It's often said that tragedy can bring people together, even in the toughest of times.

Despite the hardships, it's amazing to see the amount of strength and determination people possess. A local Ahwatukee Foothills couple proved this by continuing to help the community while spreading awareness of their young son's death.

Daradee and Ross Murray's son, Liam, passed away in early February of 2009. He was only 26 days old, but had four serious and rare heart defects. He had just two chambers in his heart instead of four.

Daradee Murray, owner and agent at Next Door Realty & Property Management, said that she and her husband named their son Liam because it meant "Courageous Warrior." In 2009, they created a foundation in his memory.

"The foundation LoveIAM is involved with raising money for fundraising events," Murray said. "We tell Liam's story and spread love and compassion to others."

While the Murrays were in the hospital, they received a call from Leanne Johnson, who was inquiring about renting one of the Murray's vocational rental properties in Ahwatukee. She found out about Liam's story, became interested, and wanted to help.

Johnson said that she was so touched by the Murray's story that she decided to participate in the Janus Charity Challenge, a fundraiser associated with the Ironman. In doing so, she raised money for the American Heart Association in memory of Liam.

During the months leading up to the Ironman, Johnson said that she and her husband, Scott, stayed in contact with the Murrays. They updated the couple on fundraising efforts and met them in November of 2009. Johnson said they all connected right away and that it felt like they had known each other forever.

"It was amazing," Murray said. "Certain situations bring people together, and we have a lot to talk about, and have so much fun with each other."

Johnson knew all about hard times. Her husband was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease that fills the lungs with thick mucus and depletes lung capacity, when he was very young. In 2001, Scott needed a double lung transplant in order to stay alive.

He said it took more than a year for his lungs to fully inflate and to recover from the transplant. Scott said it was a long process because his body began to shut down when he was in the hospital.

He continued to push on and it took him three months to walk again. To begin running it took more than a year, but Scott has now competed in more than 40 triathlons. His advice for survivors and non-survivors: They should never take a breath for granted.

"Don't give up and never, ever stop believing in miracles," Scott said.

Leanne Johnson, a runner herself, cheered Scott on in 2006 at Ironman Florida. She said it still gives her goose bumps because it had been his third Ironman attempt, and he was determined to finish. She said that when her husband crossed the finish line he made her realize that anything is possible.

"Scott had overcome so many obstacles and, yet, he didn't let any of those obstacles stand in his way," Johnson said. "I vowed that day that I, too, would someday be an Ironman."

She followed through with her promise and is currently preparing for her second challenge. The Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and a 26.2-mile run, performed consecutively in 17 hours or less. Johnson said that next month she, Scott and Ross Murray are attempting the Ford Ironman in Tempe.

"Family and friends with cystic fibrosis should stay active and try to live a normal life," Johnson said. I think this is living proof that when there is a will, there is a way."

The Johnson's story is chronicled in the book, "You Are an Ironman: How Six Weekend Warriors Chased Their Dream of Finishing the World's Toughest Triathlon," by Jacques Steinberg.

In the book, Steinberg follows the Johnsons and several other Ironman competitors, to focus on the tough journey to complete their first Ford Ironman Arizona. The book was released on Sept. 19.

• Kirsten Hillhouse is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a senior at Arizona State University.

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