Connor Ellison has a rare liver disease, but the 12-year-old Folsom boy has been blessed in many ways.
While he lives with congenital hepatic fibrosis, a disease that causes scar tissue to form in the liver, thereby blocking blood flow that puts him at great risk of internal bleeding, Ellison is an exceptional cyclist. For five years doctors have told him all that he can’t do because of his disease, but now he has found something that he is able to do and better yet, he excels at it.
Ellison is about to compete in the Race Across America, which begins Saturday in Oceanside. The seven-day, 3,000-mile bike race to Annapolis, MD, will be sure to test Ellison, who is the youngest person ever to compete in the grueling race.
Ellison will ride with Team Donate Life, a non-profit organization formed to promote organ donation and transplantation. His mom and dad, Tiffany and Jared, will also ride in the race, as will his surgeon, Dr. Carlos Esquivel, and four others. Several others will make up the team’s crew that will also be of assistance throughout the race across the nation.
“I’m really nervous about it right now,” Connor said just over a week before the race. “I’m afraid I’ll get three or four days into it and be really tired and not want to do it.”
Connor’s dad, Jared, competed in the race last year and that’s what put the seed in Connor’s mind that he wanted to do it, initially thinking two or three years down the road.
“He kept telling me he was going to do it someday and someday came quick,” Jared said.
To be sure of his commitment level, Connor had to attend a training camp with Team Donate Life in Park City, Utah, in October and he held his own riding with adult cyclists. He also made a goal to raise $100,000 for organ donation, awareness and research, prior to the start of the race. Thanks for the support of friends, businesses, the Folsom police and fire departments and many others from the community; Ellison has helped to raise $92,000 so far.
His dream of competing in the race was nearly sidetracked in December, when he had to have emergency surgery on his liver, which kept him off his bike for a month.
“Connor was devastated when his surgeon told him that he had to have this operation,” Tiffany said. “He told him that if had this operation that he would ride in the race with him.”
Ellison had surgery in late December and five weeks later he was back on his bike. He was also off his bike for a few weeks in February after he broke his wrist.
Ellison has come a long way in a short time. Before October of last year, he rode bike with friends and enjoyed BMX, but never had a road bike and didn’t put any mileage in to speak of. In just eight months, with a major surgery to boot, Ellison has trained his body into shape to ride upwards of 200 miles a week.
“He’s an incredible bicyclist, but it’s not like there haven’t been any tears,” Tiffany said of the training required to prepare of the race. “We’ve had to ride through hail, rain and wind and at night. We’ve both cried a lot. No disrespect to Connor, but I didn’t think he was going to stick with it, but the joke was on me because here we are.”
Ryan Jantzen, a family friend who’s also an avid rider, is impressed with Connor.
“He’s a remarkable young boy,” Jantzen said. “His dedication, for a 12-year-old, is incredible. I ride a lot and he’s taking on something I wouldn’t even attempt doing, and he decided to do it on his own. Nobody can hear his story and not be inspired by it.”
One thing Connor has learned by preparing for the race is that the mind is stronger than the body.
“I’ve learned that you can always do more than you think,” Connor said. “I’d be out for a long training ride and think that I couldn’t finish it and the next thing I knew I would be done.”
Tiffany added, ”I’ve seen Connor push through so much pain and seen huge personal growth in him and in his confidence.”
Tiffany added that the family is very grateful for the Folsom Fire Department and Folsom Police Department and the community as a whole for their help and support in raising money.
Anyone wanting to read more about Ellison can visit connorsjourney.com, where they can also register to be an organ donor. At the site is also a link to Team Donate Life for more information on the team.
PLEASE VISIT DONATE LIFE CALIFORNIA TO BE AN ORGAN, EYE AND TISSUE DONOR. IF YOU ARE ALREADY A DONOR PLEASE SHARE YOUR DECISION WITH YOUR FAMILY.
TO REGISTER IN YOUR STATE, PLEASE CLICK HERE.