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)

She grabs spandex shorts, shoes that clip to her pedals and other items for the long bike ride ahead. Volunteers stand ready beside vats of sunblock to slather her up.

She leans over the barrier to give him a kiss.

"I still hate swimming," she grumbles.

His face next to hers, he tells her to get back in the race. She rushes off to claim her bike.

They were supposed to enter this race together last year. But two weeks before the competition, Lawrence collapsed in the restroom of a Marina del Rey restaurant. Triathlon club friends found him on the floor, bleeding. He said he had hit his head but didn't know how. The friends called 911 and Beth.

She rushed to Centinela Hospital in Inglewood, where her husband of six months was on a gurney, apologizing to nurses for bleeding and vomiting. He did not recognize her.

Doctors told her that the accident had triggered a series of strokes. A CT scan revealed a blood clot pressing his brain stem. Surgeons operated that night to remove the clot and Lawrence slipped into a coma.

The next day, as Beth waited outside the intensive care unit, a doctor approached. He said her husband was brain-dead and she should consider taking him off life support.

She went to the hospital chapel.

In their marriage, Lawrence had always been the one to make the major decisions. She liked letting him take the lead. She never thought he would falter. She remembered a movie they had watched in which someone was on life support. Lawrence had said he didn't want to wind up like that.

"I was scared, but deep down I always knew that this was not how our story would end," Beth said.

He is in there, she thought. I just have to reach him.

Beth speeds past Tempe's red rock mountains and straight into the desert in the heat of the afternoon, the start of her 112-mile ride. Her black-and-white racing bike, the one she nicknamed "The Dark Phoenix," is balanced on Zipp 404 carbon tubular racing wheels borrowed from her husband.

Wary of the race's intricate rules, she keeps a cushion of four bike lengths between her and the racer ahead.

When she passes her husband, he is looking at his watch, checking her time. He had warned her not to sprint at the beginning, to save her energy. He smiles. She is doing well.

Then the desert winds pick up. They beat her face, dry from the saltwater and stinging from the relentless sun. Rounding a curve, she hits a head wind that makes the flat course feel as if she is riding uphill.

This is exactly what Lawrence trained her for.

Still, she is frustrated. She is a fast cyclist, usually doing about 18 mph. Now she is moving about 11 mph. After this, she has to run a marathon. She remembers facing a similar head wind during a 90-mile ride with Lawrence in San Diego before he was injured.

"You can't fight the wind," he told her then. "Go with it."

In the days after her husband's accident, doctors said the pressure inside his head was so intense that it threatened to squeeze his brain out through the base of his skull, like toothpaste.