How the World of Triathlon Saved My Life!

How the World of Triathlon Saved My Life!

by Marijo W.

When I became a Triathlete, I knew it was a life changing decision.  What I didn’t realize is was a lifesaving decision.

The “C” Word

On March 26th, 2018 my life was turned upside down. I was diagnosed with Stage III Colorectal Cancer after my first colonoscopy.  My thought was, wait Doc, I just finished a Half Ironman race, I’m in training for a half marathon and just won a lottery spot in the Chicago Marathon, my first marathon.  I can’t have CANCER!  But I did.

Now what?  In the past 5 years I had lost over 80 lbs., learned to strive to live a healthier lifestyle and became more active.  In that journey I discovered the world of Triathlon, Coach Joe and Experience Triathlon (ET).  Was all that over now?

My Ultimate Endurance Race

As my cancer team explained to me, my treatments would consist of three different approaches; radiation/oral chemo, surgery, and chemotherapy with recovery time in between each treatment. Well that pattern was familiar.  It’s just like in a triathlon; radiation/oral chemo=Swim, recovery=T1, surgery=bike, recovery=T2 and finally chemotherapy=run.  This will be MY ultimate triathlon! I got this! My goal is to keep moving forward and I cross that finish line.

ET Family Love!

I decided to make my cancer journey public.  When I shared this news with my coach, Jim Riga, of ET Personal Coaching Services and my ET teammates, I was not prepared for the support and love I received from this wonderful group of people.  One of the team members created a temporary tattoo called “Miles for Marijo”.  Many of the ET members wear it during their “A” race that year including at Ironman Wisconsin.   I was sent meals and gift cards and well wishes from so many of my teammates.

All this support, fueled me to stay focused on getting back to the team, back to being a triathlete and not a cancer patient.  My doctors told me that because of my positive outlook and my pre-treatment condition, I was in good shape to tolerate what was before me.  During periods of feeling good, I continued to be active.  I would walk the treadmill and attend ET Master Swim and take Fannie (my bike) out for bike rides. Seeking every opportunity possible to be with my ET Peeps.

In March, 2019 I had my final procedure and I am happy to shout, I’M CANCER FREE!  One year after being diagnosed.  I truly believe that my training and ability to endure which I learned as a triathlete was very much a part of my success in my treatment journey.


ET Personal Coach and Friend Jim Riga

Now my focus was to get back to training.  I had two big races scheduled, the Chicago Triathlon and the Chicago Marathon.  As much as my mind wanted to just pick up from where I left off a year earlier, my body not so much.  I struggled with fatigue and lower back muscle issues which was putting me behind on my training schedule I was blessed to have my ET Coach Jim Riga there to slowly and patiently work with me and remind me that it will be fine.  Believe me there were moments of doubt, but he believed it would happen, so than I believed as well.  Talk about customized training to meet the athlete where they are.

Chicago Triathlon

I had no real big goals for my Chicago Triathlon race. I had dreamt of being on this course as my motivation during my treatments.  It was surreal to actually be doing it.  I was honored that The World-famous ET Cheer Crew was right there to support me.   Sure, does make a girl feel special.

The Chicago Marathon

All the while, my back issues were getting worse.  I couldn’t run or walk without pain.  I was very concerned about my ability to get the miles in needed to complete this my first marathon-the Chicago Marathon.  But each week I worked at doing my PT exercises and running my training miles despite at times painful and very slow. I was determined not to quit.  I had deferred this race after being diagnosis and had to pay again to run this year.   At this point, my goal was just to cross the START line and get my t-shirt.  Whatever happened after that was a blessing.  But as the race got closer, I was getting stronger and I felt that just maybe I would see that finish line.

On race day, my goal was to cross the finish line before they closed the course and to take in every moment. I thanked all the volunteers, firefighters and police, danced to the music of the many pop up musicians who were on the course and cheered on my fellow back-of-the-packers.   I never once believed I couldn’t finish and I felt strong throughout the race both physically and mentally (well there were moments) but in the end I made it.  I was so worried that I would be pushed off the course by the city’s blue street sweepers.  But there were no blue trucks behind me.  But in front of me was my ET family, and Coach Joe holding our team banner up high, like a beckon in the night.  With only one mile remaining I realized I would be completing my first marathon, a sprint triathlon and beat cancer all within a year and half. (Ugly crying finisher picture not for public viewing-ha)


I am trully Blessed.  Thank you!

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