They found a lump on Becky's breast last spring.
I remember one word from the lab results.
The word none of us want to hear.
Thanks goodness we caught it early.
Luckily Becky didn't need chemo, but the lumpectomy was significant with a rough recovery. Then, radiation. And its slow building fatigue.
As if that wasn't enough, my dad wasn't recovering from his stroke as quickly as we hoped, and Becky and I both had the busiest times we've ever had leading our organizations.
Busy and stressful.
Work and personal.
I really needed this sabbatical.
Becky finished her radiation just before we traveled to Ireland for the Ultimate Frisbee World Championships.
We were excited about some time away. We were excited for her to start running again and for me to have a great tournament after eight months of intense training.
But like I wrote last week, we knew we had COVID the day we landed.
Just when we thought we had hit the low point, things got lower.
My silver lining was that COVID forced me to slow down. Like I wrote last week, slowing down helped me get centered.
For Becky COVID was worse. The radiation had beaten her body down.
She started lower.
But by the end of the summer, ended higher.
Here's her story.
We each had a major sporting event planned for this summer. Of course mine was Ultimate Worlds.
But Becky's summer event was way cooler.
A pack burro race in Colorado.
Never heard of pack burro races? I hadn't either.
They simulate the experience of what an 1800s Colorado gold miner might have had when they made a major gold strike in the mountains, packing up their donkey and running to town to stake their claim.
Today's version of the race: Running 15 miles pulling (or getting pulled by!) a burro loaded up with mining equipment. Oh, and you start at 10,000 feet and go up from there. Elevation!
Here's a hilarious and insightful video showing professional ultra marathoners trying out the sport.
That video is amazing. It shows how even ultra marathoners can't overcome the will of a stubborn donkey.
The race we targeted is part of Fairplay Colorado's Burro Days, the small town's big summer festival. So fun!
Becky decided to run this race last fall, long before the cancer diagnosis.
But the surgery recoveries and radiation didn't let her train like she wanted.
Then, COVID, which hit us hard, hit her harder.
Most people would take 20+ weeks to train for this.
Becky only got four.
She hadn't been able to run at all this spring.
She had just finished radiation, with the 4 week lag of exhaustion.
And then layer on the thick COVID fatigue we both experienced.
Yet, at every turn and every conversation, she just kept saying, "I AM going to do this."
Given her slow recovery time, she got three training runs, ramping from 4 to 8 to 12 miles.
This was definitely not enough, especially given the low oxygen at 10,000 feet.
Could she do it?
We landed in sunny Denver a few days before the race to meet up with some close friends and supporters in Fairplay. Our great friends Jenny and Dustin have a place there and Dustin ran the race the year before, so their knowledge of the area and race let us settle in quickly.
We had SO much fun with our friends, yet at the same time, you could feel the anxiety building. It was thick.
Becky wanted to finish that race.
As we got closer to the big day, I realized the race wasn't against the terrain. It wasn't against the mileage.
Beating that race meant beating cancer.
Cancer made her not trust her body. The treatments didn't give her time to train.
We hardly slept the few days before the race.
The morning of the race was beautiful. The predicted rain held off. Sunny skies. A wave of enthusiasm swept over our cabin. Maybe it was the bacon.
Our friend's kids made support signs and wrote cheers. Nine of us supporting Becky and Dustin spread out across downtown Fairplay to cheer on the start.
It was amazing!
Almost ninety runners and donkeys all running out of town at once. Fairplay's biggest event of the year. Hundreds of people cheering.
I've never seen anything like it.
Here's a short video for the start.
The energy! Part cheering, part laughing, and all exciting.
We ran to our cars to catch them at the first cross road. Over and over, we drove ahead to meet them, cheering them at every chance.
Dustin's burro Bo didn't cooperate at all. Every inch of the first 12 miles was a struggle. This photo says it all.
But Becky's burro Piper was slow and steady, taking care of her all the way. It was like Piper could sense what Becky could handle and took care of her.
I was still worried Becky wouldn't be able to finish. Low training, high altitude. Not good.
I loosened up when she hit the halfway point. The out and back course was steep; it was all downhill from that point.
We caught her at the last intersection before the finish, cheered like hell, and rushed back to town.
Fairplay has a warm, welcoming downtown. Maybe a dozen shops, a hotel and two bars, right across the street from each other.
It looks like it hasn't changed in 100 years.
When I got there, maybe 100 people lined the streets, cheering the racers as they finished.
I checked the FindMy app on my phone to track Becky's progress.
Two miles out.
A couple of runners finished with their donkeys. Everyone clapped. Lightly.
That's when I noticed something.
Everyone was there to cheer the participants finishing their race, but their claps were flat.
People didn't have a connection with the racer.
The Olympics TV broadcast flashed in my mind. You know the little vignettes of the athlete backstories? They let us connect with the athletes before something big happens. They let us feel their emotion.
The crowd wanted that connection.
And I knew Becky could use the boost too.
So I just started talking to people.
I told them Becky's story and asked them to cheer for her.
I couldn't believe what happened next.
Someone in the first group I talked to had a mom that just beat cancer.
The next guy I talked to told me he had just found out he's cancer free, tearing up as he shared his story.
Everyone wanted to help.
The word spread.
We had everyone on both sides of the street ready to go.
One mile out. Half mile. A quarter.
Now people were asking me how close she was.
She came into sight.
I got ready to start chanting her name.
But someone I didn't even know beat me to it.
BECKY! BECKY! BECKY!
I think she was stunned.
She did it.
They felt it.
All that support. Caring. Connection.
All those people, all giving her their energy.
Telling her, she inspired them.
Telling her, she did it.
Telling her, Damn, woman, way to go!
Here's a video with just a fraction of that moment.
Looking back now, I'll never forget her finish.
It felt like our reality and a Disney movie at the same time.
Then I think of the entire summer. I still don't know how she did it.
How she kept thinking she could do it given all that happened.
How she didn't quit.
How she just kept going.
We had a magical trip to Colorado.
And on our flight home on August 1st, we even celebrated our 30th anniversary.
The sabbatical taught us so much.
For me, it forced me to slow down, to reflect. It brought my fun back. (FTD!)
But for Becky, it was so much more.
She said something so powerful to me after we got home that night, celebrating our 30 years together.
I feel like I've closed the book on cancer.
We'll have to wait 5 years to be sure. Lots of doctor visits, daily medication, and more.
Becky inspired herself by tackling something that seemed outside her reach. Something scary.
She taught me the most important lesson of my sabbatical.
That we can tackle more than we think we can.
And that when we do...
We can inspire others to do the same.
Ps. More next week. I'll share how you can plan for and take a sabbatical!
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