Every athlete has a story and we love to share them with you. This week we are excited to share Kaitlyn’s story with you:
I have asthma and growing up I hated being different, hated having to stop an activity because of an attack, and really hated having people think I wasn’t capable of something. Other than experiencing wheezing and chest tightening, I knew I wasn’t different and that I could still do everything I set my mind to. I decided early on that I wouldn’t let anything limit me and that quitting was never an option.
I trained for my first triathlon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society when I was 18, but two weeks before the race I tore my Achilles. Not competing was never an option in my mind. I had fundraised and was racing for people who fought for their lives every day without quitting or giving up. I was not about to quit over an injury. If I could walk in a cast boot, then I could still complete the race. I didn’t think I was doing anything astonishing; I was just finishing the goal I had set for myself and experiencing the sport from a different perspective.
My aunt and I both have the goal of completing an Ironman. Last year we were set to compete in the Florida Ironman, but plans changed when I broke my foot a month before the race. Breaking my foot was a physical limitation that was really hard for me to deal with. I couldn’t put much pressure on it, let alone run. Being limited pushed me to work harder, and with the help of a talented Cross Fit coach, I was able to keep my sanity with modified workouts. I quickly learned how true it is that you appreciate certain things so much more after they are taken away. Seeing people in the gym doing things that I couldn’t was incredibly motivating and I knew that when I was out of the cast and healed, I would continue to push myself. Two weeks before my cast came off my aunt and I registered for the Grand Columbian Iron Distance race. It was our Christmas present to ourselves and we starting training the first week of January when I got the official clear on my healed foot.
A week later I was diagnosed with a lymphoma brain tumor. The first thing that came to my mind was how ironic it was that the disease that first brought me to triathlons would come into my life as I was training for my biggest race yet.
I certainly didn’t want to be defined by cancer and more than anything I wanted to keep my life as normal as possible. I kept up my normal life: teaching, training, CrossFit, and grad school. It wasn’t until my hair started falling out that I began telling people. Being bald is kind of hard to hide! As my energy dwindled, I realized I had to give up the training in order to manage everything else. I promised myself I would pick up the training again as soon as my treatment was over.
I won’t lie; having cancer is definitely not fun or easy. And keeping my life as ‘normal’ as possible was much more difficult than I thought. Losing your energy, your appetite, your hair, and your free time is hard. But while I knew I couldn’t control having cancer, I could control my attitude about it. And I realized that having a positive attitude was not a one-time decision, but instead a series of active choices. It’s the choice to wake up and smile as you begin your day; it’s the choice to let comments people make slide off of you; it’s the choice to see the positive in a frustrating situation; it’s the choice to be thankful for the people in your life; it’s the choice to find the learning in every experience; and it’s the choice to decide what kind of example you want to set. If there was any example I wanted to set for my students it was that challenges can be conquered and staying positive makes the experience much more enjoyable.
More than anything, I learned that your attitude is constantly tested. Without a conscious choice to hold on to, it is easy to slip away from the attitude you want to have. For me, that meant figuring out what defined me. And I decided that the word I wanted to define me was resilience. To me, resilience means not quitting or giving up no matter how hard something may seem. It means giving it your all even when you don’t have your all to give. It means loving yourself and accepting that life throws you experiences that may not always be easy, but will always teach you important lessons along the way. Most importantly, it means staying true to yourself, pushing through, and always keeping a smile on your face.
Having cancer helped me understand who I am. The majority of life really is about how you deal with the cards you are dealt. Your response to a situation is always a choice. It may not always be easy, but the difficult times provide an opportunity for you to decide who you truly are. To quote a man that deeply inspires me, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
After finishing treatment in June I began to train again. Getting back in shape after seven months of treatment may just be harder than the treatment itself! But I now know who I am, and it is with resilience that I will continue to train, to never give up, and to not quit until I cross the finish line.