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The Endurance Event For Which No One Signs Up

First, A Disclaimer…

I think I bit off more than a I can chew with this blog post.  But you know what?  That’s fine, because I’ve got a big mouth and a small brain, so I should be able to digest any “big” ideas that drift through my head.  

OK.  I’m ready.  Let’s do this.


Looking Forward to the Race

After eight years of training and racing for triathlon, I still get excited when it comes time to sign up for a race:  especially a big race.   That moment of registration is when the race becomes a reality for me.  Before that, it’s just a dream or a fantasy.

There are other endurance events that don’t require registration:  no fees, no memberships, no applications.  I’ve often said that life is an endurance event and training for triathlon is training for life.

Not Everyone Signs Up

Those who battle a debilitating disease are in the midst of an endurance event for which they did not register.

Last Monday I visited my friends Darla and Sheldon at Cedars Sinai hospital in Beverly Hills, California.  Darla is currently battling brain cancer.   I say, “currently,” because that’s not the whole story.   She has survived skin cancer, breast cancer, an inoperable brain tumor, an operable brain tumor and now four more brain tumors.    But wait, that’s not all.

Darla and Sheldon

Last fall, Darla’s mother, Peggy,  traveled across the country to help with recovery from one of the operations.   At that time Peggy was a widow and had been for only a few months.  So the family was going through quite a bit of emotional turmoil.   Within a week of arriving at Darla and Sheldon’s house, Peggy fell ill.  Doctor’s diagnosed her with pancreatic cancer: a very advanced stage.  Caregiver became patient and passed away shortly after.

To say this has been tough on both Darla and Sheldon would be an understatement.  Yet I haven’t heard either of them complain; quite the opposite.   Sheldon’s love for Darla is endless and at the end of a long day at the hospital, he still bounces around greeting guests, helping the attendants and making sure Darla is comfortable.

The end of this story hasn’t been written.  We expect Darla to be discharged from the hospital on November 3: Sheldon’s birthday!  Then two months later she’ll be evaluated to see if treatments are working.

So What’s the Connection to Triathlon?

After visiting Darla, I realized why so many endurance events are associated with a charitable cause.  I’m thinking about Susan G. Komen 5Ks, Team In Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Walk for MS, Jerry Lewis Telethons for the MDA, and the list goes on (don’t get me started on Labor Day Telethon jokes).

For me a really challenging triathlon like Ironman Wisconsin, is, among other things,  a microcosm of a battle with a serious life or death illness.  I can already hear a few readers protesting because I’m comparing a sporting event to cancer, “How dare you trivialize my husband’s disease.”

First of all, I’m not trivializing anyone’s malady.  I would never wish to go through what I’ve seen my friends and family endure: colon cancer, non Hodgkins lymphoma, leukemia, pancreatic cancer, brain cancer, breast cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer,  traumatic brain injury, drug addiction, depression, lupus, parkinson’s, emphysema, alzheimer’s.  Each one has been a difficult struggle.  Some have survived, thankfully.  Others have not.

Second,  if you’re not familiar with an Ironman, let me explain: each participant has 17 hours to complete 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of biking and 26.2 miles of running (in that order).   Muscles ache and cramp.  Food doesn’t always want to stay down.  Blisters make walking unbearable.  Despair is common.  Rational thought can become difficult.  Pain is inescapable.  You should have seen me at the South Beach Triathlon. I was so sick from the ocean swim that I was throwing up all day.  Keep in mind, this suffering is by my own choice and no where near as life threatening as a battle with ALS or pancreatic cancer.

For me the connection is clear.  A difficult race reminds me of the struggles of others.  I want them to know that, in some small way, I empathize with them.  I draw on their stories for inspiration to help me complete my journey and I hope my journey inspires them to never give up.

Dad on the basebars.

I carry my father with me in every race.

Each race I start, I do so with my many friends and relatives who have struggled with pain and uncertainty and infirmity. Sometimes I write their names on my arms. Sometimes I say a little prayer for each of them as I tread water waiting for the race to begin.  I lost my father to prostate cancer in 2010.  His picture is on the base bars of my bike.

No Fees?

Earlier, I said there are no registration fees for these types of endurance events.  That’s only partially true.  There are no fees to get MS, MD, cancer, etc.  But the costs to get out are tremendous.   Most normal families can not possibly afford the treatments, the caregivers, time away from work, etc.

In Sheldon and Darla’s case, Sheldon has been upgrading their house to make it more accessible for Darla.  Among other improvements, he’s added handrails in key locations and will purchase a special bed.


At the very least, I hope Darla’s story will inspire you to think compassionately about those in your life who are enduring with their own struggles.


 Wrap It Up Already.

Like I said, I probably bit off more than I could chew with this blog post.  However, if you see me at a race you can be assured that I’ve got someone on my mind who can’t race. And I bet I won’t be the only athlete like that.

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