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Salt Lake City father, son who both beat cancer compete in 'The Amazing Race'

Published: Saturday, Feb. 16 2013 12:30 p.m. MST

Connor O’Leary has been a fan of “The Amazing Race” since he was little and always wanted to compete in it.

“I thought my dad and I could be so good at this,” said 21-year-old O’Leary, who is a professional cyclist.

They’ve got a shot to find out.

The father-son team from Salt Lake City is one of the 11 teams who will circle the globe in this season of “The Amazing Race,” which premieres Sunday evening on CBS.

“I’ve loved the places they go,” O’Leary said of the show. “I love competition. To be kind of racing other people around the world is just pretty neat.”

O’Leary and his father, Dave O’Leary, 58, are both cancer survivors.

Dave O’Leary is a prostate cancer survivor and was diagnosed five-and-a-half years ago.

“A friend of mine prompted me to go in” and be checked, he said. The cancer was removed through surgery. The friend died two summers ago.

Connor was diagnosed with testicular cancer in the summer of 2010.

“He went through not only surgery but chemotherapy,” Dave O’Leary said. And then, there were complications that gave him another near-miss with death.

Both are now free of cancer.

“So far, so good,” the younger O’Leary said.

“You still sweat every blood test,” his father added.

The pair started preparing once they applied to the show, even before they found out if they had had been accepted.

“We took the positive approach,” said Dave O’Leary, who is the Cub scoutmaster in the Holladay 25th Ward, Salt Lake Holladay South Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “We really started preparation not knowing we would be on the race. … It never hurts to be in shape.”

Their planning and preparing took several different forms.

They swam, ran, biked and hiked with backpacks to get ready.

“My dad is super scared of heights,” Connor O’Leary said. They went on the roller coasters at Lagoon to help with that.

They watched every season of the show that includes challenges, puzzles and clues as they try to beat other teams in the race from country to country.

“We did spreadsheets on what the challenges were, which one of us might do it and do best at it and how we were going to decide what we're going to do,” Dave O’Leary said. “And then, you get in the race and you forget all of that.”

They do have a few things they hope will give them an edge over the other teams.

Connor O’Leary is the youngest of five children and the only boy.

“He and I are best friends,” Dave said. They’ve gone skiing, ice fishing and had other adventures together. David has also gone to several of Connor’s races in various countries, including Italy, Spain, Cayman Islands, Mexico and Canada. Dave brought his bike along, too.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount together and know each other really well. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Dave said. “I’ve watched Connor do the hardest things imaginable … and frankly I know it would be me just trying to keep up.”

And as a professional cyclist, Connor O’Leary races for a living and has been in many competitive situations.

“What I love to do is race and win,” said Connor O’Leary, who raced for the Under-23 USA National Team and for the pro-continental team. “I think that really came into play on the race … in those high-intensity situations (you) keep your head on straight.”

And it’s been an experience the father-son duo sporting yellow won’t soon forget.

“To watch it is amazing and doing it is even more amazing,” Dave said. “It was a real race. It was an all-out adrenaline rush.”

“The Amazing Race” airs Sunday evenings on CBS.

Email: rappleye@desnews.com Twitter: CTRappleye

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