Brian Guillen : To My Good Friend, Bikermomma--
I will always remember you as one of the toughest women around. I know this because I witnessed your mental and physical strength firsthand on the 2008 Ironman World Championship race course. You conquered the most challenging race under the most grueling conditions on the World's stage for all to see. And while the fittest professional athletes only had to face those conditions for eight hours, you--at the age of 57--endured a relentless, athletic torture for 16 hours and 30 minutes!!! You did it!
This strength and perseverance was not uncharacteristic or out of the ordinary for you. It was everything I knew to be Bikermomma. And I smile now knowing that you are still on your golden steed, tucked in a tight arrow position. And, of course, you are rolling through the heavens on Zipp 808's.
Kathy Morrisson- In 2010 a group of women on RTB decided to train for the Oliver Half Ironman together. We hired a coach and did much of our training together. The culmination of the training was the race. There were 8 of us that went to that race together and became known as the "Oliver Girls". Nancy had a blast on that trip. She married young and hadn't had a lot of opportunities to have a "girlfriend weekend". There are many great and silly memories from the trip and I know all of the Oliver Girls are thankful for that opportunity.
Linda McCandless- It’s hard to even imagine she is not with us anymore. I am still in disbelief. She was such an inspiration and an amazing woman. Her positive twist on everything she did or said, will ALWAYS stick in my mind when I think of Nancy. There was never a time I heard a negative statement from her! Her home was always immaculate and on holiday’s decorated to the hilt. We were having an “Oliver Girl’s” gathering this past December on a Monday night: She showed up the Monday night the week prior. She came right in my house, took her shoes off and said where is everyone?! With a BIG hug and Smile; she said, Oh darn, when I told her it was the next week… Another big hug, and a “See you next week”! This was the last time I got to see Nancy. I feel like I have so much more to say, and I am not sure how to say or share it all!
Karen Nolting- I like the story about Nancy at Kona. She had a really tough, windy ride and watched several athletes get knocked off their bikes due to fatigue and strong winds. When she came off the bike she told the transition volunteers she wasn't going to continue. They asked her lots of questions to be sure she was lucid. Is anybody at that point in the game? The volunteers determined she was physically ok. They continued to get her dressed and sunscreened and out the door. Once she was out, what else could she do??? She ran! She found a friend and together they "ran a pole, walked a pole" and together they finished. She always persevered!
Dec. 2013 at a poker run. Rick had just a few more radiation therapies for his submandible salivary gland cancer. But, Nancy ran up to him to ask how he was doing. It took him off guard because he knew she had been fighting breast cancer but went out of her way to see how he was doing.
On the Thursday rides I would sometimes hang back to accompany Nancy. But, I never had to wait long. She would ride up drenched in sweat with a huge smile on her face and giggling happy as could be and saying how much she loved riding with the group.
Kristine Kloepfer- The last time I saw Nancy Larson was a while back at a Thursday ride and she was working hard at getting her cancer recovery fitness. I hadn't seen her for awhile and was looking forward to chatting with her about how she was feeling and just catching up. I had decided to hang back with her during the ride. I should have known that ride would turn into me working my butt off trying to keep up with her. She was an incredibly strong rider. Whenever I hear how much it sucks to get old my plan is to age like Nancy did!!! Strong, Fast, and a Kona finisher!!!!! My admiration for my fellow Oliver Girl overflows and I am praying for all those who loved and lost her!
Alissa Anderson- I really enjoyed riding with Nancy on Thursday mornings. She always had a smile on her face and a kind word to say. Nancy was so strong to the very end. One of my memories of Nancy is often driving past her while she biked up the hill from Winterwood, both of us on the way to Kathy's house for the Thursday morning ride. She was tough and fearless! Love ya Nancy!
Wendy Graves- (This is an excerpt written March 2015 by Wendy) I've struggled with how to phrase this particular post because I didn't want to insult Nancy by calling her "old". But I really wanted to talk about role models. I wanted to talk about women that make me think that I CAN continue to be physical and accomplish new and exciting goals as I get older. I don't believe my glory days are behind me. I think they are still in my future. And watching women like Nancy (and the ones at last night's event) gives me great hope.Thank you to all of the trailblazing women! Thank you Nancy!
Val Newell - I always had a soft spot in my heart for her. She "talked me out of the tree" the first time I showed up at a Wednesday night Lake Meridian workout. I met her in the parking lot and she asked my name and I told her I was so nervous and she giggled and said "oh come on, nothing to be nervous about. " and she walked me over to the shelter and hung out with me. We also had a good laugh at a poker run one Saturday when my Aces beat her pathetic 3's.
I can remember bragging about her to my neighbor I was riding with around black diamond when I met her on the road....over and over again. She was doing a 100 miler training for Kona .There was just something about her that made me feel comfortable. Same with Marty. If her life aspiration was to inspire....Mission Accomplished! She will be missed.
Patty Swedberg - One of the most delightful things I learned about Nancy had nothing to do with triathlons or racing - it was the Larson backyard. Marty's business had him remodeling McDonalds restaurants for many years and in the process they acquired not just a few McDonaldland characters. The older ones of us will remember those....Ronald, Mayor McCheese, the Hamburgler. They are hiding in the bushes of the Larson's backyard, behind the Larson home beautifully and carefully decorated. And that was Nancy - making the world lovely and with surprises and delighted.
Rest in Peace, Sweet Nancy. Our hearts go out to you, Marty, Tim, and Dawn.
"There's something about the sport of triathlon that pulls you in and hangs on pretty tight. It's more than swimming, biking, and running. It's the unseen values the sport gives that are so powerful. Values like Strength, Self-Respect, Determination, Challenge, Camaraderie, Hope, Courage, & Growth. Raise the Bar is about uncovering those values in the world of triathlon. We work with novice and elite athletes, men and women. Our standard is pretty simple. We want everything we do to be about excellence - because the people knocking on our door seem to be about that too. We figure if we're all headed that direction, somebody's likely to get there!" RTB 2006
That text came from a circular we put together a decade ago - coincidentally the year we invited men to join the team. Not such a bad idea! I'm very aware of how much Raise the Bar has changed over the last 10+ years. When I read the old circular, I was more than a little delighted about how much has also stayed the same.
So what's next at RTB? Well, we need to respond to the rumblings and grumblings ;) of the triathletes who are living in the southern reaches. Places like Algona..Edgewood...Puyallup...Tacoma. Take a look at this map that shows where our team members live. You are everywhere - but most noticeably there's a growing number of you in the south end. It turns out a few of our major sponsors have also opened up shop down there - or are in the process. Kriss Chiropractic, Center for Diagnostic Imaging, Outpatient Physical Therapy... The home office of Hester Law Group is already down there. It's a whole new region for Raise the Bar!
How did it all start?
Although I played team sports in high school and recreationally in college, I didn’t do much after graduation and through my 30’s. In my early 40’s, while living in Spokane, I started running and cycling with a group at a YMCA who were a bunch of what I considered “crazy” triathletes. Nice enough people, I thought, but just not right in the head… At the time I was considerably over-weight, had never learned to swim and was afraid of open water, so a triathlon just seemed inconceivable. In 2008, a friend and I decided to register as a team for an all-women sprint triathlon called WonderWoman; I would bike, she would run and we would find a swimmer. We all know how easy that is, right? Needless to say, a swimming teammate was never secured. My so-called friend, gave up her run spot and convinced me to race solo. So with a month of “swimming” practice, I figured I could fake it with the help of a wetsuit. Well, the race was mid-August and water temp too high, so they banned wetsuits the morning of the race. The swim start did not go well and I never made it to the first buoy before securing a death-grip in the first kayak that came within arm’s reach. I got a boat ride back to shore and was DQ’d by having my timing chip removed. The race official told me I was done, but I asked her if the bike and run courses were closed to the just the race participants. Smiling, she replied they were not. I was determined to at least do those portions and while out on the course I made a promise to myself – I wasn’t going out this way and that I would finish one triathlon and then never have to do one again. I was in the pool that Monday morning and spent the next 10 months learning to swim. I completed my first sprint triathlon the following June, one thing lead to another and two years later, I completed the 2011 Ironman Coeur d’Alene.
How did I come to RTB?
In October of 2013 I relocated from Spokane for a job with the City of Covington Parks & Recreation Department. I came solo and didn’t know a soul here. I had been very involved with the Spokane triathlon club, Team Blaze and appreciated how wonderful it was to have supportive teammates to train and race with. I was hoping to find something like that here on the west side. Little did I know, I landed in the epicenter of Raise the Bar universe! My first introduction was through Northwest Tri and Bike shop when I broke off my derailleur by having it caught in the rear wheel spokes while racing my first month here. The shop was great and I soon discovered their relationship with RTB and I was in! Shortly after joining, I attended the 2014 Kick Off party and knew I had joined the right club. I very much appreciate all the coaching and organized training available to us, the professional level of management and I especially love how everyone is so supportive and welcoming! I happily trained and raced with the team in 2014, making many new friends and becoming of part of the wonderful RTB family.
I also started trail running and racing more during the winters to cross train and was contemplating shifting into ultramarathons for the upcoming year. Progressing into longer trail distances made it too difficult to train for both sports and I had to make a choice. But a medical diagnosis in December 2014 solidified my choice.
After months of nerve-wracking medical testing and two days before my very first 50k trail race at Deception Pass, I was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. That day, I made the decision that even though I had every excuse to stop training and racing, I was going to continue. Just like that first sprint triathlon; I was going to keep moving forward to the best of my ability. I decided this disease wasn’t going to define me, but only be a part of who I am. I’ve discovered that training and racing is my way of dealing with this and it gives me the sense that I’m still in charge of my life.
My blood disorder is progressive and incurable, but treatable. In a nutshell, my blood produces too many platelets and red blood cells (I actually have two disorders, being the over-achiever that I am…) At three times the acceptable range and continually increasing, too many platelets puts me at a higher risk of blood clots. (Just the perfect thing to have when you love running 20 miles in the woods by yourself, right?) I am currently using daily aspirin to prevent clots, but at the current rate of progression, within a year I will be on low-dose chemotherapy indefinitely. The red blood cell situation is managed with regular phlebotomies and I’ve discovered regular, intensive cardiovascular-oriented exercise helps to keep those numbers down. Yay!
I have several symptoms the most significant of which is being fatigued – it feels like you are walking around with several of those wacky dental office lead blankets on and your brain gets foggy, too. However, one of best ways to counter fatigue is exercise! Ha – that I know how to do! I have found if I balance it right and work out 5-6 days a week, I can keep it more manageable. The hardest times, though, are when I stop moving for a period of time, it’s hard to get going again – mornings, needless to say, are the hardest.
This condition is rare, found in 1 in 100,000 people and usually happens in folks 70 and older. There are lots of unanswered questions and I struggled with my first doctor. When I asked how badly symptoms would be and how they might affect my trail running, he chuckled and replied “Well, let’s just say you won’t be running any marathons”. Every time I went for a visit, he would ask me “Are you still doing that jogging thing?” Seriously? He didn’t get it, I was furious and needless to say, he is no longer my specialist. By the way, that was more than 1,300 running miles ago, so I guess I am still doing that jogging thing. I am currently under the care of a great doctor at Seattle Cancer Care who supports and encourages my endurance training. In addition, he asks me to speak at workshops about my multisport endurance lifestyle to inspire other patients to become active.
My prognosis is uncertain; it ranges from having a normal life span to this condition turning into leukemia. I know my condition and symptoms will progress and increasingly impact my training and racing efforts, making it harder to do the things I love. But for now, I’ve decided I will keep doing it until it’s not fun anymore. I may not be able to control what’s happening with my body, but I can control my attitude and that counts for a great deal.
Where am I going from here?
I spent most of 2015 trail running and racing (found it hard to do both triathlons and ultramarathons) completing numerous trail marathons, three 50k’s and a 50 miler attempt (grrrr – I’ll be back to get that someday). It took some time, but I found the solitude of the trails a perfect place to process my new perspective on life and how I was going to deal with the situation. My highlight of the year was the Volcanic 50k trail race - circumnavigating Mt. St. Helens in early September. An absolutely amazing, mind-blowing course and during the race, after feeling betrayed by my body and being angry for almost a year, I came to peace with my blood disorder. I was finally able to feel grateful for what my body could do and now I try to focus on that.
In an interesting twist, this situation has provided a gift to me – now I am grateful every time I can swim, bike, run, snowshoe, play in the woods and be active. I get to work out. When I’m running on the trails, riding my bike and even swimming endless laps in the pool, my cancer doesn’t exist. I feel “normal” and think, I can’t have anything wrong with me – I'm still moving! In addition, I am no longer nervous when I step up to a race start line, but incredibly grateful! Don’t be surprised to find me shedding a tear or two at the beginning of a race or after I finish, I just become overwhelmed with gratitude knowing these situations are limited. In addition, each race I complete feels like I’m generally flipping off my cancer.
And in the big picture, this disorder is only a part of what I deal with in my training. I also have an unhappy Achilles, trouble with my hip and nutrition issues. We all have our challenges and that’s what is so amazing about our sport - how everyone works overcome their own challenges. Each of my RTB teammates are an inspiration to me and I'm proud to be a part of such an amazing group of people.
What's next for me?
This year, I have decided to come back to triathlons with Ironman Coeur d’Alene 70.3 in June on the schedule among other tri races. I realized how much I missed my teammates and friends. For me, that’s what it really comes down to – doing what you enjoy with people doing the same! The RTB family is supportive and caring; cheering for each other; gently (or not so gently) pushing one another; holding each other accountable in good ways; and endlessly encouraging one another to do our own personal best whatever that may be – all while leading an active lifestyle. It doesn’t get much better than that!
Thank you for allowing me to share my story and thank you for inspiring me as a teammate to keep moving forward! Now, if I could just get this rascally Achilles to behave…
Raise the Bar
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