The race weekend is almost over and once again, Subaru Muskoka Ironman 70.3 lived up to all of its glory. Hosted by the best race organizers in the business – Mitch and Janet Fraser – athletes were treated to an amazing weekend of sport in perfect temperatures on a spectacular, challenging course! Dave and I are quite involved in this race and we are so passionate about helping to make this event a ‘special’ 70.3 – not a business – but a sporting experience blending family, friends and competition.
For me, this race is my passion. I have raced for the past 20 years and so much of my racing history has taken place in Muskoka. Whether it was trying to win our yearly local Muskoka Triathlon in the 1990’s, competing in the 1992 World Championships, running away from the men in Subaru Muskoka Chase in the 2000’s or now, racing International athletes at our very own Ironman 70.3, Muskoka is ‘triathlon home’ for me. And so, even though I would have liked to end my race season on a winning note with my victory at Philippines 70.3, my heart wanted to close out 2009 in Muskoka.
Why was this such a hard decision? For most of this year, I have been battling some CF related health issues. For most of my career, I have competed mostly healthy save for a few brutal infections but never anything chronic. After IMC 2008, my doctor found that my lungs were growing a nasty bacteria called pseudomonas – a condition which can become chronic and lead to lung damage. The result was that I had to begin inhaling IV antibiotics twice per day beginning in February. We discussed whether or not I should be racing but the conclusion was that I would be even healthier after killing the pseudomonas so I should continue competing. During that treatment, I was on and off of antibiotics to battle one infection or another but I never really got healthy. The good news was that I was pseudomonas free so the inhalation therapy worked. BUT, the inhalation therapy led to other problems. Of course, my results lacked the pizzazz I enjoyed for much of my career but my love of racing was still there.
Basically for the past 6 months, I have been on 5 courses of oral antibiotics, inhalers and on the inhaled IV antibiotics but I kept getting sicker. By August, my cough was getting more severe and my lung capacity was starting to drop and not rebound the way it had rebounded after clearing an infection. We started a new inhalation therapy to try to clear my lungs. It would clear my lungs but my lung capacity continued to drop. I really don’t know how I raced so well in Philippines – but I managed to pull out the victory. Two days after winning that Ironman 70.3, I went to St. Mike’s Hospital for another attempt to solve my cough and inability to breathe and my lungs were now down to 75% of their normal capacity. The crazy thing is that there is no question that I was unwell but the doctors didn’t want to give me more drugs – they wanted to clear my body of antibiotics and test me again in two weeks.
Two weeks brought me to Tuesday, the week of Subaru Muskoka Ironman 70.3. The diagnosis was that my lungs are growing a fungus that is normally occuring in the environment so on its own, it isn’t bad. But, as a result of the CF, I have developed an allergy to the fungus growing in my lungs! So it is sort of like being allergic to a cat and wearing a cat around your neck all day and all night!
That allergy is driving down the ability for my lungs to work and let’s face it, I need my lungs to work. The reality of this diagnosis – that I am actually not running on properly working lungs in a sport that requires 100% lung function – was hard to hear! Dave didn’t want me to race in Muskoka. I didn’t want to lose in Muskoka but I wanted to race. I love swimming, biking and running. I have always said that you do the best you can with your deck of cards. I am blessed with CF and I have had the most fantastic, full, wonderful career in spite of CF and yet because of CF. I have won 11 Ironmans and 11 Ironman 70.3 events while having CF. That is a miracle. And in my heart, in spite of really suffering from CF with this allergic reaction and reduced lung capacity, I wanted to race for all of those with CF that cannot race. I wanted to race for all the children at Sick Kids that cannot race. To not race Muskoka because I was not going to win would be a dis-service to my career. My career has been about sharing sport, loving sport and doing sport. The winning has been the bonus.
I also knew that on Tuesday – 2 days after the race – I would be right back at the CF Clinic at St. Mike’s Hospital beginning a pretty potent drug therapy program – I can’t even talk about it because it makes me so upset. I promised the doctor that I would never run or bike hard ever again and that I would be fine to survive on 75% of my lungs just so that I can avoid the proposed drug cocktail – but they will not allow me to cause permanent lung damage. And so, in 2 days – on Tuesday – I will be 100% devoted to getting healthy – and this will be the hardest race for me – because I won’t like the journey!
Because I don’t know what the future will bring, I had to race Muskoka! Besides, in a weird kind of ‘positive thinking’ way that is ingrained in my soul, I really thought I was getting better. I was still having my coughing attacks and my body lacked power and my heart rate was through the roof, but I really did feel better and I was convinced that with a bit of adrenalin, I could have a great race!
I must say that I woke up feeling so incredibly happy and calm. There was nothing I wanted more than to race my favorite sport in Ontario’s favorite triathlon playground. I felt good in the swim and exited with my usual deficit but nothing to sound the alarm bells. I felt ok on the bike – my tongue was down to my knees as I gasped for air but I loved it. The sun was shining, the roads were like roller coasters, there were people out walking dogs, the leaves were changing color – I was having a ball. I was falling further and further back but I was not discouraged. This was my choice to race and I was doing the best I could with my deck of cards. Starting the run, I was still very happy but the gasping for air was certainly tough and my lungs were hurting. Again, I reminded myself of my choice to be there and there was still no where I would rather be. I had a little scare at 3 km when I coughed up some blood but I knew it was just because my lungs were working so hard. I so desperately wanted to finish the race – to finish what I started – to do the best with my deck of cards – and so I slowed down to take the stress off of my lungs and promised myself that one more sign of blood and I would walk. During my slower paced run, I thought about Carter, the young boy with CF that I crossed the finish line with at the Hawaii Ironman. I thought about Kaitlyn, our 13 year old patient ambassador from Sick Kids who has endured 30 surgeries. I thought about my long term health and how my life with my husband Dave is really just getting started. I thought about how grateful I was to be running – even if it was slow – even if I wasn’t racing to win or place – I was doing the best I could do with consideration for my health.
My run was truly a celebration. It was a celebration of the theme of my career – to finish what you start and to race with heart – that is what I did. No, I did not win and I did not place but I did what I loved with my triathlon family.
And now my goal is to get healthy. I am still hoping that my doctor will tell me that I am fine and that I don’t need all those nasty drugs with terrible side effects. But regardless, I will ‘step away’ from competition for a little while and focus on pursuing all of the other things that I love – motivational speaking, representing my sponsors, coaching, exercising, consulting, healing and living! I wish I could ‘step away’ with a win .. but I think I did!
Thank you so much for your support!