Petaluma High junior Tom Franicevich will swim, run and bike in defense his first-place finish at last year's Ukiah Sprint Triathlon on Sunday, Sept. 11.

Last year, at age 15, Franicevich won the men's 15-to-19-year-old division. The Petaluma High varsity swimmer won the open-water swim portion of the event for men in all age groups.

"It was my first triathlon, and it was a great experience," Franicevich said. "I was able to compete against my friend, Petaluma fireman Trevor Hayes. Trevor was one of the firemen who came to my house on several occasions when I was having some major health problems three years ago. It was great to compete with him and hang out under much better circumstances than a 911 medical response and being loaded in an ambulance. Petaluma firemen are awesome, and some are great triathletes too."

A member of the Petaluma High swim team, the half-mile swim part of the event is no problem for Franicevich. He said he also isn't too concerned about the 21-mile bike ride. "I bike pretty much everywhere I go," he explained, "and I've been taking long bike rides to train."

Then there is the three-mile run.

"That will be my biggest challenge. I'm not that great a runner," he acknowledged. "I plan to go all out in the swim, do well on the bike and try to get through the run."

Franicevich is dedicating this year's triathlon to Danny Cox. While the event is not a fund-raiser, he is urging friends, family, neighbors and fellow Petalumans to donate directly to Cox's family to help pay down his remaining medical expenses.

Cox, a Petaluma High graduate and athlete, died in a car crash on Aug. 7, about a year after a diving accident in Lake Tahoe left him paralyzed from the chest down.

"Danny was a great guy, and I loved his joyfulness. His accident last year affected all of us at school. Then his sudden death a few weeks ago was just too sad. We had just talked on Facebook a couple days before he died," Franicevich said.

"I attended his memorial service and will miss him. I want to dedicate this race to his memory and to his family."

Last month, Franicevich and six other swimmers from Petaluma's Westside Aquaducks Swim Team swam from San Francisco's Aquatic Park, looping around Alcatraz,and back to San Francisco.

"I thought that winning my age group, and placing third overall at the Escape from Alcatraz race last year was a big deal, but this swim took a full hour longer, since we swam to Alcatraz, around the island, and back."

The Petaluma native competed in the 2010 Escape from Alcatraz event, raising money for the American Liver Foundation. He was not able to compete this year because he found himself in the emergency room the night before the event with symptoms related to a rare liver disease that has already cost him his gallbladder and may some day force him to have a liver transplant.

"I understand what Danny and his family went through because I was in a similar situation," he said. "I was in the hospital for a really long time and I know what it means for the family.

"Last year, I raised money for the American Liver Foundation, and that was very satisfying.

"The swim around Alcatraz with my Westside teammates was an epic experience.

"After the race, the other swimmers and I sat down to a big breakfast in San Francisco. That's when we heard the news about Danny's crash that happened the day before. We were all stunned. You wish you could do something to help, but then it's too late. Dedicating my race to him and urging people to donate may be a little something I can do."

Donations to help pay down Cox's medical expenses may be sent directly to: The Danny Cox Rehabilitation Fund, c/o First Community Bank, 100 Second St., Petaluma 94952.