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Legs Are Not What Make a Person

Chris Cawley (second from left) after competing in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.

Chris Cawley (second from left) after competing in the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon.

By: Christine Fanning

Name: Chris Cawley
Age: 43
Hometown: Sleepy Hollow, NY
Event: 2011 Escape from Alcatraz

Chris Cawley, 43, believes that the only way to live is on the edge. The active Team Reeve member competed in the 2011 Escape from Alcatraz triathlon in San Francisco, CA.

The 28-mile intensive course requires dedication, regular training, and some motivation. It was about a year ago when Chris dedicated his time towards training. It was almost 19 years ago when Chris gained the motivation.

The better looking one
Growing up, Chris was never lonely; he had his best friend, Bill, by his side. Bill wasn't only that, but his fraternal twin brother as well. The twins are close, and only have one difference, as Chris explains it, "He's the better looking of the two of us, but I'm taller now!"

Bill is living with paralysis from the chest down after a diving accident in 1992 at the age of 24. "It was definitely the worst day of my life," says Chris. "I never lost anyone close to me, and that was the closest I came."

Little Bill and Chris Cawley.

Little Bill and Chris Cawley

Which one came first?
Fighting and rivalry were two things the twins didn't partake in, but there's always an exception. They each stand firm when it comes to the question of who's older.

"I've got him by a whole 7 minutes, he's my little brother," says Bill Cawley. But Chris won't settle with being the little brother, "I think I'm older because I came out second, which means I got in there first." Even though Chris has a very convincing insemination theory, Bill believes he just beat Chris up and stuck him in the corner.

While it may be true that Chris could be older, he will continue his argument saying he's the one who can beat Bill up. "There's nothing more embarrassing than having a quad kick your ass," Bill says regarding his brother's thought. "So I'll give him that one." Sharing the same sense of humor is just one of the positive qualities the twins share.

Chris believes that being a twin was the greatest experience life had to offer. "Two things I tell people about being twins, you have a best friend for life and you never have to worry about who's going to be your best man." While Chris thought it was great knowing right away who his best man was, Bill will joke, "Chris is just lazy, that's all."

In a time of need
Growing up with the same friends, playing the same sports up until high school, and having different taste in women can be some of the reasons the two have such a strong bond. "It was optimal, we had the best situation," Chris explains.

Chris Cawley.

Chris Cawley

"We're very rare in terms of twins," says Chris. "We're best friends, we always have been. We talk a couple times a week."

"When you've got a guy that really understands the stuff you're going through and understands you even better than most, it really helps." Bill explains. "The accident reminded me of that, certainly."

Taking the first flight out
When Bill's accident first happened, Chris didn't know what to expect in terms of the outcome. "We were already tight knit, but it pulled us closer together," Chris explains.

After the accident Bill says Chris didn't hesitate; he took the first flight to the hospital where Bill was. "He was there and made the point that he would be around," says Bill. "Just knowing that he was going to be around and that if I did need him to move (his residence), he would."

The accident scared Chris at first, but later gave him encouragement. "Bill said right then and there to himself that he was not going to live life on their terms," Chris shares about the day of the accident.

Doctors told Bill he would never live independently or have his own family, but Bill proved them wrong. He's now married with four kids (Chris only has two, but he says he'll let Bill win that battle).

"He's still the same character, funny, jokester, loving guy from the chest up," Chris says. "That's all you really need. Legs are not what make a person."

Bill Cawley.

Bill Cawley

Running through the nation
The beginning of Chris's marathon days were inspired by his brother, Bill. "I probably wasn't taking care of my body and myself. I wasn't taking life all that seriously," says Chris. "I started thinking, Wow, I have this full functioning body and I'm not using it to its maximum capacity. I have this brother who would love to actually have the use of his legs and would do anything to have them." That's when he says he knew he had to get on his feet and keep going.

And that's exactly what Chris did. He started in 1996 and competed in three marathons and one triathlon that brought him from New York to Hawaii to Dublin, Ireland to California within four years.

The Escape from Alcatraz triathlon was the second time Chris conquered the intensive course, but this time he created and ran for Team Bill Cawley as part of Team Reeve.

"The fact he just did it because he wanted to do it and then did it so well, I think, made me feel good," Bill explains.

The Rocky Balboa effect
The support came from Bill, but Chris still had to complete the training, "I'm not a health club guy. I need variety, so that's what I did. I did the Rocky Balboa effect without the raw eggs."

The twins have always been close.

The twins have always been close.

Chris trained for the 28-mile triathlon with an intense variety of workouts. Running, biking, rollerblading, wind sprints -- his routine differed each time.

Although the twins were active in high school, before the June 2011 triathlon, Chris was on a 10-year-hiatus from marathons and triathlons.

"I actually trained not knowing I was going to do the triathlon," Chris explains. "I started June 2, 2010. Basically, I had a full year under my belt of four or five workouts a week."

The inspiration Chris had surrounding him helped him complete the 28-mile triathlon in 3 hours and 32 minutes, "I was in a lot better shape for this than I expected to be."

Keeping the presence
"I'm planning on having a second annual Team Bill Cawley at the 2012 Escape from Alcatraz," Chris explains. "We have a presence there and I hope to carry it through and do it annually."

Chris is currently assembling his team for the 2012 triathlon and living by his life's motto, "If you don't live on the edge, you can't see the view."

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Continue Christopher Reeve's LegacyPhoto by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders