When Beth Dahl and Amy Wickstrom splash into the chilly waters of Federal Way’s Steel Lake next week they’ll have a lot on their mind.
It will be Dahl’s first triathlon so she’ll be focusing on avoiding the masses during the swimming leg and just finishing the race. Wickstrom, a triathlon veteran, will be trying to post a good time.
But foremost on their minds will be the reasons they are competing in Washington’s first SheRox women-only triathlon. The nationwide series of races (0.5-mile swim, 12.4-mile bike and 4.1-mile run) is designed to raise money and awareness for ovarian cancer research.
Dahl, 45, had a cervical cancer scare five years ago and uses the experience to promote early detection.
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Wickstrom, 41, runs in honor of her mother who died in an accident not long after winning her battle with ovarian cancer.
“I will be thinking about her when I’m out there,” Wickstrom said.
The SheRox Triathlon Series and the Federal Way event seem like a natural marriage. Before they came together, the 7-year-old race had already made ovarian cancer research its mission. The SheRox series started in Phildelphia in 2007 and has expanded into nine races in eight states and Bermuda.
“This is exciting because it is so hard to find ovarian cancer events,” Wickstrom said. “When I started looking I found lots of breast cancer events, and events for diabetes and leukemia and other things. So when I found this I was pretty excited.”
The predominant color at the July 10 race will be teal, the cancer ribbon color typically used for ovarian and other gynecological cancers.
The race will have a wave open only to survivors and another for those running in honor of somebody who has battled the disease.
“I think it’s going to be a great experience,” Dahl said. “I’m really looking forward to it.”
Here is a closer look at two South Sound competitors and their reasons for racing:
Assistant director, Tacoma Goodwill
SheRox might be Dahl’s first triathlon, but she’s always been in good shape. She’s also never put off annual doctor exams and that might have saved her life.
During an exam in 2006 her doctors told her that she might have cervical cancer. Tests revealed that her condition was precancerous, so after doctors scraped away the offending cells she was given a clean bill of health.
“I’ve seen so many people suffer so much more than I have,” Dahl said. “So it is my thought that women need to be preventative. We have so many fantastic resources in Washington.
“The sooner you find these things, the easier they are to deal with.”
Promoting that idea is one of the reasons Dahl will race in the SheRox Triathlon.
“I also just want to challenge myself,” Dahl said. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to see if I could conquer. I just hope I’m standing and not crawling at the finish.”
Like so many first-time triathletes, Dahl is a little nervous about the swimming leg. She says her experience consists of swimming to the boat after falling while waterskiing.
“I learned real quick there’s a lot more technique than what I was doing,” Dahl said.
Dahl says biking isn’t her forte either, but as is often the case with so many people who’ve faced cancer, her perspective doesn’t allow her to worry about these things.
“We’re staying fit and active and that’s a good thing,” Dahl said. “It’ll be fun.”
And regardless of how it goes, Dahl figures the whole challenging experience will be worth the effort if she can motivate just one woman to be proactive about cancer prevention.
“If you can just catch so many of these cancers early it’s not like it used to be,” Dahl said. “There is so much doctors can do for you now.”
Fox Island, 41
By the time Nila Connors, Wickstrom’s mom, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer her doctors told her it had advanced to stage IV.
According to the American Cancer Society, women with stage IV ovarian cancer survive just 18 percent of the time. Connors’ doctors told her she had one year to live.
Over the next 12 months Connors had 11 surgeries, battled off a staph infection that ate away part of her spine, had a total hysterectomy and underwent chemotherapy.
“It was a rough year,” Wickstrom said. “It seemed like every 2-3 weeks I was getting a call that mom was having another major surgery.”
Through it all, even the indignity of a colostomy bag, Connors stayed as active as she could.
“But it drove her crazy that she couldn’t be active as she wanted,” Wickstrom said. “She’d walk six, seven miles per day with my dad so when she couldn’t it was really hard on her mentally.”
As weak as she was, Connors never stopped battling. When the cancer went away, the doctors told her it would likely come back.
But just as they were when they forecast she had a year to live, the doctors were wrong with that assessment.
Connors lived the next five years without cancer.
“In my mind she beat cancer,” Wickstrom said.
But in 2007, a day before her 64th birthday, Connors’ slipped and fell down the stairs in her Spokane home. She sustained serious injuries and died.
“It was so terrible,” Wickstrom said. “After she beat cancer ... it’s just hard to believe.”
Wickstrom still remembers how hard her mom fought to beat cancer and when things get tough during next week’s triathlon she’ll draw on those memories for strength.
“It fuels me to do the race and to get a good time,” Wickstrom said. “And when it gets hard, I remember it’s nothing compared to what my mom went through. And I battle through it.”