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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