"It's strictly about giving it 100%," says Eskew. "Putting it all out there, strongest man wins."
Starting by 5am, competing with himself, his regimen is nowhere near as peaceful as it looks. A grueling workout on any given day will involve a stationary bike, riding on the streets of Franklin, running several miles or swimming in Percy Priest Lake. All this, and only physically able to sweat with a fraction of his body due to scar tissue from an accident in 1982. That's when a neighbor doused him with gasoline near a lit match.
"She pitches it without saying a word, splashes me on my right side, hits my friend on his left side," says Eskew. "Hits that spark of a match and immediately we were engulfed in flames."
Eskew was just 8 years old, credited with saving he and his friend's lives when he grabbed a water hose to treat their skin until help arrived.
"I looked at my friend, he's completely charred," says Eskew. "Our skin is literally melting, hanging off."
For over a decade and through about 30 surgeries, he got first-class medical treatment at Shriner's Hospital, regardless of his family's lack of insurance and inability to pay. Burns and burn-related scars cover 65% of his body, and he battles mental scars that date back to the day after his accident, seeing his new image for the first time.
"I don't remember what I saw, all I remember is this horrific monster," says Eskew. "I started screaming uncontrollably. Everybody came in, they had to sedate me to calm me down. It's just an image that stuck with me."
He was told he wouldn't play physical sports again. Relationships would be hard for him to form. His right arm became melted to his side and his neck had become stuck at a 60 degree angle. Eskew lost his right ear to Gangrene, and as a grade school-er, he was picked on and called names. The life he once lived no longer existed.
"I remember crying myself to sleep at night thinking about this," says Eskew.
Young Eskew could only dream that 30 years later, he'd be competing for a spot in the Ultimate Triathlon Kona, a race with a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile marathon run in Hawaii. He turned to sports, determined to be known as something other than "the burn kid".
"I wanted people to treat me normal," says Eskew. "Give me the chances everyone has gotten."
He hit the ground running, active in a variety of sports from the time he was 11 to now. He's now married with 4 children of his own, living as an example and always pushing his limits both mentally and physically. Eskew's training here in Middle Tennessee can't exactly mimic the conditions he'll face in Hawaii, but rough lake waters and a rocky terrain add that much more challenge in training. There's no holding back in his strategy. He monitors his body, staying within 3-5 heartbeats the entire time. He believes his body is more capable than most.
"I lost some things," says Eskew. "But one of the things I gained was a high threshold for pain. I've learned to push through the pain."
Each stroke, pedal and step bring shim closer to Kona, as he campaigns in an online competition to win a slot in the October race. He's sharing his story, his burning desire, through "Kona Inspired". Eskew vows to represent burn victims and raise money for Shriners Hospital and the Phoenix Society, if he's chosen to compete.
"There's a huge community out there that needs hope, needs encouragement," says Eskew. "And it's funny, in my 30 years of doing sports, I've never encountered another burn survivor out there competing."
This is Eskew's 4th year as a triathlete. He's spent months training for Kona, not knowing if he'll even be chosen, but he's not afraid of disappointment, and through his experiences, he's learned to embrace hardship and pain.
"The greatest blessings I've ever received directly result from some of the greatest suffering," says Eskew.
An idea that fuels his burning desire, along his ride, every step he takes, and in every sunrise swim. Shay's goal is not just to finish Kona, but to finish in the top 20%, among the world's most elite athletes. There are only 2 days left to vote fro him online, sending him there. Go to Fox17.com and then click on FOX LINKS for a link to Shay's "Burning Desire". You can see more of our interview with Eskew in the RAW NEWS section of our website.
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