"Friends don't let friends do Ironmans..."


The texts went something like this:

Me: Don't be mad. I just did something dumb.

Husband: Please tell your friends that there is an old Arabic saying. Wisdom passed down through the ages. "Friends don't let friends do Ironmans."

Me: --

Husband: No rush coming home. Maybe take some time to ponder your recent terrible decision.

I should explain. I went up to Lake Placid this weekend to volunteer for the Ironman, something I've wanted to do for years. I brought two very fun-loving athlete friends along and we camped just outside of town. On race day we went for a nice ride in the hills (I was the one lagging off the back), and then we rode to the run station where we spent four hours handing out water, ice, and nutrition to athletes on their first and second loops of the marathon. The marathon that they ran after swimming for 4 kilometres and cycling for 180. (Not a typo.)

I won't lie, we witnessed all sorts of carnage at that aid station. First was the man who likely had heatstroke and simply sat down in our chair and asked for a ride home. He was only seven miles into the run and was boiling hot but not sweating. (No bueno.) My friend put him in an ice bath, we gave him some food and drink, and after about 30 minutes he eventually decided to keep going. Cut to countless people puking in the bushes and strange, vacant stares when I offered bananas and pretzels, as if I were speaking another language. One guy came and leaned on our table and gave us a very long history of his knee injury, then simply continued on without a word. Another guy handed his sunglasses to a volunteer ("A souvenir for you!") and was stumbling sideways when I asked if he was OK. He simply stared at me, eyes totally blank, and lurched on. Then there was the woman who almost fell asleep in our chair the minute she sat down -- it was her third attempt at this race and she blew up seven miles into the run, again. There was also a man who needed his ginger ale and saltines so badly, he could not go on without them. Our entire buffet table simply would not do. So a kind-hearted volunteer managed to track down his daughters and ride her bike to meet them, just so he could have his special nutrition. That's how we volunteers roll.

Stumble on, dear friend, stumble on.

But there wasn't only carnage. There was also a lot of comedy. Such as the multiple big guys in pink tutus, the volunteers in capes and masks, people begging for salt but refusing pretzels, me chasing down runners with chicken broth, and the many, many people frantically yelling "Coke! Coke! COKE!!!" like junkies going into withdrawal. There was also one very dramatic, attention-loving maniac who dropped to his knees, and started yelling at volunteers to bring jugs of water that he promptly poured all over himself. Then he started barking orders of what foods to bring him while he knelt there. Once properly served, he got up and ran past all the tables from which he had just ordered volunteers to fetch things, leaving everyone confused. (Tip: volunteers are happy to help but aren't your personal servants.)

After witnessing all of this, my friends asked if I would reconsider my decision. I rode my bike into town early the next morning (before they were awake) and signed up. It's Future Rachel's problem now.

"How much was it?" asked my husband, once I got home.

"I paid with my cancer card," I replied.

"You know that's not a thing, right?"

OK, yes, I know. Surviving a very aggressive cancer and equally aggressive treatment does not give me carte blanche to do whatever I want. (Can I claim radiation-induced brain damage?) But next year is my five year cancer-free anniversary, when the medical establishment will finally use the word "cured". Only 50% of bone marrow transplant recipients ever make it this far. Next year demands celebration. Next year demands something epic.

And really, if you need to ask why, you will never understand. This is about once being so sick I had to crawl up the stairs. This is about being so skinny that it hurt to sit. This is about being so frail that my doctors threatened me with a feeding tube. This is about losing a full cup of lung capacity to radiation and fighting to gain it back. This is about being told I would never run fast again. This is about having to take so many different medications that they gave me a full-page matrix chart to keep track. This is about fracturing my pelvis because radiation messed up my bone density. This is about getting back lost time. This is about reclaiming my body. This is about watching Ironman footage while holding a bowl in case I vomited, swearing that one day, I would be well enough to do that. One day.

This is about all the people who are still fighting to be well enough. This is about living when I once was dying. This is about victory.

And in my defence, bad decisions always make the best stories.

**As step one to my Ironman goal, I am running the NYC marathon in November and aiming to raise $3,000 for Imerman Angels, to ensure that no one has to fight cancer alone. Would you consider donating $5-$10 to help me reach my goal? If yes, please click here, you generous soul. (I am nearly halfway there!)

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