Beth Fong

Beth Fong watches the monitors as her husband, Lawrence Fong, recovers from a surgery at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. Lawrence Fong , a sports chiropractor , triathlete and iron-man competitor, slipped and fell in a restaurant bathroom last year and became comatose. Doctors told Beth Fong that he was brain-dead. (Spencer Weiner / Los Angeles Times)

Beth Fong paces in her wetsuit around the grassy park overlooking Tempe Town Lake, contemplating the grueling daylong race ahead.

She has trained for months to swim, bike and run the nearly 141-mile Ironman triathlon. Her father, standing behind her, tightens the zipper on her suit so it hugs her slight 5-foot-2 frame. At 29, Beth is in the best shape of her life.

She scans the crowd of 2,400 wearing black wetsuits and red-and-white swim caps. She is looking for her coach, her husband, in his wheelchair. Lawrence Fong, 36, had promised to see her off before the race.

Barefoot in the 50-degree November morning, Beth tucks her brown bob into her swim cap, the one with "I hate swimming" scrawled across the top. Her face is grim. She grew up near here and knows the water is salty and cold enough to turn fingers, toes and lips blue.

The triathletes have started filtering down to the lake. She can see a flotilla of heads bobbing in the waves. Beside them, officials float on speedboats, bullhorns and stopwatches poised.

It's just minutes before the 7 a.m. start, and Beth can't wait for her husband any longer. She will have to go on without him.

He proposed as she crossed the finish line of her first triathlon in April 2007.

Beth Kallok had been a Hollywood party girl who joined a triathlon program for fun, more interested in meeting new friends than becoming a serious athlete.

Lawrence, a buff athlete and sports chiropractor, coached the group. Beth thought he was arrogant. She ignored his strict training rules and stayed out all night. On one of their first runs, she was so hung over she had to stop to dry-heave.

But during the next few weeks, she realized she had misjudged him. He was strong, not arrogant. He knew what he wanted and was willing to sacrifice for it.

So was she.

A year and a half after they met, Lawrence and Beth were married April 19, 2008, at Wayfarers Chapel in Palos Verdes. Under his tuxedo, he wore a triathlon singlet. She scrawled her age on her calf with a Sharpie, a triathlon tradition, and flashed it during the garter toss.

On their honeymoon in Hawaii, they kept training. One day, they ran 16 miles, surrounded by black volcanic rock radiating heat. That fall they planned to run their first Ironman together.

Lawrence arrives about 10 minutes before the start of his wife's race. In a nearby parking garage, his mother-in-law, Cathy Kallok, helps him from the car, only to discover the elevator is broken. By the time they make their way to the course, Beth has disappeared into the crowd.

On a bridge overlooking the lake, he scans the water but can't pinpoint her. Already, his morning had been full of frustrations. Beth had helped him dress the night before and packed a bag of supplies. But it was up to him to get out of bed and into his wheelchair, to brush his teeth and lift himself from his wheelchair into the family car.

With the race underway, his mother-in-law wheels him to a fenced-off holding area near his wife's cycling supplies. He is excited for her, but also frustrated. He wants to be competing too.

After an hour and a half, Beth emerges from the lake shivering and bruised.

Swept up in the stream of bodies, she was unable to break free. Other swimmers pushed her underwater. Just as she managed to find a pocket of space, someone's elbow struck her in the temple. By the time she completed the 2.4-mile swim,her goggles had been knocked off four times.

Lawrence sees her jog up, still wet and shivering. They had not been out of contact for this long since his accident a year earlier.