The First Triathlon

We are capable of so much more than we think. If we push ourselves and keep our hearts open we can accomplish amazing things, meet wonderful people and be a part of a larger community.

I was diagnosed with two forms of blood cancer in November of 2005. By mid-2006 I had finished the main course of treatment, the aggressive form of cancer was gone and the slow growing form of the cancer was diminished and I was in a “maintenance” treatment phase. Every few months I would go to the treatment center and get a dose of a biologic drug, called rituxan.

Prior to being diagnosed with cancer I was not in the greatest shape. I had gotten chubby. I exercised infrequently and like most of us I ate too much, too often and the wrong things. In my particular case being treated for cancer did not lead to weight loss, I had actually gained weight.

When I was younger I had always wanted to do a triathlon. Actually at one point I did a triathlon as a part of a team. I did the swim portion. It was in the early 1980’s and triathlon was still an emerging sport. I don’t remember much about the event, except that my swim was slower than I had hoped.

So 20 years later after finishing the main phase of cancer treatment I decided it was time to have a do-over of my not so great swim and to do a complete triathlon. My oncologist at the time is a woman that I have come to love and respect. She is fierce. During a regular follow-up visit in early 2007, my blood had been drawn and I was back in the infusion room for a little spa treatment, Dr. W came back to visit with Julie and I and review the blood work. After reviewing the results of the lab work I decided to ask my doctor about my simmering plan to do an Olympic distance triathlon. She looked at me for a moment and said something to the effect of, “sure go ahead, there is no reason not to, just don’t have a heart attack.” So I was off.

I signed up with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) “Team in Training” program in February or March of 2007. It was wonderful. There were a few people who were my age (middle 40’s) and many in their twenties and thirties. We would meet at the pool every Wednesday evening for a swim work out and then again on Saturday for a bike or running work-out. Our goal was to complete the nearly one mile swim, twenty-five mile bike ride and the six point two mile run while raising money for LLS. I met wonderful people many of whom had a personal connection to the cause of LLS. I was able to get my chubby self in decent shape and most importantly I soaked in the energy, enthusiasm and fellowship that a shared activity such as this fosters.

On hot days when the run seemed really hard I would think, “This is easier than chemo.” On what then seemed like a long bike ride, when my backside was really sore and I was hot I would think, “this is easier than chemo.” On the days we would swim in Lake Michigan, an open water swim, as opposed to swimming in the pool, and the waves would be making me nauseous, and the turnaround buoy seemed forever away, I would think, “This is easier than chemo.” That phrase became my mantra, sustaining me on cold, rainy, hot or windy days. It was all easier than chemo.

Eventually the day came and I successfully completed the triathlon, raised a lot of money with the generosity of family, friends and business associates. There were important things about that event and the triathlons, bike rides and the half-ironman events that followed. I met people and made friends that I cherish today. Just as importantly, these events made me feel so incredibly alive and prepared me for the many big fights to follow.

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