In September 2009 a friend and I began training for a triathlon. I had always been in good shape and was well conditioned especially after this particular summer because I completed RAGBRAI, a 500 mile bike ride across the state of Iowa. About a month into triathlon training I had chest pain and a few other random symptoms that didn’t make sense. I went to the doctor and after a number of tests the verdict came back in late October 2009 as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. For anyone who is given a cancer diagnosis, it’s a shock at first. But after the initial shock, the competitive drive kicked in and the desire to beat this thing struck deep. During the six months of chemo and a month of radiation I kept looking at the Team In Training website dreaming of the day I would cross the finish line of that triathlon I had begun training for before my diagnosis. Now, after all treatments are complete and by the grace of God, I have been declared in complete remission!!!
I moved to Colorado in January 2011 and immediately joined Team In Training. Team In Training helps train people to participate in numerous endurance activities as a means to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I joined TNT for three reasons: the first was my way to fight back at cancer, the second was to give back to an organization that has helped me with research, finances and resources, and the third was to return to being an athlete again. The training sessions were very tough since I was only eight months post treatment and had just moved to the much higher elevations of Denver, but the coaches and my teammates were very supportive and encouraging. At the beginning I really dreaded going to the pool workouts because I felt like I was going to drown every other lap. After the continual, patient instruction from the coaches, every session began to get easier and I felt stronger after every completed workout. In late April, the day before my year anniversary of completing chemo treatment, I was able to jog six miles without taking a break, which was such a milestone for me in gaining strength and confidence.
Unfortunately, two weeks before the triathlon I developed a staph infection to where I couldn’t do any training, and my doctor strongly recommended I stay out of the water in fear of making the infection worse. The night before the race the wound from the infection was not completely healed so it looked like the tri was going to have to wait. Luckily for me, our Team mentor graciously volunteered to do the swim less than ten hours before the start of the race so I could compete. Everything worked out; my Team mentor did the swim, I biked, ran and completed two-thirds of my first triathlon just five days shy of my year mark of completing all cancer treatments. Although I couldn’t complete the entire tri due to the infection, I never would have thought at this time last year I would be anywhere near a finish line in an Olympic distance triathlon. Crossing the finish line was like a load had been lifted off of my shoulders; I felt healthy again. It still makes me a little emotional when I think of the last 500 yards of the race when a teammate who had finished way before me came back to run with me to the finish. The hugs and high-fives in celebration of life after the race I will never forget.
Training for a triathlon has been so healing – physically, spiritually and emotionally. I will continue to train, first to finish an entire triathlon and then hopefully next year to have a half Ironman in sight. Training has helped me regain my confidence, strength and overall general health. It’s given me a sense of normalcy. Through every practiced “transition” from one discipline to another I’ve also “transitioned” from cancer patient to triathlete. Fight on!!