IMBC: The One Race That Didn’t Get CANCELLED
by Elena D.
What a s**t show! An absolute s**t show with the most prolonged ending ever. I never thought I would see the finish line. As I sit here now reflecting on the one race that did not get cancelled in 2020, I just think to myself in disbelief, “How the hell did I manage to pull that off?”
Well I guess it boils down to the same way I finished Ironman Wisconsin 2018. Sheer determination, amazing coaching with ET Personal Coaching Services and unconditional love and support from family and friends. As I have said to anyone who would listen it is because of my coach Suzy Cerra, my entire Experience Triathlon Family (ET), my Naperville Police Department family and my very best friends, Amy and Vanessa, that I finished this race. Not only did I finish but I PR’ d.
In order to understand how I was able to pull this off I must lay the foundation. My first Ironman was Ironman Wisconsin 2017. In my mind I was beyond physically prepared for this race because my coach, Suzy Cerra, made sure I was. Going into that race there was not a doubt in my mind that I would finish and hear the words I have played over and over in my head, “Elena Deuchler, You Are an Ironman!” I visualized every physical aspect of that race. I even carried lip gloss in my run belt because I was going to have the best finisher picture ever. I am an off duty super model after all. What I did not prepare for was the mental aspect of Ironman. I was an Ironman rookie and I fell apart when a challenge presented itself by way of a downed cyclist. During this challenge I lost precious time and missed the bike cut off. I should have gotten it done but I was not prepared mentally for that challenge and I choked. I blame myself. I know better and vowed that this would never happen again. Hence signing up for Ironman 2018 the second it came open.
Fast forward to Ironman Wisconsin 2018. I was newly promoted to sergeant and working midnights in patrol which I loved, but I was tired and burnt out from nonstop training, mom having a stroke and significant anti police rhetoric, similar but not as bad as the rhetoric today. When it comes down to it those were all excuses, and I was full of them which translated into me not to get all my training in. Corners were cut and Suzy noticed (she notices everything). I remember the pre-Ironman race talk we had at Starbucks in Naperville where we sat down and went over the race times. I would need to complete each segment in order to successfully negotiate the Ironman course. At the end of the talk I was doing everything in my power not to cry because I was so afraid of failing again. Although I tried to hide it, Suzy knew how mentally fragile I was because at the right moment she reached into her purse and handed me her Ironman finisher medal from 2016. She told me to hold onto it and give it back to her when I crossed the finish line with my own medal around my neck (que ugly cry). More crying came when I saw Kirsten and Doug Wicks at the pre-race dinner in Wisconsin. I remember hugging them both and just breaking down crying as Mr. Wicks hugged me tightly. I think he knew I was scared s**tless. I never was able to hide my emotions. I remember him looking directly in my eyes and telling me with the conviction of a father, “You got this. Do you hear me? You got this.” I was falling apart inside and the thought, “I cannot fail again” consumed me. It was at that moment that I changed my mindset to “There was no way I was not completing this. I will die on this course before I quit.”
Race day went off without a hitch. I was in the zone thanks to Suzy’s amazing spotting during the swim and not a moment wasted in transitions. All was going according to plan until mile 13 of the run. S**t fell apart when my back went out, probably because my body was not as prepared for the abuse the day would bring. Thankfully, Suzy had Sarah closely following my progress because Suzy knows and thinks of everything. When Sarah checked on me at mile 13, she could see things were going south. Sarah selflessly ran with me offering positive words of encouragement but also the hard truth of me being in jeopardy of finishing if I don’t get going. I remember Sarah saying, “There was no time for pain. Pain is a state of mind.” The thought of dying on the course before I gave up played over and over in my mind. I remember praying for a miracle and wouldn’t you know it a miracle came by way of my ET angels: Kurt , Kirsten, Doug and Sherri. Words cannot even begin to express how grateful I am for them. They literally saved me, and it was only because of sheer determination and those angels that I was able to get to the finish line and hear the words from Mike Riley, “Elena Deuchler, You Are an Ironman!” I even made him say it twice as I hobbled down the shoot looking like I suffered a severe stroke. I literally collapsed in Steve’s arms with Laura C. smiling in the background at the finish line. Thankfully, that moment was captured in a photo which hangs on my wall at home over The Black (my bike). I love that picture and I look at it every day. Little did I know that it was that picture of me with Joe, Steve and Laura that would get me through my toughest race to date.
I signed up for Ironman Wisconsin 2020 as soon as it came open in late September. This was going to be the year I put it all together, the physical and mental. I was pumped to train with my crew again, Suzy and Patty. We always have fun training together. So many inappropriate talks that made Joe cringe but such laughter. You can get through anything with laughter even things that aren’t that funny. Training started for Ironman Wisconsin 2020, but it was quickly derailed when I got the news.
December 2019, I found a small lump in my breast which subsequently turned into a diagnosis of a rare form of breast cancer. “What the F**k. I don’t have time for this s**t,” was my immediate, unfiltered response to the doctor. I remember calling my best friends, Amy and Vanessa, and telling them before I even left the hospital parking lot. Vanessa was on a plane the next day to stay with me and clear out every starchy carb and sugar from my house and Amy went to work making me the cutest hats ever.
I then told Suzy. How could I not tell her? She was my coach after all, and she would know because she knows everything. Plus, this slight set back would have to factor into my Ironman training plan. I had it all planned out. I would hone my inner David Goggins and do both. He ran 100 miles with broken shins surly I could do this. I remember telling my oncologist my grand plan of doing chemo while I trained for Ironman. She just looked at me with a concerned stare as I told her my plan to put off any surgeries until after Ironman Wisconsin. She, of course, respectfully rejected my plan and told me that I cannot prolong or put off any portion of my treatment as my form of breast cancer is very aggressive. “WTF doctor. I have zero time for this. I have things to do,” was my response to her but it only took two rounds of chemo for me to realize she was correct, and I was not David Goggins.
I thought long and hard about “coming out” to people because I never wanted to be seen as a victim, nor did I want people to feel sorry for me. With the guidance of Vanessa, Amy and Suzy I decided that I cannot hide this especially since my hair was already falling out. That was a very sad day for me as my hair was my thing. With clumps of hair falling out, it also seemed like my life was falling apart which really sucked because this was going to be the year I found my future ex-boyfriend damnit. I guess that guy got off easy.
I remember telling Amy, Vanessa and Suzy that I wanted to tell my little sweetheart, Robert, first. He was at college being amazing in every way. I did not want to tell him until he could be home during Christmas break and I could see his face to make sure he was ok. I think that is a mom thing. Plus, I needed time to get my head wrapped around this and plan out how I was going to tell him so that he would not be scared because in my eyes Robert is still eight not 18. I remember telling him as we were sitting on the couch watching our favorite movie, Braveheart (He is named Robert the Bruce after all). I, of course, tried to minimize this minor setback but I could see that he was not falling for it because he is 18 not eight and he is so damn smart. Robert took my hand and with a tear rolling down his face he said “Mom, you got this. You are an Ironman. This is just your next race.” Yes, that is how I will look at this whole breast cancer thing, I thought to myself. I will look at it as an Ironman that I am training for. Sometimes we learn so much from our children. So that is how I went from doing Ironman Wisconsin to doing Ironman Breast Cancer (IMBC).
Suzy taught me early on that Ironman is a long journey and that journey can seem overwhelming if taken as a whole, but when broken down into individual events it is manageable. That is the approach I took with this breast cancer journey. Yes, nine months of treatment is overwhelming but if broken down it is manageable. I thought of each part of my treatment as one of the Ironman events. Chemo was the Swim, which seemed never ending at five months but was relatively easy for me. My double mastectomy was the Bike, which was annoying and painful but manageable. The exchange surgery was the Run, which I hated because going into it I was already tired and beaten down. My body was shot and I was in constant debilitating pain. There were some very dark and lonely times during my treatment especially since COVID19 had me quarantined alone for much of it. There were also times that I did not know how I was going to make it to the finish line but as it was in 2018, God sent me angels by way of Suzy, Vanessa and Amy. They carried me to the chute and made sure I crossed that line. A line where everyone was waiting for me.
It is overwhelming to think back on all the love and support I received from each person who has been a part of this journey. There have been so many beautiful gestures from my ET family, Naperville PD family and friends (shakes, food, flowers, Elena Strong bracelets, vodka, cards and late-night phone calls). I took these gestures as motivational coaching moments which said to me “You got this. Do you hear me? You got this.” You have no idea how much I needed those.
See, I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe that it was meant for me to become a member of the Experience Triathlon family just as it was meant for me to be coached by Suzy (she gets me, and she knows exactly how shady I am). I think it was meant for me to fail at Ironman Wisconsin 2017 and rise-up at Ironman Wisconsin 2018 to prepare me for the physical and mental aspects Breast Cancer. I believe that it was because of the coaching and support that only a family can give that I was once again able to hear the words from Mike Riley “Elena Deuchler, You Are an Ironman!”. It takes a village!
(Click below link for Mike Riley’s voice message.)
Thank you all for being a part of my journey and carrying me to the chute. I will never forget this, and I will strive to pay it forward each day.