. The Meijers own a chain of grocery stores that span across the midwest, and they were one of the major sponsors for the Conductive Learning Center. The Meijers contributed to the Agars first trip to Kona, among other races. Johnny even got to meet one of the founders, Fred Meijer, before he passed away.

What Does Team Agar’s Journey Mean for Us at Adaptive Star?

Other than their return to Kona in 2024, Team Agar is looking forward to running in the Dopey Challenge, a Disney World marathon series this January. Becki and Johnny are talking about potentially publishing a kids book. Johnny also has some motivational speaking engagements planned out that involve all three of them.

The Agars have a full year planned ahead already.

It’s so easy for me to put my head down and get caught up in work and life. But hearing Team Agar’s story really reminds me of how personal our work at Adaptive Star is; we’re based on personal connections and meeting the unique challenges of whatever family needs us.

Our company has always had the mindset of, “If not us, who?” We’re very faith-based, and it’s so important that we continue our mission and share what we’re able to do for others. We’ve been truly blessed with the ability to help entire families do things they may have never dreamed of doing before.

I’m so grateful to have gotten to talk with Team Agar! I know their story will help other families through hard transitions and times. If you want to learn more about the Agar family, check out their website; Johnny is on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. If you have any stories about how adaptive mobility has changed your life, or if you’re interested in our products, please contact us here. Thanks for reading, and have a wonderful New Year!