For the past year, his son had been training him for the big event — a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike and then a 26.2-mile run.
Physically, 58-year-old Steve Bean was ready for Sunday’s triathalon. Emotionally, though, he was unsteady, after watching his son slip away in the days before the Chattanooga Ironman.
But the morning after his son’s death, Bean said, he knew he had to try to complete the grueling event.
“I thought he would probably want me to put my shoes on and go for a run,” he told The Washington Post.
For Bean, Sunday’s 17-hour triathlon was an “emotional rollercoaster,” he said. Family and friends were cheering from the sidelines, wearing T-shirts that read “Live with Fire, Run for Cameron” and “Cam Lives.” Bean was battling his own mind, focused on the one who wasn’t there.
His son, 28-year-old Cameron Bean, had set out for a run Sept. 19 along Chattanooga’s Moccasin Bend Road — no doubt to stay in shape for the weekend race. He was headed against traffic. A driver later told police that the sun shot into her eyes and she struck Bean head-on, authorities told the Times Free Press. His father said Cameron Bean suffered several broken bones — an arm, a leg, a shoulder, his neck. He died two days later from a traumatic brain injury.
“I knew I had to finish for him,” Steve Bean said. “We started it together and I wanted to finish it and make him proud.”
Cameron Bean, a Chattanooga native, was a professional runner with almost too much energy and just as much structure, according to his family. He had been running — and winning — since he was in kindergarten, his mother, Lisa Bean, 58, said.
Cross-country quickly became his sport. He competed throughout junior high and high school and accepted a scholarship to run at Birmingham’s Samford University, she said.
For the past several years, he had been with a professional running team in North Carolina called ZAP Fitness. He was known as one of the nation’s top runners, completing the 3,000-meter steeplechase in about 8 1/2 minutes.
Last year, he decided he wanted to get his father onto the track. “I guess he just wanted to get me off the couch,” Steve Bean said, laughing.
The two went to work. Each Monday, Cameron Bean would e-mail his father the weekly workout routine — running, swimming, biking three to four hours a day, six days a week. He sent him one week’s schedule at a time to keep him focused.
Then, two weeks before the triathlon, he sent him a two-week routine.
“Everything fell into place,” Steve Bean said. “He was still taking care of me.”
Last Saturday, Sept. 19, the Beans got a phone call from Cameron’s boss, telling them that their son had been in an accident. They rushed to the hospital and sat by his side for two days before he died on Monday.
The accident is still under investigation, according to police.
After his son’s death, Steve Bean got a call from Zach Winchester, a professional triathlete who wanted to help him compete. Winchester got Bean’s bike ready to ride and packed his triathlon bags.
“He was sent here by Cameron for me,” Bean said.
At 3 a.m on Sunday, Bean got up and headed downtown for the Chattanooga Ironman.
First came the 2.4-mile swim swim: 1 hour, 15 minutes.
“I thought about Cameron the whole time,” Bean said.
Then came the 116-mile bike: 7 hours, 29 minutes.
And then, the 26.2-mile marathon: 6 hours, 22 minutes.
“I cried — a whole bunch,” Bean said. “I would talk to him and just keep on going. He had so much left to do, so much left to accomplish.
“I got it done for us.”
Bean’s friends and family — and some people they had never met — followed him throughout the race. When he crossed the finish line, Lisa Bean was there to hang the medal around his neck.
“It was a very good day in the worst week of our lives,” she told The Post.
“Our hearts are broken but we’re starting a new normal,” she added. “We’re going to do the best we can do. That’s what he would have wanted us to do, so we’re doing it as a tribute to him.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the time Cameron Bean completed the 3,000-meter steeplechase. It was about 8 1/2 minutes, not hours.