When Stephenville resident Mike Harper prepares to pedal, swim and run his way through a triathlon, he does it with a good cause in mind.

Harper, the head of strength and conditioning for athletics at Tarleton State University, trains and competes in honor of those who are fighting blood cancers, and in memory of those who have lost that fight.

Harper competes as a member of Team In Training, which he says is the No. 1 enurance training program in the nation, with over 35,000 athletes participating. As a member of the program, he is also an advocate for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The LLS helps cancer victims and their families by educating them about blood counselors, providing them with counseling, and in many cases even offering financial support. Several families in Stephenville and Erath County have received assistance from LLS.

Through pledges and donations, Harper plans to raise $7,000 by December 1 of this year. Donors may pledge anywhere from $1-$4 for each of the 32 miles he will complete in his next triathlon. Flat-rate donations are also accepted in any amount.

Harper is currently training for the Lava Man Olympic Triathlon,which is set for April 6, 2008 in Kona, Hawaii. The event features a 0.9-mile swim, a 24.8 mile bike ride and a 6.2 mile run. With transition distance in between the three phases, the race covers a total of 32 miles.

Harper wears hospital bracelets while he trains and competes. When his body aches and begins to tire, they remind him that those who he honors with his performance are fighting pain that is much worse.

“When I think about my honored heroes and what they're fighting, I realize there is nothing tough about what I'm going through right now, Harper said. “It's humbling.

One of Harper's honored heroes is his good friend Jordan Deathe, who fought cancer into remission before suffering a relapse one month after competing in a triathlon in May. It was Deathe who first told Harper about Team In Training.

“These are great programs, Harper said of Team In Training and LLS. “Unlike many organizations, almost every single penny goes directly toward achieving their goal of finding a cure.

Harper has done much research to help achieve his fundraising goal. Blood cancers strike 107,900 Americans each year and kills 60,500. Leukemia is the No. 1 cause of death among Americans ages 1-20. Every five minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer, and someone dies from the disease every nine minutes.

Country music singer and song writer Kyle Wylie once visited a group of cancer patients in a hospital, and was inspired to write the song, “I thought I knew. Harper often receives motivation from the lyrics of the chorus, which go as follows:

“Courage, I thought I had it, but I had nothing next to you. Faith, I thought I knew it, but I never really knew till I met you. I thought I knew hope, I thought I knew strength, I thought I knew hanging on, until I knew you. I thought I was tough, knew about not giving up. Well, I thought I was brave, until I knew you.

Harper isn't just training with himself in mind. He's found a way to use something he loves to do his part in helping find a cure for a disease that affects millions of Americans every single day.

Brad Keith is the sports editor at the Empire-Tribune. He can be reached at (254) 965-3124,ext. 241, or by e-mail at brad.keith@empiretribune.com