Dear Friends in the CCAC and CCTC,
I did it, the Century, the 100 mile ride at Lake Tahoe. It was an incredible experience climbing steep mountains and racing down them (exciting but terrifying) mostly in cold and pouring rain, tough but not as tough as the experiences of those fighting blood related and other cancers, not as tough as what beloved folks in our communities are experiencing.
I spoke at the Inspiration Dinner before the ride and received much love and hugs as a symbol of all the fundraising which has made a difference in the possibility of life to those afflicted with cancer. I wish I could share with you the words which I received after I spoke, of survival, of courage, of hope, of loss, and of gratitude Many of the riders were also survivors. 1500 Team in Training riders raised 6.8 million dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for research and patient aid. I proudly wore Bib Number 7 for being the 7th out of the 10 highest fundraisers.
Check out the July issue of Runners’ World about running and cancer. I have known for a long time the benefit of running through life’s challenges. In the picture of the first Team in Training in the article about the origin of running for a cause you might detect me. At some point I was deleted from the history so I didn’t make the account but no matter. That is not why I do what I do.
Thanks to all of you for your support in one way or another, contributions to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, your advice, interest and good wishes before the ride and just for making my life so happy. I wore the picture of my team hero, 7 year old leukemic Bennett Hartley on my back and, for good luck, I carried the signed baseball he gave me. I heard that Bennett and his sister Ella were singing in my church on Sunday while I was riding. Focusing on Bennett as our team hero made a real difference in our motivation. Surely all the good wishes and good vibes helped keep me in control and safe.
I promise not to let this all go to my head. It is not about me. It is about giving and receiving. I love a line from Mary Oliver’s poetry, from Evidence, Keep giving until the giving feels like receiving. I think we all do this in one way or another.
This Ride is called America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride. Surely, in nice weather the views are magnificent. I didn’t look around. I kept very focussed just ahead of me so as not to wipe out in the wet pavement. Nothing is as beautiful as the Cape! And oh Boy, I am happy to be home! And nothing is as special as the support of my team members and friends.
I attach the speech I gave at the Inspiration Dinner:
THE FIRE OF COMMITMENT
I am honored to be able to speak to you today. From my point of view of age, of having run the NY Marathon on my own as Lucy Against Leukemia in 1986, raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society when charity runners for marathons did not exist, from having been on the very first Team in Training event organized by Bruce Cleland in the New York Marathon in 1988 and from my participation in many TNT marathons, sprint triathlons and now my passion for the Triple Crown, I hope I have something to offer sharing the Fire of Commitment.
When asked if anyone wanted to speak I volunteered. Such forthrightness is not my usual style. Perhaps being 78 and having cancer myself makes me bold. I was diagnosed with breast Cancer in November of 2010, had a mastectomy in December followed by radiation in March/April. I recovered in good order and as quickly as possible was on my beloved shiny red bike determined to catch up with our New England Team and get in shape for Tahoe. As a triathlete I have biked but never 100 miles so this is a new, challenging and exciting adventure. Since I live at sea level on Cape Cod, until recently I had never tackled a mountain.
Perhaps, also, I am so bold because of being a victim of cancer and believing that research to fight blood related diseases is beneficial towards curing all cancers.
Perhaps it is because I have been so passionate about my involvement with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society since my husband died of acute mylogenous leukemia in 1986 at a time when there was practically no hope for survival.
Perhaps it is because I have seen so much progress and so many survivors because of money raised for research over these 25 years.
Perhaps it is because I have worked hard over the years to raise money, well over $200,000
Perhaps it is because I am committed to physical fitness and have seen how the involvement of athletes in sports is enhanced by the chance to become more than they were by helping others.
Life is always tenuous and I am emboldened by all of this. I am told often in my association with young athletes of being an inspiration. I appreciate that and they, in turn, inspire me with their energy and commitment and our mutual respect for our fitness. This interconnectedness of age and youth, of strength and common commitment and the sense of continuity beyond one’s self is very satisfying. Perhaps immortality is inspiration shared by one generation to the next.
I am feeling the Fire of Commitment today which I am sure you feel or you
would not have trained so hard and raised so much money for the Cause.
These words from a hymn I sang recently in church have stayed with me:
When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze.
When our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way,
When we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within,
Then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin.
That Fire of Commitment has sustained me and fired me up for many years and has been a guiding force in my life. It is a passion within to try to be the best one can be physically and emotionally and to be able to give to others.
I wrote an essay: Running Through Grief as a personal necessity after my husband’s death. Keeping fit has sustained me through so many of life’s challenges.
I offer it to you now, a bit modified to suit the event. The message is rooted in running but it applies to the challenge we all face tomorrow.
Running Through Grief
Allen won’t be here to see me off for this Century Ride as he was when he drove me over the Verranzano Bridge to Staten Island to the start of the New York Marathon in 1986. Perhaps luckily so for he might think me totally mad climbing mountains at my age. My seventy eight year old body balks a bit while I train but I still yearn for the exhilaration of completing one more endurance event. For a Century, as with a marathon, to finish is to win. While struggling to keep up with my New England Team in the hills of Western Massachusetts on our last long training ride, I thought of the Marathon of 1986 when finishing was winning in a very special way.
Allen survived to share that Marathon Day with me. He made it through the first horrible onslaught of chemotherapy after the diagnosis of leukemia in July of ‘85 when he was 54 years old.
Running sustained me. I lived in Allen’s sterile hospital room that first summer of intense treatment. Wearing all white and face masks, the nurses and doctors and I struggled to help Allen. With ice rubs as tortuous to Allen as the raging fever, we tried to cool his burning body. The poison injected through the port in his chest to kill the cancer cells also destroyed his immunity to infection.
Daily I ran. I ran out through the hospital corridors into the streets of New Haven. I ran and I gained strength.
In September of ‘85 Allen came home from the hospital, a skeleton of himself and I ran. The school year began and I taught and I ran. The tension, the anxiety of Allen’s condition, and the prognosis were overwhelming. I left the house each day to pound the certainty of the earth, to absorb the changes of the seasons, to fill my lungs with the good air, to keep strong for my husband and my children and me, to exult in my ability to keep putting one foot in front of the other no matter what. Running kept me on course. I ran through that fall, that winter, that spring, that summer of ‘86 and the next fall and Allen ran with me in my heart.
After a year and a half of hospitalization, chemotherapy, spontaneous bleeding, middle of the night emergency room visits, innumerable blood and platelet transfusions, bone marrow tests, and the daily anxiety of uncertain blood counts, Allen was in remission, having outlived his life sentence by a year.
One day while I ran a thought came to me. I would run the New York Marathon and raise money for the Leukemia Society of America. I wrote a letter telling of my mission to friends and relatives thinking I might raise a couple hundred dollars. Allen was a bit embarrassed at first but when the notes and money began pouring in, he got into the spirit. The project mushroomed. Allen became the accountant, totaling up the pledges and enjoying the accompanying notes of love and encouragement. Often confined to home with low blood levels, Allen savored the daily mail. He read and counted and I ran.
It was marathon day in ‘86. Allen wasn’t feeling tip top, but he was well enough to go to New York with me. Allen drove me over the Verrazano Bridge and he kissed me. I hopped out of the car to join the hordes of runners crowding onto Staten Island to prepare for the start. Allen looked pale and he was anxious that I would be all right. It is a long way, 26.2 miles. I was confident and imbued with my mission.
I wore a shirt which said, LUCY AGAINST LEUKEMIA. While I ran through all the boroughs of New York, I surveyed the crowd and handed out little self-made solicitations for our cause. I ran. I flew. I floated. Nothing could stop me.
At the 16 mile mark, just over the Queensborough Bridge on First Avenue and 65th Street, my family was waiting and I paused for hugs and kisses. Two of my four sons joined me in Central Park to run the last two miles. Allen watched the marathon on TV from a hotel room. We were both heroes that day. He was alive and I finished the marathon and raised over 20,000 dollars to fight leukemia.
Allen died a month later.
A giant wave of loss kept catching up with me and enveloping me. I cried and I cried and I ran.
One day Bruce Cleland from Harrison, New York called me. His two year old daughter, Georgia, had leukemia. He and his wife Isobel organized a team of runners in the New York Marathon to raise money to fight leukemia called TEAM IN TRAINING. I joined his effort. We raised over $300,000 that year. TEAM IN TRAINING is now a nationwide and international effort and has raised over a billion dollars since its inception. Bruce Cleland created something remarkable and I am proud to have been a part of it.
Tomorrow I will try again, moving more slowly now, but keeping pedaling one foot in front of the other. I will ride in honor of Bennett Hartley , a courageous seven year old boy from my community struggling with leukemia. For good luck I am carrying a baseball signed by Bennett.
I will keep moving, running, biking, swimming and I will survive also. The joy of the ride, the joy that is life, continues.
I wish you all the best tomorrow with that Fire of Commitment in your hearts, your souls and your legs.
Lucy DeVries Duffy, Copyright: May 2011