Imagining a world without cancer is where I am today, but before we get there let’s talk about how it all started. I was an exercise science major in college that taught aerobics and lifted weights, but fell out of fitness while raising 2 young kids, taking care of a house and building a career. In 2006, I joined a gym, took a 5:15am spin class and was hooked (after I got over the shock of waking up that early to exercise!).I started spinning 3 and then 5 days a week and eventually became an instructor. One of my favorite instructors encouraged me to get a road bike in 2007 and join her bike group. I did and it was the best investment I’ve made! I immediately fell in love with outdoor cycling. I loved the adventure of new roads and the challenge of riding with a group. We trained for the MS City to Shore 2 day ride – 100 miles day 1 and about 80 day 2. During one of my training rides, that same instructor told me about Ironman. I was in awe of anyone that could complete 140.6 miles of racing. It was beyond my realm of comprehension at the time.
As I was dreaming about racing the 104.6 mile distance, I actually had my first crash. I slipped on some gravel and went down, but luckily I got back on after I healed! Well, soon after the MS ride, I was encouraged to try a half marathon. Running was terrible at first, but eventually I found joy in it. The swim was the hardest of all 3 to start. In fact, I have such an intense fear, I had to learn in a pool where I could touch the ground the entire way. My swim instructor was amazing and had me swimming within 12 weeks.
Life Changed Quickly
Fast forward, I have now completed 2 full Ironman races, many half ironman, olympic, and sprint distance triathlons. I have also run 8 full marathons. Now to the part where endurance sports have saved my life. At the end of 2017 my husband Mike was diagnosed with a rare kidney cancer, papillary renal cell carcinoma type 2. We knew there wasn’t a cure, but we dug into our faith and had a ton of hope. I also leaned on the lessons I learned in triathlon. Some of them were to be in the moment, don’t get too far ahead, use the tools in your toolbox when things get rough, smile – trick your body into a happy moment, lean on coaches and your community, and trust and have faith that you are doing everything you can.
Mike did well for a few years and even completed 2 century bike rides while on immunotherapy and fighting cancer. Then in Nov 2020, we found a large tumor in his brain. It was a battle from that moment on. From surgery to remove it, being left without movement on the left side or speech, then rehab and when he finally came home we learned cancer spread to his spine and other areas. He fought everyday until it overtook him.
Imagine A World Without Cancer
He passed on March 6th, 2021. To say that our family was devastated by the loss would be an understatement. My kids (Mikey and Madison) and I had a ton of love and light poured over us and that helped tremendously. I also spent hours with my friends swimming, biking, and running to keep me healthy, both mentally and physically as COVID prevented me from being with him 24/7. After his passing, I decided to keep training. It has served me well and keeps me moving forward. This summer I was able to place first in my age group at Vincentown Sprint Tri, compete at USAT Age Group Nationals, and am preparing to finish my third Ironman in Chattanooga this September. I will follow it up with the Broadstreet Run and then the NYC marathon in November where I am running for Fred’s Team to support Memorial Sloan Kettering.
Every Mile Keeps Me Moving Forward
Some miles are joyous and some are full of tears, but every mile keeps me moving forward. With his first birthday in heaven I am hosting an online and live event called – 100 miles for Mike. I am asking friends to swim, bike, run, or walk a mile or many miles and write it on their hand. Once they have finished their mileage, snap a pic and share it on my FB wall, with a memory. Others will be riding 100 miles with me as my peak long ride before Ironman Chattanooga. It was the only way I could think of bringing light to a dark day and I know Mike will be with me as I train that day and everyday.
Publisher’s Note: Click HERE to donate to Nina’s fundraising efforts through Fred’s team and help Imagine a World without cancer.