To quote Winston Churchill and now Debra Peckumn, “Never, Never, Never give up!” Enjoy the read….
In December 2011, I set two goals for the upcoming year. First, I wanted to get in shape and lose 50 lbs. Secondly, I decided to apply for a position on the team that would serve as caregivers on a trip to Nepal in September 2012, supporting a group of cancer survivors. This would be the third such trip sponsored by Above and Beyond Cancer, an organization whose goal, among others, is to understand the cancer journey is one that can challenge us to discover the strength and courage in each of us, while learning that we may also need to rely on the talents and support of others. Inspired by my friend, Wendy, who received her cancer diagnoses in the Fall of 2010, I knew I wanted to represent her amazing, brave spirit on this journey, where we would carry with us prayer flags to fly at our summit and perform the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.
In late July of this year, I did receive news that I was selected to join the team to Nepal. I was grateful for also having been successful in getting to 90% of my weight loss goal. But, it was “go” time. In six weeks, I would be in the Himalayas climbing mountains and I needed to assess if I was really up to the task. My friend, Wendy, had just lost her battle to cancer on June 18. My inspiration was not only the strength and grace by which she fought her disease, but also that this was the epitome of how indiscriminate cancer really is. By the books, Wendy did everything right – she was a triathlete, healthy diet, lifestyle, active choices, preventative wellness checks. And yet, her initial diagnoses was Stage IV colon cancer with metastasis to the lymph nodes and lungs.
I learned Loran had been Wendy’s trainer, and had modified her regimen throughout her treatment time so she was constantly able to stay active, something she always mentioned as ‘giving her strength’. My contact to him was to have him determine if it was possible for me to train enough in the few short weeks we had to be ready. The first thing he said was yes, but I needed to learn to run. My response was that at age 58, I had never run and with painful knee joints, as a result of many years of competitive racquetball, I wasn’t sure that was going to happen.
He coached me through my fears, whining, and even crying. My first attempt at running one minute/walking one minute for a total of 30 minutes almost reached a point of calling the EMT team after the first 60 seconds, after which I was certain my watch was not functioning. Five weeks later and one day before I was getting on a plane to Nepal, I drove out to Raccoon River Park for my final outing. Each time in between that my goal was to go further than the time before and further than I thought I could possibly go. So, I put my ear buds in and started out, praying for this to be a strong outing and asking my dad, who has been gone for 30 years, to be the wind beneath my wings. My previous longest run length had been 22 minutes before a minute rest. This morning I made it 30 minutes running, took a 90 second walk break and finished my 4.2 mile route with another continuous 14 minutes of running. It’s turtle speed, I realize. But, I knew I was ready.
I’m still processing my trip to Nepal. But, I was physically ready and never struggled for leg strength or cardiac readiness. I summited two peaks – one at 16,000 ft. and the other at 18,500 ft. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done – life altering, without question. Altitude sickness took me out of the running to attempt the final 20,000 ft. peak. But, it didn’t matter. That was what my journey was meant to be and I learned a lot about myself and my personal mettle. I felt so proud to take Wendy’s spirit with me as we flew over 1000 prayer flags at Imja Tse (Island Peak) of persons in the cancer journey – those who are still fighting and those who have lost their battle
And, it wouldn’t have happened without the support of Coach Loran, who believed in me and told me I could do it, when I wasn’t sure I believed in myself. I admit that it helps to have a goal – a big one. Mornings, at 5 a.m., it was mostly fear that was my motivator when I wanted to turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. Not fear about my Coach, because he provided unconditional support – “it’s about progress, not perfection”, he says. And, when it came to those absurd mountain climbers he was having me do, that was an excellent mantra, as I was determining if the wet pool on the floor, after that exercise, was more sweat or tears. It was fear to reach my fitness goal. I knew I had to be my best, because this was going to be a challenge. Coach Loran made it possible, and for that, I’ll be forever grateful. Wendy’s spirit lives on as she made one more amazing thing happen in my life.