Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Working Together as a TEAM by Patricia Hernandez

The 2nd annual Kids Dig a Cure! fun run...And they're off!
 The Second Annual Kids Dig a Cure fun run presented by Dig It! Athletics started much like the first. With excitement and hard to contain anticipation, the youngest of runners lined up at the start. Before “Ready, Set…” could be announced, they were gone!

Fifty four kids, ages two through sixteen, participated in this year’s run. Some were faster than others, but all were incredibly determined. I was reminded of many a GTS when it wasn’t always easy, but we always finished. All of the kids were thrilled to reach the finish line and proudly don their finisher medals. We are so thankful to our dedicated sponsors, 360 Venture Law, Watkins, Lourie, Roll & Chance, PC and Property Works for both the medals and t-shirts.

This year’s event surpassed the last both in participation and enjoyment. We were happy to be joined by Dean Donut, a local kids DJ and entertainer. He kept the crowd moving by playing music and announcing the play by play for each running age group.

Smiles all around.
Also popular was the silent auction and bake sale. With the combination of all of these events, we were able to raise over $2,000 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and many Team In Training volunteers (to whom I am incredibly grateful) fundraising for current endurance events.

I am always impressed by these young runners who give all that they have to finish their distance. However, it was those who struggled a bit but never stopped moving forward that made the biggest impact on me. I began to run the final lap with one of our participants in the 10-12 year old group who not only crossed the finish line strongly but did so while encouraging another young runner who was with him. Once he finished, I put up my hand for a high five and said to him, “that’s what it’s all about, never giving up.” His response, “…and working together as a TEAM!”

TNT Alumna and Honored Hero, Tricia Hernandez is the race director for the Kids Dig a Cure fun run to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Congratulations Tricia on another successful event and thank you to all of the volunteers and alumni that supported! Tricia is also planning on rejoining the TEAM for the 2011 El Tour de Tucson century ride in November.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Holistic Strength Training for Triathlon by Andrew Johnston

My name is Andrew Johnston, and I am a Leukemia Survivor.

I'm also a former professional cyclist, current Ironman triathlete, the first Corrective Exercise Kinesiologist in the state of Georgia, and twice voted one of the Top 100 Trainers in the U.S. I give you those credentials only to highlight my authority on the subject of sports training, rehabilitation, and wellness. Indeed, my skills in those three areas helped me return to my roots as a competitor and become the first Leukemia Survivor to qualify for and compete in the Hawaii Ironman World Championships. But before I did that, I started writing a book--Holistic Strength Training for Triathlon.

See, the only reason I was able to pursue my passion and compete in triathlons again is because of Team In Training. The efforts of everyone involved in this organization helped raise over a billion dollars which went directly to research to combat blood cancers with innovative therapies like Gleevec, the drug I take today. My fight against leukemia became instantly less daunting when I realized the world's largest endurance organization was behind me.

And I wanted to give back.

First it started with being an Honored Hero and giving speeches at TNT events. Next it was raising almost 20 grand for LLS the year I raced Hawaii. Then it evolved into my desire to help the individual athletes who were sweating through all types of endurance events simply so I could toe the line of life.

So I began writing. I combined my years of athletic experience with my knowledge of physiology (along with my degree in creative writing) to write what I envisioned being the bible for TNT participants everywhere. If they were going to be pounding out miles to save my life, the least I could do was save them the pounding. I and thousands of other Survivors have a vested interest in keeping the volunteers of TNT healthy. My book will show them how.  I've committed to giving 10% of the proceeds of all sales to the organization which saved my life, and the impact will increase exponentially with the number of people who read it. So it looks like LLS and I have even more reason to be allies.

I'd like your help. I can write each chapter of LLS in the U.S. and Canada. And I'm confident they will all be eager to combine our efforts, especially once they see my book, and finally win the battle against blood cancers forever. But that will take time. And as anyone who suffers from leukemia or lymphoma will tell you, time is a commodity we just don't have. Let's get my book to the people who need it: the TnT participants who are struggling to the finish line--and the many brave Survivors who aren't finished living.

"The only limitations we have are the ones we set for ourselves." ~Osho

You can pick up Andrew Johnston's book, Holistic Strength Training for Triathlon, through his website, www.triumphtraining.com or through Amazon. 10% of all sales benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. You can also follow Andrew's blog at http://blog.triumphtraining.com/.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Power of TEAM by Claudia Gibbs

Claudia on the course at Rock 'n' Roll
Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans
Below is my story of my Rock 'n' Roll Mardi Gras Marathon experience in New Orleans and more importantly below is why, in addition to many other things, Team In Training will always be important to me. I learned on February 13th what TEAM means and honestly, not because I finished the race, but because of HOW and WHY I finished the race that will I forever remember this marathon and value this organization.

So the basics - Rock 'n' Roll Mardi Gras Marathon in New Orleans on Sunday, February 13th at 7am. Three weeks prior to the race my foot was really killing me and I spoke to TNT Coach Gretchen Owens and she recommended I go to local Atlanta pediatrist, Dr. Peebles. Diagnosis - Metatarsal Bursitis. I got my pads and instructions that after the race I needed to get new shoes.

The race started and it was a beautiful day, by the end of the race it was hot nearly 70 degrees. The first half of the race was uneventful and I was on a pretty good pace compared to my past half marathons and was moving along. By the time I got to mile 13 I had been out there 2:45. My foot was beginning to hurt and the flat nature of the course was killing me mentally and physically... very different than Atlanta.

Miles 13-17: In a word DIFFICULT. It was definitely a run/walk situation. Mentally, I was beginning to go a little crazy. Oddly, I knew I could do it and remembered my 20 mile training day in ATL which went really well - this was another story. Put it this way, there were tears at some point of this four mile stretch.

Mile 18: I saw my boyfriend and he jumped in and walked with me about 25 yards providing the encouragement like only a loved one can, but I wasn't buying it. The fact that this now became a loop course where I could see those closing in on mile 25 about ten feet across the road, it made me want to walk right across that line and be done. I didn't do it, but I was truly tempted.

Mile 19: Just at the start of this mile a TNT Coach from the virtual team named Joe came up to me. He asked me how I was feeling, if I needed anything, etc. After discussing a few things, in the conversation it came up that I was an "unofficial" TNT participant (I guess the TNT shirt I was wearing threw him!). He asked me if he was OK to leave me, he needed to go ahead and find the last "official" TNT participants. He told me not to worry that he was going to send someone to check on me. I told him no worries go, I'm totally just out here with a friend and don't worry about me, but thanks for stopping and checking on me.

Mile 20-something (or so, about 15 minutes later): Another virtual TNT coach named Debbie from LA met up with me. She told me the other coach told her about me and she wanted to make sure I was OK. She did that and even more. She stayed with me the entire time until I crossed the finish line.

Miles 22.5 -25: I began to have a panic attack. In a word this stretch was hellacious. Since this is a loop course, I could see the race sweepers on the other side at mile 20. Full.On.Tears. That is what happened. I told Tammy I had been training for too long and been out here on the course for nearly six hours at this point to have them drive me in. She calmly told me I was totally fine and would make it, the sweepers were about 30 minutes off my pace and I had nothing to worry about. Just like that, calm and cool. Well at that point my foot was in so much pain and I was so tired I just wanted to be done so I looked at her and just started running really hard. She said don't push it but if I wanted to run then we would run. And we ran on and off until Mile 25.

Mile 25.3ish: Coach Joe from mile 18 came back. He had gotten the last official TNT participants across the line, but knew I was still on the course and came back to check on me and Debbie. Unreal - me and two TNT coaches. I told them I was fine and I could make it the rest of the way, but they told me they were going to stay with me and see me finish this race.

Around Mile 25.6ish: two more coaches showed up. They were the local coaches, Rachel and Brandi, who had gotten everyone across and been in touch with Coach Joe. At this point it was me and four TNT coaches.

Finally, I could see the finish line. Along with the race volunteers and my boyfriend cheering, these coaches cheered and ran with me to the finish line.

7:05 that is how long it took and for probably what was the last two hours I had at least one TNT coach with me. That still blows my mind. Really it is all because I was wearing my TNT Georgia Chapter running shirt and that identified me as one of the TEAM. There is no way I would have finished this race without them and their support. I learned the true power of TEAM.
Claudia Gibbs first joined Team In Training last year for the ING Georgia Marathon & Half Marathon and also for The Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco. Claudia is currently a TNT Mentor for the Rock 'n' Roll San Diego Marathon & 1/2 Marathon team. Thanks Claudia for sharing this story about our wonderful coaches!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Light The Night Goes Purple by Jessica Reijmer

TNT Mentor Nicola with Mary, Jessie and Whitney.
Working for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I get an insiders view of each of our unique campaigns that play a crucial role in our mission of finding a cure and improving the quality of life for patients and their families. As a recent addition to our Light The Night department, my role is to encourage and teach participants on how to raise funds for blood cancer research and patient services programs every day, but I have never actually fundraised for anything myself.

When I was first approached about joining the TNT Disney Princess Half Marathon Team, I thought hmm maybe, but then I asked the crucial question, “Exactly how long is a half marathon?” In my mind I was thinking 6 or 8 miles, but after hearing 13.1 miles, my mind was made up or so I thought. Not being an athlete and despising even the thought of running; my immediate answer was “NO WAY JOSE!” Even after the peer pressure from my fellow co-workers, I stood firm in my decision. It was not until a meeting with the mother of our 2010 Light The Night Honored Hero, Jordan, that I began to change my mind. I thought of Jordan and every other person I have met throughout my journey at LLS. I’ve heard so many stories since I began my career at LLS; stories of hope and inspiration, stories of tremendous faith and strength, but also stories of loss and grief. Some fight and lose, but others battle and come out victorious.

On Saturday, November 13th at approximately 2pm, I decided to sign my name on the dotted line and run for a cause. Although I was determined to finish, my mind was heavily filled with self doubt. Reaching the fundraising minimum of $2,800 seemed like a very lofty goal. So let’s face it, I was really nervous. But I felt like I needed to do this. I desperately wanted to show my support for the mission and prove to myself that I could stick to my guns and finish. That was nearly 3 months ago. Today, I can tell you that because of the support of my family, friends, coworkers, coaches, my team and a few complete strangers, I have reached my fundraising goal. Not only have I reached it, I have actually increased it twice and set a new goal, which I plan to exceed!

The TNT Disney Princess Half Marathon team
Last Saturday at our GTS, I ran 12 miles for the first time in my life! Shortly afterwards I called my Mom with both tears and an enormous sense of pride. Never in a million years would I ever have thought that I could accomplish this task, but as I struggled and huffed and puffed up the hills in the cold, I remembered why I was doing this, not just for me, but for every single person who has been affected by cancer. I didn’t let my mind get the best of me! It has definitely not been an easy road. At times I swear I might have become a hypochondriac, name an injury and I have overcome it while training. I have cried, complained and not been able to move on numerous occasions. I have persevered and now I am almost at the finish line!

I have met some of the most amazing people since beginning my journey with Team In Training. This experience has touched me inside and out and opened my eyes to life’s possibilities. I could not have done it without my team and I am so excited to run in the Disney Princess Half Marathon on February 27, 2011. While I can’t say that I have fallen in love with running, I can say that I will never forget this experience and look forward to participating in future TNT events!

Jessica Reijmer, Mary Martin and Whitney Schaffner are all LLS staff that normally work on The Light The Night Walk every year. For a few months, they have also dedicated themselves to furthering our Mission by participating with Team In Training in the 2011 Disney Princess Half Marathon. Jessie, Mary and Whitney, we are so proud of you! Good luck at Disney and Go Team!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Surviving and Thriving by Dan Gennari

Dan and his friend, Joe
It was March 16, 2010, and I was panting like a German Shepherd on a hot July day, but I was standing straight up, at the top of a snow covered mountain in Colorado. Approximately 6 months before, I was seated in a big recliner, a clear tube running from an IV bag into my chest port and wondering if I would ever enjoy skiing the way I always had after 16 doses of bleomycin and other toxic chemo drugs had been pumped into my veins. I had followed my two friends off the top of the chairlift as they unclipped their skis and began hiking to the peak at around 13,000 feet. The climb took about 20 minutes but felt like hours to me. After pausing a few minutes to catch my breath and take a few pictures of the moment, we all clipped back into our bindings and plowed into the powder of the open bowl, and then the glade of trees. It was a liberating experience for me.

That was when I knew, or thought I knew that I could overcome the evils of cancer and continue to live a thriving life. I knew that despite the things I had lost and the pain I had suffered, Hodgkins Lymphoma was only a part of my life and that I still had unlimited potential to succeed in pursuing my dreams. I also knew then, that it was time I responded to one of those numerous purple brochures and postcards hitting my mailbox and trying to recruit me for Team In Training. That day on the mountain renewed my confidence in myself and my body and I was ready to take on the world. Before I would get that chance though, I would have to take on cancer once again.

After only an eight month break, scans revealed that my mediastinal mass was growing aggressively, and my doctor recommended beginning salvage treatment in preparation of a stem cell transplant. I was devastated that I would not get to train for the century ride, because I think I wanted it for myself, as much as I wanted to help the Society. I wanted to validate the feeling of health and recovery that I felt on the mountain in March. I had already started my fundraising, and decided I would go ride with the TNT team on their first cycling ride of the summer, even though I knew it would be my only ride with them.

Although my memory of that afternoon high in the Rockies is as vivid as if it happened yesterday, the summer that followed is a fuzzy patchwork of recollected moments and feelings. I was in and out of the hospital several times, and visited the clinic almost daily from June through August. I finally completed my stem cell transplant process in mid September and checked out of the hospital for the last time.

I got through my first 100 days post transplant with several colds and a brush with pneumonia, and I am starting to feel good again. I started to ride my bike at the tail end of December and joined the TNT Georgia Chapter once again and will be training for the America's Most Beautiful Bicycle Ride in Lake Tahoe this June.

Throughout my 2 year cancer experience, I have received an incredible outpouring of goodwill from friends, colleagues, family, neighbors and even strangers. So, with the fundraising minimums of TNT looming, I am hesitant to once again ask for help from those who have already done so much for me. Instead, I have partnered with The Ski Channel, to premier their documentary, "The Story" in Alpharetta (an Atlanta suburb).

The film will be shown on February 17, at Studio Movie Grill and tickets cost $25.00 per person. The $25.00 ticket gets you admission to the movie, food and drinks, and benefits The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. If you or someone you know are interested in supporting my fundraising for the Society, please link to the ticket sales portal through my blog site, http://www.dangennari.com/. If you cannot attend the film, it is also possible to make a direct TNT donation through that website link.

Dan Gennari is riding with TNT for the 2011 America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride at Lake Tahoe, NV this coming June. Dan, you inspire us and thank you for sharing your story! TNT'ers, please support "The Story" movie screening on February 17th.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Keep Focused by Marie Ferrell

TNT coaches Ed and Marie Ferrell
Keep focused. You will hear it often but what does it mean? For me it use to be all about getting to the finish line, but lately it has changed. I have gotten much more confident in my running. There is no question that I will finish a race so now I can focus on bettering my time. After all, I have had a string of good (for me) half marathons including one where I fell down at mile four, got back up and finished just short of my best time.

So as I prepared for the Donna Half Marathon I had nothing to worry about, right? Wrong!! I was feeling a little sick on race morning, but I always get a little nervous so this was normal. I started out okay but as the miles progressed I felt more and more sick and weak. Was this just my head getting to me? Everyone must face the fact that at some time prior to or during a race your head is going to tell you that you can't do this. It lies! Maybe this was my only problem. Nope, my head was still telling me I could set a new pr. However, my body was telling me that if I ran one more step I was going to be sick. So I started walking. This was not at "Marie, the walk coach" pace but rather at "that lady you can't get around at the mall" pace. It is at this time focus becomes critical. You concentrate on getting past the next group of spectators, to get to the next water stop or maybe even to get up to that cute puppy so you can stop and pet it. In my case I began to think about Rutger Beke. Who is Rutger Beke you ask? He is an Ironman. For those of you who don't know about the Ironman Triathalon it is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a full marathon. I think anyone who tries this is amazing and Beke is one of the best. He came into the 2007 Ironman World Championship confident. After all, he was wearing the number 4, denoting what place he had finished in the previous year's event. Race day proved to be very rough for many of the leaders. Several had to drop out, some throwing temper tantrums as they did so. Beke did well in both the swim and the bike and was in contention for a top finish. Then came the marathon and as he said his legs "just wouldn't fire". So he started walking. He was passed over and over again by "age group" runners and he accepted their encouragement graciously with a smile and a wave. One older lady passed him and encouraged him to run with her but he had to say "you are just to fast for me".

He kept his focus on the finish line and when he finished hours later than expected and in 188th place, the smile on his face looked much like it did in 2008 when he came in 3rd at the same event. My smile could have matched his on that Sunday. It would have been so easy to quit. I hadn't raised money to get to the race, no one was counting on me and at mile ten I passed my hotel. I finished, 43 minutes later than I planned, but I finished. Much like the people we run for, I didn't quit and compared to what they go through on a daily basis, this was easy. So focus on the finish line and much more importantly focus on why you are doing this. Remember one of my favorite phrases, "Run, Walk or Crawl. Just Finish!!!"

Marie Ferrell is a TNT alumna and coach. She first joined TNT in 2007 for the Country Music Marathon in honor of her sister Julie. TNT is a family affair for Marie. Her husband Ed is also a coach and she is currently coaching her nephew Dustin (Julie's son) for the 2011 Publix Georgia Marathon.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

New Year Brings New Language by Dani

Dani and her daughter at the 2010 Light The Night Walk
Last year’s language was the jargon of doctors and hospitals. Even the joy of discovering we were once again pregnant was overshadowed by the fear of whether or not my body would be capable of handling the stress. Last year’s language was that of a soldier in the trenches; attempting to lighten the situation by looking up and saying “well at least the sun is out.” My words of last year were my saving grace that created a language that brought me catharsis and human connection.

I am grateful that we have the opportunity to change our voice and create new words, new language, and new life. I look towards this year so differently than I did the last. Last year I was scared of what stood before me. Our future was uncertain. This year I have no more answers than I did last year; nor guarantees of anything. What we have is hope, faith and a little good news to set us on our path.

As the New Year rolled in I was overwhelmed by emotion. I looked to my future and I saw my husband and I growing old together, two little children playing with one another, family dinners, date nights where Mike and I try not to talk about some cute thing the kids did but just cannot seem to refrain, scrapped knees, first bikes, broken bones, broken hearts, family pets, bedtime stories, family vacations, “five more minutes,” road trips, kindergarten, grade school, high school, college visits, caps and gowns, weddings and more babies. I looked to my future and I saw my loving husband by my side, my beautiful children, my family, my friends. I saw hope and joy. I did not see cancer. Over the last year and a half, I often wondered if there would ever be a time when cancer was not a thread that wove its way through my every thought. The moment finally came.

I am sure that in the months and years to come, as PET scans and blood tests are due, there will be a breath of fear that grazes my cheek like a soft breeze. However, in this moment I was not only cancer free but free of cancer. They say it takes the body a year to recover from chemotherapy. They do not pontificate on the time it takes one’s brain or soul to recover from the experience of cancer. This hope for the future was my first real indication the healing has truly begun. The fortuitous thoughts coupled with prenatal hormones were too much for one healing soul to bear and I laughed as the warm tears streamed down my cheeks. Entering the New Year with tears of joy; I can think of no better language.

Happy New Year to you all and I hope your 2011 is filled with the language of love, peace and laughter, thank you for your continued support and love.

Dani, a non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma survivor, was the 2010 Summer triathlon team Honored Hero. Thank you for sharing with us Dani. You are our inspiration!