'I want to make my sister proud': Man to compete in IRONMAN in honor of Atlanta activist

ATLANTA — A man who lost his sister to an excruciating disease is on a mission to make her proud.

Juan Calle is competing in his first IRONMAN triathlon in honor of his sister, Laura Calle.

Many of you may have known Laura. She was an activist loved by many in the Atlanta area.

In the heart of the city, there is a beautiful mural of her, constructed by New Jersey-based artist Lunar New Year, that’s located along Wylie Street in Cabbagetown.

“When she was about to go into her kidney transplant, that was the pose that she made as she was celebrating beating the disease and moving on,” Juan explained. But just a month later, the beloved 26-year-old passed away.

The picture became the mural you now see. It’s become a symbol of hope, perseverance, courage and never giving up in the face of adversity.

Mural made in honor of Laura, constructed by New Jersey-based artist Lunar New Year. It's located along Wylie Street in Cabbagetown.

Juan tells Channel 2’s Kimberly Richardson that Laura lived to give to others and to the community.

When she passed away in November 2015, friends made stickers that read, “When the city speaks, it screams your name.”


Originally from Colombia, Laura attended high school in Atlanta and graduated from Georgia State University.

She was involved in many non-profit organizations, ranging from a volunteer to a programming director at Living Walls.

“I know that she is proud that I am taking actions and giving back as she always wanted me to do,” Juan said.

[Click HERE to support this incredible brother on his journey] 

For the last two years of her life, Laura battled a rare kidney disease called IgA Nephropathy, which eventually led to acute kidney failure.

Her mother, Patricia Romero Calle, ended up being a kidney match, but there were some complications, and Laura ended up passing away just a month later.

Laura Calle and her mother, Patricia Romero Calle, on kidney transplant day. 

“Since that day, I have been trying to live my life in such a way that will make her proud,” Juan said.

Juan explained that the last couple years were difficult for Laura, as she had to make numerous changes to her daily routine, such as daily dialysis, sustaining from physical activity and dietary changes.

In some way, Juan wanted to do the same. He wanted to endure how his sister felt to understand in some way what she went through.

“I wanted to put myself in the journey of sacrifice,” Juan said. “That’s what she did.”

So, Juan decided in late 2016 to start training to compete in his first IRONMAN triathlon, raising money for the American Kidney Fund.

Juan explains that the organization was a huge source of support and information for his sister through the duration of her illness.

“My sister did everything for others,” Juan explained. “I want to do the exact same. That’s one of the main reasons why I’ve teamed up with them.”

The triathlon will take place on June 11.

The long distance triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride, finishing with a full marathon (26.2) for a total of 140.6 miles, and it all has to be completed in under 17 hours.

Juan explains that this is an easy challenge compared to the battle Laura had to fight for the last two years of her life, and that he will be borrowing some of her courage and tenacity to climb this mountain of a challenge.

“It’s a hard, long and physically demanding event,” Juan said. “My sister will be with me every step of the way, just like I was with her.”

With just a few weeks to go, Juan said he is ready – and can feel his sister with him now more than ever.

“She will be there in my heart and spirit during every stroke in the water, every pedal on the bike and every step in the run,” Juan explains.

Juan Calle preparing for the big day on June 11. 

On the day of the event, she will be with Juan. As a reminder when times get challenging during the race,

Juan will be getting henna tattoos on the inside of his forearms of his sister’s mural, so he can have a clear view of her and of this symbol throughout the entire race.

Her sticker will also be placed on the frame of his bike, and he explained that this has become a symbol of his race as well.

If you'd like to support Juan on his incredible journey, you can donate to his funds HERE. All donations will go to the American Kidney Fund.