Friday, September 28, 2012

Racing in First Half Ironman, 240 Pounds Lighter by Ashley Johnston

Just a few short years ago, I weighed over 400lbs.

Exercise and racing became a way for me to turn my life around and lose weight. I have completed several 5ks, 10ks, triathlons, half marathons and even my first full marathon this past March. Now, I am taking on a new goal: to complete a half Ironman.

Having competed in numerous races and events, I had seen the "wave of purple" before but never knew what it was or what it stood for. What I saw though was incredible support, lots of people on the sidelines wearing purple and cheering, and the constant shouts of "Go Team." When I set my sights on training for my first half Ironman, it was then that a close friend recommended that I look into Team In Training. I finally found out what all the purple was about!

It wasn't long before I learned that TNT was about more than just the purple and the cheering. I learned that I would be on a team with other athletes training and raising money for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, an organization that really hit home with me. Two of the most important men in my life battle this horrible disease; my uncle Rob has Lymphoma and my grandfather John has Leukemia. It was then that I knew I wasn't doing this for myself anymore. I was doing this one for my uncle and my grandfather and for a cause much larger than me.

Team In Training has honestly been one of the best experiences of my entire life! For the past six months, I've trained with some amazing people, heard amazing stories and raised a lot money to fight cancer. I've also made friendships that I know will last a lifetime. I never thought I could bond so quickly with my teammates, but our team has been just that amazing!

I'm so blessed to have found my way here to the TNT family and, in just a few short days, I will complete a dream with my awesome teammates and coaches by my side. I'll swim 1.2 miles, bike 56 miles, and run 13.1 miles and when it gets tough, I'll think of my heroes! No pain I feel amounts to the pain that they feel by having cancer.

I am now 240lbs smaller since I started on this journey a few years ago to lose weight and get fit. I would have never in my wildest dreams thought that I'd be able to complete such a feat and, in doing so, help so many people. But I can and it feels great!


About the author: Ashley Johnston was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. She is currently a marketing representative for a large insurance company specializing in business, personal and life insurance and is an active member of Team Cadence Bikes & Multisport.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Survivor checks “run a marathon” off her bucket list. by Amy Cosgrove

Amy pictured at a recent GTS.
In June 2002 (so exactly ten years ago), I was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I initially went to my primary doctor because I thought I had the flu. It took over six weeks and a TON of appointments with different specialists and dozens and dozens of different tests to figure out that I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Honestly, the ‘not-knowing’ seemed much worse than actually hearing the diagnosis. Plus, I was really sick from the cancer – I had lost a lot of weight for no reason, had terrible night sweats and was horribly exhausted. Without a doubt, though, the worst symptom was the itching. It literally felt like my bones itched, and no lotion, medicine, nothing relieved it. However, my oncologist told me two things that first day that kept me from falling apart when he told me I had cancer. The first was that Hodgkin’s was one of the most treatable cancers of all and that the survival rate for someone (even in Stage IV) was very good. And, second, that the treatment protocol would actually relieve some of the symptoms I was having. And, that while the chemo and radiation would have their own side effects, I could expect to feel a lot better within my first two treatments. Two days after I got my diagnosis, I had my first chemotherapy treatment. And, by the end of the first month, the itching, night sweats and all the other symptoms were gone. And, I had a new hat collection. Ultimately, I had six months of chemotherapy and 21 radiation treatments. Near the end of chemotherapy I had to meet with a bone marrow transplant specialist, but fortunately the chemo and radiation worked and I was able to avoid a transplant. In March 2003, Dr. Saker, my oncologist, told me I was in remission. I’ve gone back every year and am happy to report I’ve been in remission for over 9 years now.

I first got involved with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society during this time. When I was first diagnosed, I scoured the internet for information. The most helpful source for me was LLS. They had literally every answer I wanted or needed to know. Plus a lot of new things I hadn’t even thought to ask. My oncologist was absolutely amazing, but having a second resource with LLS was so comforting. When I was a few weeks into my chemo treatments, my colleagues at work (I worked for a small division of Philips Electronics at the time) asked me if they could put a team together to participate in The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light the Night Walk in my honor. Of course, I was honored and humbled and said yes. Except that they set a very lofty goal to raise $10,000. I thought they were crazy, but really enjoyed the whole spirit of the season. One of my favorite memories from that time was the day that they held the final event at work before the walk. It was a day where they were going to let all of us know how much we’d raised. I walked in that morning to find that everyone (EVERYONE) at work was wearing a hat. (After I lost my hair, I couldn’t get the hang of wigs, so I only wore one once and switched to hats immediately.) Anyway, everyone, including the Division CEO, was wearing a hat that day. It still humbles me and makes me tear up to think about it. When they announced later in the day that they’d raised not $10,000, but $30,000, I was so overwhelmed. We had a blast at the LTN walk. And, again, it’s still one of my favorite memories.

Several years later, the year that I turned 40, I decided it was time to check “run a marathon” off my bucket list. Since I’m a terrible runner, and because I’ve always supported other Team In Training runners, I signed up with the Virtual Team In Training to run the 2010 Rock 'n' Roll Seattle Marathon. I had a blast, and even though I had expected to check it off my list and move on to the next thing, the minute I crossed the finish line, I knew I would do another one. Now, I work for Deloitte Consulting, and Deloitte has TNT teams all over the country at its various locations. And, during the Fall 2012 season, Deloitte expects to cross the million dollar mark with TNT – meaning, Deloitte TNT’ers will have raised a total of more than $1,000,000 by the Fall races for LLS. (We’re at over $950,000 right now.) So, I signed up with the Deloitte Fall team and couldn’t resist the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco. Who can resist getting a Tiffany necklace from a California firefighter after a 26-mile run?

I’m so grateful to be a survivor. I’m grateful to my doctors, my friend, my family. And, I’m so grateful that there is an organization like The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that works to support people who are in the position I was in 10 years ago, but that also works to fund research to eliminate the need for it.

Amy Reeves Cosgrove is currently training with Team In Training for this Fall's Nike women's Marathon. Amy is a Human Capital Manager with Deloitte Consulting. Originally from Thomasville in South Georgia, she's been in the Atlanta area for more than 20 years.

Friday, June 8, 2012

What a gorgeous morning for a triathlon! by Andrea Ferenchik

What a gorgeous morning for a triathlon! This was the view from the Pro start to St. Anthony's Triathlon. We still had almost 2 hours to wait for our start. In fact, the first winner was coming across the finish line when we finally lined up in the water. We had a good time hanging out, warming up, and thinking about the swim to come. It was so nice to have a large team there to do it with, especially people we’ve gotten to know and train with for the past 6 months. Training with Team In Training has been a wonderful experience. I raised $2,800 for St. Anthony’s and over $11,000 since last May to help fight blood cancers. I am extremely proud of that and will cherish the people I have met along the way.

Aaah, the dreaded swim. This was my first swim of this distance in the open water and my first salt water swim. In fact, I really have never swam before a year ago when I started with Team In Training. You can pretty much tell from my lovely form but I am proud to say I finished 10 minutes faster than I thought I would. That, my friend, is victory right there, even if it still took me 37 minutes to go .9 mile. The water got a bit choppy when you headed away from shore and my wetsuit practically rubbed a hole behind my ear, but I survived. Yeah! This is our wave starting and Tim found me in the water and got a nice closeup. Not sure if that is good or bad.

In my mind, I look fierce. I was just glad to be out of the water in the first picture, I was doing okay in the second picture but the run…oh the run…it was so hot by the time we got to the run I am smiling because it is over. I trained pretty well for this run and I finished far more slowly than my Nation’s run. I blame it squarely on the 85 degree weather and the late start. I am just happy to be done!

We did it! We earned our finisher medal. After training since November, it was nice to be successfully across the finish line!

After a hard day’s work, we took some time to celebrate our race, our fundraising, and our new friendships. This is part (but not all) of our Spring 2010 Georgia Tri Team. We were overlooking the city of St. Petersburg from a fun little place called Cha-Cha Coconuts.

Andrea Ferenchik is an Account Manager with Microsoft whose corporate team raised over $100,000 this season for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Andrea became interested in Team In Training in order to reach a personal goal but has since seen the incredible impact her fundraising is having on finding a cure for cancer. She has honored her neighbor Lori’s husband who passed away in 1988 from Leukemia and is currently fundraising in honor of Grayson, a beautiful 6 year old boy battling Leukemia as we speak. She has just lost her mind and signed up for Augusta 70.3 this September…Go Team!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Stupid Cancer by Dan Gennari

It has been 19 months since my stem cell transplant and I really feel great. I still suffer from some minor respiratory discomfort, that may have some not-so-minor underlying causes (like scorched lung tissue from 33 days of chemotherapy and 15 days of radiation blasted through my chest). Last year, when I rode with the Tahoe cycle team, I sometimes joked that I needed to hang my lungs out to dry over my back fence between rides. I still have days where I feel that way. But the discomfort has been gradually chased away by the joy of regular life. I have been having a great time with my son, who has recently mastered the art of riding a bike with no training wheels. My wife and I adopted two dogs around Christmas (from cycle Coach Kelli's rescue organization!), and I am having a great time at work (I know that sounds weird to a lot of people, but I love what I do).

I recently attended an amazing conference in Las Vegas - the OMG 2012 Stupid Cancer conference. For those of you who are not familiar, Stupid Cancer is a patient and survivor support organization that exists for young adult cancer survivors between 18 – 40 years old.

I was one of 550 young adult survivors who gathered to discuss long term health concerns and how we can help the future survivors who are just now experiencing their doctor looking them in the eye and saying, "You have cancer." An outsider looking in might have drawn all kinds of conclusions about the emotional state of the people in that room. There were many of us who blend right in with society, but there were several others with hairless heads, canes, wheelchairs and prosthetic limbs. And we all sported physical and emotional scars that were not visible under our "Stupid Cancer" t-shirts. But the mood was cheery and festive because we were really celebrating the simple existence of life. We were all survivors and members of the same unexpected club.

When we broke for lunch, those 550 people shuffled through the corridors to the ballroom at The Palms Hotel and found that the banquet tables were organized by disease. I wandered around the room passing 2 tables for lung cancer, 4 tables for brain cancer, tables for sarcomas, thyroid cancer, a sizable collection of tables for breast cancer, and then a sign that said "Blood Cancers," and then another, and another, and another…then I noticed a matching row next to the first row, and another row beyond that. There was a sea of Blood Cancer survivor tables!

While it is true that blood cancers are one of the more common cancers to strike young people, it is also true that there has been a tremendous increase in the discovery and implementation of very effective treatments for Lymphoma, Leukemia and all their cousins and sub-types. That has been possible because of programs like Team In Training and the people involved that are dedicated to raising much needed funds. You are the boots on the ground (or perhaps the cleats in the pedals, for you fellow cyclists). Without your efforts, LLS would be a very different organization, and without their investments in research, people like me might not be alive to write these long blog posts.

So keep up the good work. There will be a point in your training season when it gets hard. I remember last year when I was training for my century, it was all fun and games until we got to around 40-50+ mile rides. Every weekend I felt like I was dragging an anchor around mile 37 it just got heavier and heavier until around 46 miles, and then somehow I would find the strength to pull it together and speed up again. So don't give up. You can do this.

Dan Gennari is a Team In Training alumni having completed America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride in June of 2011. This year Dan serves as the cycle team's honored hero and has been out to support them at their training rides.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Running for their lives: How a Brookhaven couple is using running to improve their lives and the lives of those fighting blood cancer

Chris and Jen with their nephew and Honored Hero, Chase.
By this time of year, most New Year’s Resolutions have probably already been forgotten about. This is not the case for Brookhaven resident Jen Lesshafft. She is determined to follow through with her resolution and run at least one 5k a month.  She’s showing no signs of slowing down.  In fact, she’s gearing up for one of her most meaningful races to date –The 7th Annual Big Peach 5K Run/Walk to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
Her husband, Chris, has been running for a few years and she was getting tired just waiting for him at the finish line. As a way to stay fit and spend more time with her husband, Jen decided she was going to start running, too.

“I’ve played sports my whole life,” said Jen. “But I never really got into running.  I figured this could be a great way for me to stay healthy, all while spending time with my husband doing something he really enjoys.”

Chris and Jen at the Zoo Run Run 5K in Nashville
Chris and Jen set their resolutions. But that wasn’t enough for them. Not only are they shooting for one 5k a month, they also set a long-term goal to run at least one 5k in every state.  So far, they’ve completed races in Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina and North Carolina. They’ll be repeating Georgia on May 5 when they run the Big Peach 5k.

“I think I’m most excited about this race,” Jen said while talking about the Big Peach 5k. “We’ve done some really cool races, like through the Nashville Zoo and along the beach in North Carolina, but knowing that the Big Peach 5k benefits such an amazing organization like The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, I can’t help but be excited!”

Jen and Chris have had a personal mission connection to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society since September 2008 when their nephew, Chase, was diagnosed with Pre-B Cell lymphocytic leukemia when he was only 18 months old. 

“I'm not a doctor but I want to do my part to help eliminate cancer. Whether it’s running a 5k or donating my time and resources, I’m going to do it,” Jen said. “Seeing what Chase has gone through pretty much his whole life is enough motivation for me to give back and help any way that I can.”

Jen and Chris have been training for the Big Peach 5k by running through their hilly Brookhaven neighborhood. Starting and finishing in Brookhaven, they have mapped out a 3.1 mile course that takes them all throughout neighborhood. Although the course can prove challenging to a new runner, Jen keeps pushing through.

“Running the entire course can be tough,” Jen admitted. “I just think of Chase and how strong he’s had to be the past 3 ½ years. No child, or person for that matter, should ever have to go through that. It gives me the strength I need to keep going.”

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society created a program that makes it easy for people like Jen and Chris who want to run for a good cause. Team In Training is an endurance sports training program that benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. As an official Team In Training event, the Big Peach 5k offers participants the opportunity to give back, all while running a fun, 5k. To learn more about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training program, please visit the Team in Training website,
The 7th Annual Big Peach 5K Run/Walk to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society takes place May 5th (Cinco de Mayo) at 8:00pm. Registration is now open. Participants can register on-line or by visiting any of the Metro Atlanta Big Peach Running Co. stores by Wednesday, May 2nd. All proceeds from the race go to benefit The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


First of all THANK YOU to everyone who supported me along the way to achieve this goal! I wouldn't have been able to make it without the emotional support throughout the training process, the generous donors who helped me raise money for such a great cause, and the amazing coaches I had along the way. All of you helped me out so much and I am so thankful for that!!

And now onto the top FIVE things I learned during race weekend:

1. Always pack your bag the night before and double check that you have everything!

For race weekend my parents flew down to provide additional support for my first marathon! I had to work later than expected that day so I decided to just meet them down at the hotel right away and I'd go back to the apartment later that evening to pack my bag for the weekend. After walking down to the expo to get our stuff we decided to come back and take a quick nap and by the time that was over we forgot an important detail of Atlanta: TRAFFIC. After trying to coordinate with my husband on how we'd get him downtown, we decided he'd pack my weekend bag and if he forgot anything I'd go back sometime on Saturday. I went through all of the things I could possibly need and thought I had it all. Unfortunately on race morning I forgot one important element...DEODORANT. I went into a panic at 5:30 in the morning and couldn't imagine what I was suppose to do?! I went with the only option I had...use my husband's. It didn't have a pretty smell to it but hopefully it would do the job. At this point I realized how important this rule is!

5:45 AM and nervous for the race
2. Enjoy the course and the people around you

Prior to the start of the race the TNT Publix team met up for some last minute information and to head to our corrals together. It was wonderful seeing all of my TNT friends and knowing that all of our training and fundraising came down to this day. We decided to start all together and remembered that we needed to pace ourselves especially at the beginning. Finally at 7:03AM our wave crossed the starting line and we were off. As we began the race it was amazing to see all of the crowd support and get to share this incredible moment with other people. For the group I was running with, our overall goal was to maintain a comfortable pace for the entire race. After the awe of the start of the race had worn off we got into our groove and it almost seemed like any other GTS run. We started talking about our daily lives, what was next, and interesting things we saw along the way. Next thing you know we were passing the half/full marathon split a little after mile six and it seemed like no time had passed. We were consistently averaging 10:45 a mile and it was like clockwork. We truly had settled into our routine and it made the time go by quickly.

Me and a few of my TNT running buddies
3. Listen to your body

As I passed the halfway point I was feeling great! While I was trailing back a bit from my initial starting group, I had really gotten into a rhythm. I figured I'd be on track for a 4:30 marathon. My husband met me around this point and he too was surprised how quickly I had reached mile 13. I continued along the course and honestly just ran along with no problem and enjoyed the sites around me. Unfortunately that feeling began to change around mile 19. At this point the pain in my hip and knee started to increase and I had hoped it wasn't going to give out on me now. After talking to a coach about my pain, I decided I could use a short walking break to give my IT band a moment to regather itself and then start up again. From that point on it was run/walk and the pain continued to grow (as did the number of hills). I was determined to make it to the finish line! I realized I could no longer run without causing more injury to my leg but I was going to get my medal and make it to the end. It was so frustrating knowing how well I was pacing and how much training I had put into this event but at the end of the day I knew I had to really listen to my body and its injury.

4. Smile and be proud of yourself

While I was forced to walk to the finish line, the encouragement and support I received from spectators and TNT members/coaches/supporters was incredible! I'm not quite sure why, but all of the photographers decided to appear AFTER mile 23, you know the point where I was limping and fighting tears. If you go to and look at my pictures from the race (Bib 2741) you would think I was just taking a leisurely stroll with a smile on my face but I do promise you I was in a lot of pain; I wasn't going to let that show on the camera :) I realize I had so much to be proud of! I had raised over $1,000 to help find cures and better treatments for leukemia and lymphoma. While I was in a lot of pain, it was only temporary in comparison to what those with cancer go through every day. These individuals are the real heroes who inspired me to make it to the finish line with a smile on my face knowing I was racing towards a cure!

Mile 24 - in pain but still smiling  

When I set out on this adventure almost five months ago I honestly wasn't sure if I would meet my fundraising goal much less make it to the finish line. I had never run more than four miles and honestly had never run continuously for more than 20 minutes. TNT changed all of this for me! Along the way I made great friends and achieved the unthinkable all while helping to raise money for a great cause! During the last mile all I could think about was my next marathon and how much I wanted to do it with TNT, so I have signed up for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon in October!!

I really appreciate all of those who have followed my progress along the way! While training for this next event I will be facing a whole new factor - HEAT AND HUMIDITY.

TNT participant Kimi Coy is currently training and raising funds to participate in Bank of America's Chicago Marathon in October 2012. Kimi is a recent graduate out of the University of Colorado - Boulder and currently is a financial analyst with IBM.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Jennie Brewster encourages Savannah team to better health and lifelong friendships by Brandy Mai

That's Jennie on the far left with a group of Team In Training alumni in Savannah.

Did you feel the earth move and shake last November as Savannah hosted its inaugural Rock ‘n Roll marathon?

As 23,000 people ran through the brick-lined streets of a town filled with “hey y’all” and laissez faire attitude, a sea of purple could be seen in the masses: all the people who were running the race for Team In Training. What one couldn’t see, though, is an important person who was handling everything behind the scenes for the Savannah team.

Her name is Jennie Brewster (and yes, she’s just as spunky and great as her name sounds), and without her, the Savannah team would’ve been lost amongst the sea of runners.

Jennie began working for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in April 2007 and immediately fell in love with Team In Training. “TNT is a win-win program. I love that it raises money for much needed cancer research and patient services. However, I also love that it allows people to reach out of their comfort zones and accomplish things they may only have dreamed of doing,” she said. “I hope they gain better health, an active lifestyle, increased self-confidence and lifelong friendships.”

From waking up early for group runs just to greet everyone at the finish line to hosting social events in her own home, Jennie was the parent who held the team together. She was always so involved with the team, everyone was shocked to learn she had never completed a TNT event herself.

“Funny thing, everyone thinks that because I work for TNT, I’ve done plenty of marathons. I have completed some sprint triathlons, 5K and 10K races on my own but the truth is, I’ve never done a TNT event! While I do train with the team throughout the season, my focus is on getting everyone else to the finish line. If I were focused on getting myself there, I wouldn’t be able to give my full attention to our Team in Training participants,” she explained.

Jennie and her husband
working a water stop.

Despite focusing her efforts on the team and not training for the races herself, Jennie still has loved ones whom she “runs” to honor. “There are so many people in my life who have been touched by cancer, the list is too long. Collin J. Huggins will always hold a special place in my heart. Collin lost his battle with ALL at the age of six in 2003. He loved Spiderman, had an adorable country accent, learned to read and lived to see his baby brother be born. He touched more people than his parents will ever know”.

Her dedication to loved ones, positive attitude and refreshing spirit are what got everyone to the finish line that day in November. Having her in their corner and knowing she would be waiting at the TNT tent with hugs (and water) helped everyone complete their event and come together as a family at the end. Without her, the Savannah team would not have been the same nor would we have come together as such a family.

Jennie doesn’t consider what she does a job. Rather, she considers the team her family and loves being at the finish line on race day. “I LOVE watching ‘my’ participants complete their events – cheering for everyone on the race course is one of the best parts of my job.”

Brandy Mai ran her first half marathon with Team In Training for the inaugural Rock ‘n Roll Savannah event last year. She runs in memory of her dear friend, James Hall, and in honor of her cousin, Gunner Murphy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Georgia Tech Grads Leave Lasting Legacy by Jen Lesshafft

Final Exams. Term papers. Group projects - The seemingly never-ending cycle of life as a college student. As a student at Georgia Tech, Todd Schmidt spent countless hours in the library, focusing on his schoolwork and preparing for his future as an aerospace engineer. Even though his life was incredibly stressful between school and his commitment to his fraternity, he knew that there was just one more little thing to add to his to-do list: cure cancer.

I know what you’re thinking. How can a college student with no medical or scientific background cure cancer? It’s simple! By creating a team and raising awareness and funds for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

After returning from a fraternity convention that focused a lot on philanthropy, Todd realized that even though he was busy with a rigorous course load at Georgia Tech, he wanted to use whatever free time he had to serve. He remembered how his parents participated in Team In Training (TNT) while he was in high school. At almost the same time, a close friend of his was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL). It just clicked. Todd decided to join TNT.

“In college, you don’t really think you have the extra time, but you do,” said Todd. “I talked with my parents about their experiences with TNT and I knew this was what I wanted to do. I knew that I could utilize my love for running toward finding a cure.”

Todd convinced his friend, Justin Levine, to join his team. He figured that if he wanted to do it, there were plenty of other people that would want to help, too.

Justin (left) and Todd (right) running in the 2009 ING marathon. 

Unlike Todd, Justin didn’t have a mission connection. He admits to initially joining the team simply because he had always wanted to run a marathon.

“We did it selfishly because we wanted to do a marathon,” said Justin. “We didn’t understand what TNT was but after experiencing it, it changed everything.”

Together, Todd and Justin recruited six other Tech students. It was important for them to find an event that was close to home, so they decided on running the now Publix Georgia Marathon and Half, held right here in Atlanta. In their first year with TNT, the Tech team raised more than $19,000.

Todd and Justin were the backbone of the Tech TNT team. They started formally recruiting in 2009 and had 25 team members. Todd and Justin went the extra mile (pun intended) and, in 2011, made the team an official student club at Georgia Tech. With this new status, the team now has a faculty advisor (who is also a TNT alum) and student board members, ensuring future leadership of the team as people graduate. But even more importantly, the team is now eligible to receive funding from student government. This financial support helps to plan and promote team fundraising events and limits the amount of raised funds needed to implement each fundraiser, ultimately allowing the team to raise more money toward the fight against blood cancer.

To help keep the team engaged and interested, they set up group runs throughout Tech’s campus. They also organized shuttles to join the official TNT training runs. As college students, time management was important – these runs on campus helped to keep the team active and engaged, all in between classes, exams and projects. Todd and Justin were able to manage the time the team needed to train for the races but also ensure that academic endeavors were not affected.

Together, Todd and Justin helped increase participation year after year. This year is the team's fifth year participating in TNT, and with the help of Alyssa Golemme, the team's current captain, the Tech Team had 133 students sign up and raised approximately $136,781!

Although Todd and Justin have since graduated and are no longer officially part of the team, they are still actively involved. In fact, they are both taking time off from their jobs (Justin is in New York City and Todd is in Michigan) and traveling to Atlanta specifically to cheer on the Tech Team at the Publix Georgia Marathon and Half this weekend.

Jen Lesshafft is the Alumni Relations Coordinator at Life University in Marietta, Ga. She has been an avid supporter of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society since 2008 when her then 18-month-old nephew was diagnosed with leukemia. As a way to help and give back, Jen interned with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society of Northern Florida while studying at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. Each year since her nephew’s diagnosis, she and her husband, Chris, have raised funds and participated in Light the Night Walks in Atlanta, Jacksonville and Daytona Beach. She now serves on TNT Georgia Chapter’s Social Media & PR Committee.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

More Than Just a Project by Evelyn Keeney-Ritchie

Although I have been in school for almost fifteen years, my time with Team In Training was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. I am a high school senior from Atlanta, GA, and at this time last year I joined the Team as a school project. Despite reading numerious enthusiastic accounts of people's experienes with the program, I started with the mindset of obligation rather than opportunity. I thought I was prepared to take on the challenge of training for and competing in a triathlon, but needless to say, I still hit the ground running... figuratively and literally.

I am sure that my five-month Team In Training experience taught me lessons on many levels, some that I probably have yet to realize. Physically I was educated in form, fitness, technique, and nutrition. Mentally I learned what it means to persevere, focus, motivate, and be motivated. However, I also learned in another way. I am sure that anyone who has participated in a TNT event can vouch for the fact that there is emotional growth in the involvement with the program. I not only gained an incredible respect for the patients, families, researchers, fundraisers, and fighters of cancer, but I was able to develop a personal connection to the cause.

Me and Jordan, my Honored Hero
As a teenager, pondering my life and future, this experience gave me a new way of looking at myself and the world. It was more than just completing a tremendous project. The support and enthusiasm of my teammates, coaches, friends, family, and donors helped my raise my head and look out on the endless opportunities that are out there. I now realize how fragile life is and that we have an obligation to make each day count for ourselves and better for those around us.

Evelyn Keeney-Ritchie completed the Tri Latta Triathlon in the summer of 2011 and raised $2,730 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Evelyn is currently a senior at Academe of the Oaks High School and hope her story gives courage to those who think they are too old, young, or unfit to follow their dreams and change the world.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Heartbreak Ends in Hope by Karen Cole

He falls out of skies.
He falls in love.
He falls snowboarding.
He lands a devastating diagnosis.

Valentine’s Day for many of us meant time spent with our one true love. For Signal Army Warrant Officer Phillip Dieppa four years ago, it was a true nightmare. What started out as a romantic getaway with his wife at a ski resort in West Virginia ended up changing Phillip’s life forever. A snowboarding accident on the eve of Valentine’s Day later resulted in a football-sized spleen on the verge of rupturing, a condition that would have ended his life in minutes. But tests after the accident also revealed even scarier news: Phillip had cancer. 

Phillip was diagnosed with Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia and given a prognosis of just a few short years to live. Trained at hurling himself out of airplanes, this Iraq veteran had already endured more than most young people, but nothing prepared him for the battle of his life. Through it all, his wife Natasha served as his protective armor, but she also absorbed staggering heartbreak. Life with Phillip, who was just shy of 22 years old, might only last 3 to 5 more years.

Thankfully almost four years later, after countless bone marrow biopsies and grueling treatments, Valentine’s Day no longer marks the worst time of Phillip’s life. This February it reminds him of a battle fought hard and won, and finally being cancer free. Phillip and Natasha now have a brand new love – life.

Never backing down on a challenge, last summer Phillip joined Team In Training in Augusta. In November, he successfully ran the Savannah Rock 'n' Roll half marathon and raised more than $2,000 for the fight against blood cancers. Not only did he proudly complete his first race, he finished 160th out of 9,000 participants and was the first among TNT runners to cross the finish line!

Phillip with his wife after crossing the finish line in Savannah.
Now, Phillip is a Team In Training Honored Hero for the Augusta market where he serves as inspiration for others training and raising funds for LLS. He said, “I want to prove that cancer is only a temporary obstacle. Being a survivor is like being a marathoner, which is why the Team In Training program means so much to me.”

Phillip’s tenacious spirit is contagious; he gives us all great perspective in the face of any challenge, no matter how large or small:

“There are many unsolved variables in the equation that leads to finishing the half or full marathon. Are you running too fast? Will you hit your goal? Will you walk? Will you quit? Keep in mind there’s only one pace: forward. There is only one goal: the end. As long as you’re moving forward, you’re not quitting. That’s the mentality of a fighter, a soldier and a survivor.”

TNT alumni and survivor, Phillip Dieppa, completed his first event with TNT this past fall in Savannah, GA at the inaugural Savannah Rock 'n' Roll half marathon. Phillip is currently the team's Honored Hero for the Augusta market.

Story written by Karen Cole
Karen is a Public Relations Manager for UPS and has worked there for almost nine years. She completed the ING half marathon (2009) and the Nike Women's marathon (2010) as a TNT participant and served as a mentor in the fall of 2010 while training for and completing the Zooma half marathon. Karen has raised over $5,000 for TNT and now serves on our PR Committee.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Today is Not Just Valentine's Day by Alex Strickland

My name is Alex Strickland, and I am a survivor.When I was four years old, I was diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. Luckily, within six months my wonderful doctors had battled my cancer into remission, but I then went through another two and a half years of maintenance chemo therapy.

At age five, I was admitted to the hospital with a bad case of chicken pox. Normally that wouldn't be so dangerous, but the chemo I was previously on had taken a harsh toll on my immune system. The doctors were unsure I would make it.

While I was in the hospital, I  had the privilege of being an Honored Hero for Team In Training's triathlon team. My best friend, who I went through chemo with, went to the triathlon with me and we cheered as his mother crossed the finish line.

My health did come back, and I'm alive and well today in large part to research funded by organizations like The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.  So today I am carrying on what they've done for me. I've signed up for Team In Training myself, and in June I will be completing America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride, a 100 mile ride around Lake Tahoe, raising funds along the way to give back to the cause that I've benefited from.

So why is this post titled "Today is Not Just Valentine's Day" you ask? Well, today is something much bigger for me. February 14, 2000 was the day I took my last chemo treatment. Today I celebrate 12 years of health, 12 years of being a survivor, and 12 years since I put cancer behind me.

Join me in celebrating survivorship and the advances we've made in cancer research by donating $12 to LLS today to give today and tomorrow's kids even better treatments than what I had and to make cancer a thing of the past. That way we can focus on the little things, like Valentine's Day, instead. Happy Valentine's Day everyone!

TNT participant and Honored Teammate, Alex Strickland, is currently training and raising funds to participate in America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride in Lake Tahoe this June. Alex is a freshman at North Georgia College & State University studying pre-med and aspires to be a doctor.