By ITU Admin on 26/08/07 at 12:00 am
For the past two months, the International Triathlon Union has invited age-group athletes to send in their stories about their personal journeys to Hamburg for the BG Triathlon World Championships. We were overwhelmed with the response and received many inspirational stories of how triathlon has positively impacted people’s lives. As the event nears, we invite you to read a selection of the ten finalists’ stories, starting with this one below from Trace Allen in Great Britain. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did. Thanks to all for taking the time to enter and share their stories. Good luck in Hamburg and all future races!!
ITU Media team
By: Trace Allen (GBR)
I regard taking part in ITU Hamburg World Champs as a vital part in addressing, challenging and fighting off Pancreatic Cancer, the most deadly cancer known which claims 98% of its victims.
I was diagnosed with the disease in 2004 after taking part in the Triathlon Worlds in Madeira and the Belgian Duathlon Worlds in the 60 to 64 male age-group category. The diagnosis came as a complete shock to me as I thought it could not happen to me could it? It did!
Only 2% survive for more than 5 years after diagnosis and I am now in my 3rd year with my fingers crossed! Triathlon is helping me stay alive I believe.
I had extensive surgery in 2004 though this was not successful in removing the tumour. It was at this point that I was told my level of fitness developed through sporting activity and Tri in particular would help me tremendously in fighting back and helping to withstand the difficult treatment regimes needed to overcome the disease.
It was then that I set myself the goal of getting back into the GB team and then taking part again in the Triathlon World Championships.
I was not particularly bothered about the failed surgery as I knew that Chemotherapy and Radiochemotherapy might render the tumour operable. I had my goal firmly in mind when I started the harsh treatment and I was determined that the treatment would work.
Each time I had the daily chemo tablets or weekly liquid infusion I felt elated I was fighting back! After 2 months treatment I was feeling debilitated and still weak after the surgery I decided if I was going to get back I’d better get out and start training.
My weeping wounds prevented a return to the pool and as walking was still a trial I decided to get out on my bike. I managed a weekly trip in the cold February air although I mounted the bike on my Turbo and peddled in front of Eurosport on daily daytime TV!
X-ray scans showed the tumour to have shrunk to half its original size. And I was thrilled. The wounds had healed and it was time to return to the pool though I felt I had to wear my Trisuit to hide the evidence! I think the pool attendants must have thought I was just showing off!
The radiothreapy started and in combination with the weekly chemo really challenged me. I forced myself onto my trusty bike for my daily workout though towards the end of the 28 day radio treatment I was fit for nothing. I could only stay in the pool now for short periods because of the feeling of sickness.
I had a repeat x-ray scan and wonder of wonders the tumour had been obliterated. This was cause for celebration and feeling lively I decided that I had should convert my daily walk into a walk run. I felt marvellous.
I saw my surgeon who told me the omens were good for repeat surgery. The risks were acceptable because of my relative levels of fitness. ” get fitter” he said “and we will beat this by taking out the tumour”
The radio chemo and chemotherapy had done its job and now I had to get out and swim, run and bike my way back to the hospital for repeat surgery. I upped my swimming to three sessions though short per week, continued my daily bike and increased walk-runs.
The repeat surgery in May 2005 was a success and the tumour was removed. It was simply frazzled. I told the surgeon of my goal to get back into the World Championships at the earliest time.
“I think that’s a step too far this year with a further 4 months of chemo to get through” he said ruefully.
He was right and by the time November came and the chemo was done with, I could hardly walk though I had kept up the swimming and my Turbo machine was well used with short daily workouts. That’s the good thing about Triathlon, if you can’t run for any reason there’s the bike and if not that then a trip to the pool is on the cards!
I needed a break so I took my deserving wife on holiday to Barbados as she had missed the 2005 Worlds. We had a restful time though when I came home I found my blood values had taken a dive and on further testing it was discovered my bile duct was blocked. This was an after effect of the radiation treatment used to shrink the tumour!
It was just bad luck. And unfortunately it would mean more surgery after endoscopic procedural work was found to be unsuccessful.
The 3rd major surgery took place in April 2006 and the operation was successful in reopening the bile duct. This is vital as bile which helps breakdown foodstuff is carried via the duct to the intestines. Without bile I could not get to Hamburg!
I discussed my World championship goal with my surgeon. I needed to be able to run and somehow I had to get enough energy to fuel the activity. This was a big barrier as I could not afford to flood my blood with sugar because of the diabetes and I could also not encourage the growth of further tumours which by the way love sugar. Restricting the intake of fuel was equally problematic if I was to have enough energy to complete an Olympic distance Triathlon!
“Ok” the surgeon said “let’s aim to race each other in the London 10k in August. If you can do that then at least that’s one part of the Worlds taken care of” I laughed thinking I had no chance.
He wanted to get fit again himself. We started to train together and I was able to experiment with different foods and nutrients. At the same time the surgeon was able to train again. I felt I was helping to pay him back.
Getting back to running was desperately difficult. My muscles had become completely wasted, I had no stamina, I had lost so much weight and power. When I ran it felt like I had a stomach full of empty plastic bottles all bashing into one another.
I slowly increased my efforts until I could run non stop for 45 minutes and by August 2006 I thought I could handle 10k. We ran together in the London 10k, me and my surgeon Mr Arj Shanker. It was a real struggle to complete the run which we did in 60 minutes which was 22 minutes slower than the 10k at the end of the Madeira Worlds in 2004!
I was yet again elated and encouraged after running 10k decided to try the Great North Run half marathon in October 2006 as my next step towards my World Championship goal. In fact I had run the Great North Run 21 times in previous years and was on my way to the race, the largest participation event in Europe, to take part in my 22nd running when I became jaundiced. I went to the local hospital and was diagnosed as having Pancreatic Cancer.
The Great North Run was important for me but only because I had to complete my 22nd run but also as I would find out if I had the stamina to run 21k and importantly if my ablutionary system could cope.
My surgeon encouraged me to run the race and I did manage to complete the race in just under 2 hours though I had to stop for the toilet 3 times during the run. I knew then that I had the stamina to complete a Triathlon though I had to solve the ablution issue.
Throughout the winter of 2006/7 I ran as many cross country events as I could and though I was at the back of the field I never finished last! I was also out on my bike once or twice a week with my pals from TriForce triathlon club in Herts, UK and went back to training twice or more per week in the pool.
By the end of the winter I was feeling much stronger, though still running and biking quite slowly.
It was time for a Triathlon. I decided to enter the sprint series organised by the Thames Turbo club in Hampton west London. The first event was on Easter Monday.
I was ready for it. I thought my stamina was up to it and I could get through the event with a combination of GI diet, antioxidants and SIS gel packs which I had experimented with over the winter. And I had mostly mitigated my ablutionary issue with Immodium as recommended by my surgeon.
I just managed to finish though came off my bike through excitement at the end of the bike course and had to sprint to the loo at the end of the event!!!
The 2nd event in the series was more problematic. It was a cold windy wet day and I was over confident. I didn’t wear enough clothes. At the end of the bike my fingers were so cold I couldn’t get my helmet off. I struggled and struggled with it and after several minutes the kind referee helped me out. I was even colder by now and a 5k run was never so painful.
I collapsed at the finished with hypothermia and I had to be helped into a warm sauna to recover with the aid of some heroic paramedics with an oxygen bottle.
I decided I had reached my next milestone and if I could withstand all that had happened to me I now needed a full Olympic distance to prove at least I could complete the event. I chose the Edllesmere qualifier for Hamburg in June.
Thankfully it was a warm day and a not too taxing course. I found it tough going even though. However I finished without trauma, without hyperthermia, without difficulties with my diabetes which was under control with the systematic use of gel packs and GI diet and no ablutionary difficulties! Fantastic.
Three weeks later I qualified for Hamburg at the very tough Pembroke Triathlon in wet and hilly Wales. As I finished I was glad of the rain hiding my tears of joy! I’d done it and now had to get fitter to make sure I also complete the event in Hamburg.
I was wiped out by the Pembroke experience and needed 3 weeks to recover again. I decided to get over to France for a week to support Geoff Thomas in his attempt to complete the Tour de France route though two days later. Geoff is an ex England International footballer recovering from Leukemia. He deserves our support in trying to raise £0.5M for cancer research.
And now I’ve recovered I’ve come over into Catalunya to try to improve my own running biking and swimming in time for Hamburg.
Why am I doing this? There are a number of reasons. I hope to show what can be done with a lot of work and determination and of course luck in fighting pancreatic cancer. I hope to give encouragement to others fighting back the disease. People like Pavarotti who recently had surgery and is now under going chemo. I want him to come out and say here’s my support in the fight. I would like to highlight the terrible mortality rates for the disease in the hopes someone will mount a program of research to at least find out the causes.
And of course triathlon is a great sport and one that has given my great enjoyment, a goal to aim at and a great reason to fight for life. It’s worth it!
Trace Allen, Dr
P.S. My family are all involved in Triathlon. My daughter won a Silver medal in Edmonton in the 2001 worlds, my youngest son qualified for the Cancun Worlds and my eldest son completes crazy Triathlons such as half IM and Helvellyn Tri. My daughter became elite and competed in ITU World cup races before becoming a GB International road biker.
It’s in the Blood!