Trail Stories

July 26, 2011

“Adam… I have cancer.”

The call hit me like a slap to the face. My mouth went dry. My hands felt cold. My brain couldn’t register anything else she was saying on the other line. How could this happen? Why her? What should I do? What should I say?

I hung up the phone unsure if I had said anything at all, grabbed my running shoes, and I took off.

Growing up, I was a runner. From as early as I can remember, I loved to compete. Running 5k’s at age 9, I was beating kids 5 years older than me. In high school I became the fastest distance runner on my team. I even ran cross country and track for a Division 1 college, Central Michigan University.

I was never the most talented runner. I was big. I was a grinder. I had to fight for every inch of every race. What set me apart was my ability to “flip the switch” as I like to call it. I’ve heard it called different things by various athletes. You might know it as “beast mode” or the “eye of the tiger” or “the zone”. Call it what you will, but any athlete knows that when you flip the switch, you’re untouchable.

After college, I lost it. The switch was shut off and I no longer cared to compete. I had achieved everything I could in running and I was resigned to getting fat and happy.

Then my mom got cancer.

I entered every race I could find. 5k’s, triathlons, mud runs, adventure races. Nothing was hard enough! I wanted to suffer more than my mom was. I wanted to take her pain, if only for an hour or two. I wanted to take her chemo and beat it into the ground. I was strong enough, give it to me! Leave my mom alone!

Eventually, I heard about the Tough Mudder. It was perfect. Mud. Obstacles. Electrocution. I was salivating as I watched the videos online. I talked it over with my mom and she decided she was feeling well enough to come watch me compete. My tough mother watching me in the Tough Mudder. Perfect.


The day of the race was cold, rainy, and miserable. My mom never complained. She stood there smiling all day with her beautiful bald head wrapped up in a pink scarf. Before the race, we had a great time laughing at everyone’s outfits, taking pictures with cutouts of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Fabio, and listening to the bands that were playing.

Race time.

The moment the gun went off, I flipped the switch. Fun was over, it was time to whoop cancer’s ass. I sprinted out to an early lead, conquering the first mud hill with ease. I never looked back. Through the sub zero ice bath, the crawl through live wires, the slick gymnastics rings, the quarter pipe climb, the cliff jump, the swim, and finally the tunnel of electrocuting wires leading to the finish line, I dominated.

The challenges were nothing, my mom had cancer. I got shocked and almost fell to the ground.   Didn’t matter, mom had cancer. I got a rusty pin stuck in my hand. Didn’t matter, mom had cancer. My legs and lungs were burning. Didn’t matter, mom had cancer.

I finished well ahead of the rest of the competitors and took my trophy, the iconic orange headband, over to my mom. It was her headband. She was the tough mudder.

I learned there is no good way to cope with cancer. When my mom was diagnosed, I had no idea how to react so I did what was natural to me: I ran. Running helped me deal with my emotions personally, and helped heal our family if only for a short while. That moment was a great day for us because it gave us hope. If we could endure the Tough Mudder and come out the other side ok, we could tolerate the chemo for another day.

Today, my mom lives by her new credo: “Scatter Joy”. She enjoys every minute of her life and is on a mission to spread the love. Along the way, she makes sure everyone around her knows to get checked. Don’t wait, get a mammogram regularly and take control of your own health.

My mom is a 4 year survivor.

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