I am an athlete. In my life, I’ve been a better athlete, but never a worse one than I am right now. And yet, in my heart, I am still an athlete. This is written without an ounce of self pity or complaining or wistfulness (well, maybe a little of that). I am telling you that I am building myself back up to be an athlete with a big “A,” an “Athlete,” and I’m starting from whatever is below Ground Zero.
For years, decades, I self-identified as an Athlete, sometimes even over the job that paid me.
“What do you do?”
“I’m an aerobics instructor.” (Seriously, that was only used to throw people off the track so I didn’t have to talk about tv news.)
“I’m a triathlete.”
“I’m a runner.”
“I’m a swimmer (wannabe).”
I’ve competed in six Iroman triathlons, 20-something half-Ironman, five marathons, and I can’t can count all the shorter races. My meetings with friends weren’t over lunch or coffee (usually), they were on or after a bike ride or a trail run. Someone told me once that I could actually go somewhere and NOT race when I arrived. I was surprised. If you ever wonder why I keep returning to this theme, this is why. I loved it. I loved almost everything about it, from the insane number of hours training to the feeling that I was going to hurl my Pop Tarts before that 1.2 mile swim. And there is nothing like crossing an Ironman finish line. Nothing. Training and racing, mostly for triathlon, defined me.
I started losing my ability before I lost my desire to be an Athlete. In 2014, I agreed to race Coeur D’Alene Ironman, the ultra distance, one more time, with my friend, Linda. Training didn’t go well. I couldn’t add strength or endurance. I was tired. I waffled. My coach (that I love), Dan, rightly told me that if my heart wasn’t 100-percent into it, I should withdraw. Which, if you know me, was pretty much all I needed to push me to stand on the shore of Lake Coeur D’Alene at 7 am with 2,000+ of my closest friends. I won’t call it a mistake, but it was a long dark day that turned into a long dark evening.
I loved the swim, as usual. I don’t know what it is about swimming with all of those people fighting for the same piece of open water that I like, but I do like it. Then, the 112 mile bike and the marathon inevitably came, and I was D-U-N done. I had nothing but stubbornness. I crossed the line sometime between 10 and 11 pm, and I will never forget Dan, and my other friends (and their kids!) who were still waiting to pull me in. It brought up a combination of relief and gratitude and guilt, as this one was about two hours longer than my longest race. The only reason I finished that race was so I never had to do another one and wouldn’t finish my pretty decent triathlon career with a DNF (Did Not Finish). I raced one race too many; I should have quit after Kona World Championships. Coulda shoulda woulda.
I did find out afterward that the Thymic cancer had returned, in my lung lining (pleura), so at least I had an explanation for my struggles. That was the beginning of my career as a Guinea Pig in clinical trials that have helped keep me alive for another almost four years. And the downward spiral of Athlete to athlete and whatever comes after that. And the redefinition of self.
From that point, 10Ks that I signed up for (and used to race easily and fast often) became sloggy 5Ks, then Smile Miles (I jest). Trail runs have become hikes where I dread the uphill. It’s no longer a matter of IF I will need to take a break on a bike climb, but when and how many times. I can rally, like I did with the Livestrong Kilimanjaro climb, my girls on mountain bikes on the North Rim and the 182 (can’t forget the “2”) two-day Pelotonia ride I finished with the help of some of my Kili climbing pals and Alex last August.
This drug trial that I’ve been on, the CRLX 101, has been particularly hard on my cardio and pulmonary systems. Training with any sort of intensity usually is cut short because I can no longer breathe. Or my heart feels like it’s being squeezed (it is, by tumors in the pericardium). Or I’m just. So. Tired. No one in this trial has stayed in it longer than 6 months because the drug stopped working. I’m right there at six months this week. A perverse side of me wants to get off this trial because I want it to stop stopping me from being an Athlete (there, I said it!). But then realist side of me reminds… me, that so far, the drug combo seems to be working and that it’s not a ridiculous price to pay to be alive and healthy (which is a weird word to describe me). I don’t want to jinx myself by throwing bad juju out there; I’m just being truthful. Cancer creates all kinds of situations that may not make a lot of sense to anyone but the person who’s wrestling with it every day.
And then, there are those earth-shaking reality checks. My friend, whom I met while I was in one of my trials at Georgetown. He also has recurrent Thymic Cancer. But he’s out of options for other trials because of bad liver function. He is nice and funny and resourceful. But now, he’s talking to me about Hospice. WTF? I’ll keep looking for other avenues of treatment for him. Do you know of any open Car-T trials? That’s what he wants.
So here I am, up to 16.83 miles on the bike, and because I have a limited amount of sense, training for yet another 180 mile Pelotonia ride the first weekend in August. I’m ten percent there (almost). Looking back, I don’t know how I did it last year, in the same way that I am in awe of myself at the training and racing I did for Ironman. Where did that come from? WHERE DID IT GO?? I reserve the right to drop back to a shorter distance for the first day, but I want to ride both days with my new (old) team, Relentless Forward Progress. It’s captained by Jeremy, a Kili climbing teammate and two-time cancer survivor who trains for these big rides by…. running. I’m also snooping around to see if an electric bike (like Fabian Cancellara’s (KIDDING!!)) would be a realistic option for me if I do launch myself on the entire ride. But that’s much less appealing than Option One. And Pelotonia launched a new app called Pulll
that gives you cents per mile that walk, run or ride inside or out. Believe it or not, that is motivating to me. I’m up to $7.54 for my Pelotonia fundraising. (You laugh, try it. It’s addictive.)
In any case, I am back on the bike, walking with run breaks (!), building strength back with hot yoga and Pilates and boxing. Trying to put the capital A back on Athlete for myself. And solidifying the redefinition of myself. You know, Adventurer also starts with a big A. #defy #relentlessforwardprogress (even if it’s slow)
PS I have discovered one skill I still possess: I can still take a selfie on the road bike while moving.
PPS If you want to help me get to my fundraising goal at a faster pace than .06 cents per mile on the PULLL app, here’s the link: https://yourpelotonia.org/profiles/public-rider-profile?UserKey=363836