Pink is everywhere ! Not that pink- the pink of Breast Cancer Awareness, which is why I’ve decided to “blog” this month.
In 2007 I was diagnosed with breast cancer-I’ll answer all the questions you’re thinking-no family history, exercised regularly, healthy diet, and had a digital mammogram less than five months prior. One thing I did have- STRESS! I was raising 5 kids, driving to field hockey, cheerleading, karate, all in different directions and no where nearby; and oh did I mention I was working (OR/PACU Clinical Nurse Specialist). I know this is like what most of you are doing, if not even more!
Anyway on with the story, Robin Roberts, anchor on Good Morning America, announced she had breast cancer and I immediately did a self breast exam. I wasn’t very diligent about doing them because I was so lumpy anyway and figured I wouldn’t know the difference. Well I felt a lump and it was different, the doctor was pretty certain it was a cyst. It felt like the eraser tip on a pencil. I had a biopsy and it was cancer. I opted for lumpectomy followed by radiation, but when the pathology report came back, I still had cancerous cells that had spread outward from the “lump”. I then decided to have a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Next came four and a half months of chemotherapy which totally sucked! Lost my hair, got fat from the steroids, my parents basically moved in with us and they just took care of everything which was wonderful! My husband was amazing even though it was very difficult for him to see me so sick.
All throughout I had tremendous support from family, friends, colleagues- imagine going into surgery and your entire staff is wearing pink ribbons in your honor! this is how you get through it.
After treatment I began yoga, I was so debilitated I had to go easy. This is how I met Laura Bonanni, she was so caring and understanding with me. I followed her to her new studio and that’s how I met Lydia DelRosso. I heard her talking about formation of the Tri-Club. By now my husband had gotten me into cycling so I wanted to join for more riding opportunities. I had no interest in a triathlon- well this past season- I was going to do one and done- Queen of the Hill. Yeah right I did four and all were different and I enjoyed each one. I love being a member of the Mullica Hill Women’s Triathlon Club! I’ve met so many wonderful fun women many I consider friends.
After going through this, I pretty much never have a  bad day and each day is a gift!
So please as a favor to me, if you’re due for a mammogram get one; and don’t forget to check your boobies, it could save your life!

I started this past year training for a half marathon and as fall nears I am still unable to run more than 3 miles without leg pain. I have a bone cyst and it is healing. But it is taking everything I have not to push myself too hard. I really do miss running, which I never in a million years thought I would ever say.

So unable to run this year I focused on swimming. Swimming has always been a part of my life. I have been swimming competitively on and off since I was 6. It is the strongest leg of a tri and my favorite activity. This summer instead of waking up to run I joined my local swim team and alma mater the Chestnut Run Stingrays for practice. There is something so humbling about swimming with the kids you taught swim lessons to 15 years ago, and try to keep up with them.  It was great to get in the pool and log a few thousand yards a day. 

Open water swimming isn’t a completely new concept for me, this is my 4th year completing ocean/distance swims. This year I really embraced it. Starting in May with the 2.4 mile Navesink river swim and ending with the Atlantic City Pageant Swim. I completed 7 open water swims, ranging from 1 to 3 miles, Including a 1 mile swim in Lake Tahoe. And not to brag but placing in 6 of the  7,  and first over all female in Tahoe.
My other passion is yoga. I practice and/or teach 6 days a week. It is part of daily routine. In the past year I have noticed a huge change in my practice; physically and mentally. What started as an alternative to going to the gym 10 years ago has turned into a lifestyle for me, a deeper connection to myself and those who I share this wonderful practice with.
As I was swimming my first open water swim this year I really noticed a change in how I approached and executed the swim.

In the weeks following I began to integrate this into my yoga lessons: How yoga can become much more than just an hour on your mat. I wrote this mostly just for myself, but I have had the opportunity to share it and I would love to share it with all of you.
As the summer approached I started to plan my open water-swimming schedule. I started the season with a river swim. This year I opted for the 2.4 mile swim, while last year I stuck with the 1.2 mile. I knew this would offer a whole new challenge physically and mentally. But I was prepared. I practiced in the pool, and worked to build up my distance. As the day approached I had a mix of nerves and excitement. I knew I had what it physically took to finish the race, but now the challenge was to swim faster and smarter.
I arrived early and got my cap and timing chip and found a spot to get ready before the race. Put my earphones in and allowed myself to tune out all the activity around me—the hundreds of swimmers and family buzzing around. I began to stretch, and without thinking about it moved right into sun salutations. I was ready, stretched warmed up and excited. As we got into the water the anticipation began to build; it’s hard to think of anything else but reaching the first buoy without getting kicked or kicking someone else. The race started, and I found my rhythm. The first 1.2 mile loop was smooth, it felt good. As I rounded the first turn I started to notice how this swim was different than any other swim I had ever done. Why was this? I asked myself, what was so different this year as compared to years past. My first thought was this feels like a really good yoga practice.
Why did it feel like a yoga practice? I can break it down into 3 contributing parts: physically, mental and the breath. Physically, I see the changes in my body from my daily yoga practice. My muscles are stronger, I stand taller, and I’m overall healthier and happier. Beyond the obvious physical changes I noticed that I was able to control where I used energy. I didn’t have to work as hard to go faster. It just seemed to happen. I could feel the space in my body. In class we talk about creating space and moving into that space. Space in the shoulders, in the chest, between the ribs and the hips, lengthen the spine. I felt this space with each stroke. I have had great swimming coaches in my life, tons of drills on how to lengthen the stroke, I was taught how to get the most out of each pull. But this felt different, I felt like each stroke was long and smooth, there was no struggle. The energy I was conserving allowed me to complete all 2.4 miles.
Mentally, before each class we ask that everyone block out outside distractions, to allow the focus to turn inward. As my strokes became longer and stronger I worked my way into a rhythm. I blocked out the swimmers around me, the splashing and kicking. Instead of thinking about how much further I still had to swim I had appreciated how far I had already gone. My thoughts turned inward, and I found an internal rhythm that kept me going.

Lastly:  the breath. The rhythm was the sound and the feeling of my own breath. While yoga breathing and swimming breathing are on the outside much different, it is still breathe, it is still prana, it is still life force. In yoga we breathe in and out of the nose. Pulling the air deep into the belly with each inhale and letting go of all the air on each exhale, making space for new fresh air. We all breathe, but if you ever take a moment to stop and notice your breath chances are it is quick and not very deep. By pulling the breath deep into the belly, expanding the ribs and lung capacity we can take in more oxygen which results in more energy and more life. Swimming breathe, on the other hand tends to be more of a mouth breath, and it happens pretty quickly. Inhale, head in water, blow out the breath, turn head breathe, this formula sounds simple enough. What I started to notice was that I was able to slow this pattern down without becoming short of breath. I could inhale deeper into the belly, and exhale all the air out. The feeling I got with this was more energy and a deeper, longer stroke. I didn’t have to take as many breaths, which allowed me to stay in a more consistent pattern.

My swim felt like a yoga practice, a complete union of mind, body, breath.  It was an amazing experience for me.  Overall I was stronger and more confident in my stroke and more consistent over the 2.4 miles. So it got me thinking. How has yoga affected other areas of my life?  This connection can be associated with anything you do, whether it is a distance swim, run or bike (or a combo of all three), playing a musical instrument, hiking or just playing with the kids in the yard. Begin to look at your activities and notice a change. And if yoga isn’t part of your daily practice yet, think about what could be affected by adding it into your life. Being stronger and more flexible both physically and mentally, standing taller, breathing deeper. These are things that everyone can benefit from
I love swimming in the ocean, no walls or lane lines just me and waves. It takes a lot of practice, patience and persistence but anyone can do it. I hope to see more pink shirts at swims next year. The swim community in NJ is one of the best, and is growing every year. There is nothing like swimming out past the breakers, it’s one of my favorite ways to spend a morning in the summer.

When I think about how I first got involved in triathlons, it brings me back to the very first race I committed to doing.  It was the Marlton Lakes Triathlon scheduled for August 30, 2004, and boy oh boy was I stoked!

I first heard about triathlons at the Riverwinds Community Center, where I worked teaching Spinning, yoga, and other group fitness classes. At that point triathlons were really growing in popularity, and Riverwinds was hosting its first Triathlon Training Class. It sounded like a challenge, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it.  But with some major encouragement from my family and friends, I decided to go for it.  I signed up with a couple of friends and we made the commitment to “tri” a sprint triathlon together. We chose DQ’s Marlton Lakes Tri to be our first race.

Just the idea of the swim made me extremely nervous. As a kid I took swimming lessons, but never actually swam for any significant period of time—and never in a lake. That just seemed gross. On the first day of the triathlon class, I couldn’t swim more than 2 lengths of the pool, and water kept getting into my goggles. Eventually I learned how to relax in the water (thanks to yoga), found some smaller goggles, and after about 6 weeks I was swimming at least 25 laps without having to stop. It seemed incredible.

My bike experience was limited primarily to the Spinning room at Riverwinds.  I already had a hybrid bike, which I bought a couple years prior, so riding a bike outside was still fairly new to me. Everyone said how important it was to get the real road experience, so I would go out with other riders whenever I could, which really helped me gain confidence and get comfortable riding on the road.  Once I got over my fear of the cars and riding on narrow shoulders, riding outside was a blast! It made me feel like a kid again.

Up to that point, I hadn’t been running regularly either. There was the Susan G. Komen 5K that I did a couple years back and a 5k run in Harrison Township, but that was about it. My knee would often hurt when I ran, so it made it difficult to keep up with it. So I talked and ran with other runners, got a good pair of running shoes, and started putting on the mileage. The triathlon trainer also introduced the class to the Pose Method of Running, which basically involves running on the balls of your feet. I bought the book and tried it. Running got better, and actually felt pretty good sometimes.

As the training progressed, the excitement began to build. The long weeks of training started to pay off. I was becoming a better cyclist and there was no doubt that my running was faster. I had the triathlon bug and never felt so alive in my life. I was ready to race. Then, it literally all came crashing down.

A week before the Marlton Lakes Tri, I went out for a short brick (bike/run), alone, on a Saturday morning.  Near the end of the bike ride, I made a right turn into a neighborhood. There was sand and gravel on the roadway. I panicked, thinking that my bike was going to slip out from under me, so I took the turn wider. Turns out I took the turn too wide and too fast and ended up hitting the median in the middle of the roadway, flipping over on my bike. I got up, checked my bike, felt my wrist hurting a bit, and decided to head home (riding the bike of course!). I was still thinking about doing the 2 mile run.

As it turns out, I never did that run because my wrist got a hairline fracture when I crashed. And I missed my very first triathlon. That’s right. I never got the chance to do the Marlton Lakes Triathlon in 2004. What a let down. Actually I was very lucky…it could have been much worse.

I was not ready to give up. My fitness level was the best it had ever been. While my wrist was healing and since biking outside and swimming was out, running became the main event. It was going well, and I was considering training for something bigger–a marathon.

At some point that fall, as the training volume increased, my forefoot started to hurt while running. Then it hurt all the time. I kept running, trying to ignore the pain. Big mistake! I eventually went to a podiatrist and after two visits, an X-ray, and an MRI, was diagnosed with Freiberg’s Disease in my third metatarsal (foot bone). Freiberg’s Disease is also called avascular necrosis, which is the fancy way of saying that the blood supply to my bone was cut off, and the metatarsal head began to die, causing inflammation and pain. And while the true cause is not known, most physicians generally agree that when this disease occurs in adults, it is most likely due to repetitive stress or trauma. Perhaps the Pose Method of Running wasn’t right for me.

I was deflated. I worked so hard and was in the best shape of my life at 38 years old. But it was time to stop. No marathon for me. I wasn’t even sure if I’d ever be able to run or do triathlons again. After some soul searching, healing, and going through a couple of pairs of custom orthotics, two podiatrists, and several pairs of running shoes, I finally was able to take up running and triathlons again. The injuries taught me that stopping is not the same as quitting. Healing happens. You can move on.

It took me a couple of years, but I did eventually get to do the Marlton Lakes Triathlon, this time with a lot more experience in the saddle.  It was one of my best races. I also got to run in a half marathon—a distance I thought would be impossible for me to do. I have since participated in many sprint triathlons, running, and biking events, recently completing my 5th half marathon. I am so grateful that I am still able to do this and for all the inspiring people I have met along the path. And I am thrilled to be a part of such an awesome club with fabulous women. So maybe that marathon isn’t out of reach after all. Ladies?

Back on my bike after all these years……………………

A year ago my sister asked me if I would be interested in joining the MHWTC. After many conversations of her encouraging me to just come out to the training events and my reluctance to get involved I started to think…….how could I possibly fit this in working full-time, baseball for 2 boys and wrestling for one of them. A husband who’s work schedule is on again off again, and just the demands of everyday.  Yup, I had to think about it. My life was so overwhelmed with well L.I.F.E. I couldn’t see the trees through the forest!!

This past January I made a conscious effort that things were going to change for me, and it was going to be positive for both me and my family. January 1st I took a different job that gave me back what I had lost – time. Time for me, time for my family, time to breathe. Mid January I started back at a gym but most of what I had time for was running on the treadmill. It was a start and with every week I saw improvement walking, than a brisk walk. Time to pick up the pace but how? My sister said to me hey did you see that Couch to 5K? What are you talking about?  I thought she was joking at first, then I googled it and there it was. Next thing I knew I was running, well in my case just trotting along. But I did it.

I signed up for my first Triathlon at Riverwinds and then my next Queen of the Hill then my last this season was SheRox. I loved them all but my favorite part in a tri is the bike. I love to bike. It’s a freedom that can take you where ever you want to go for as long as you want to spin. After SheRox was over I felt a lull in my training and seemed to miss some of my new found friends. I saw some of the girls had signed up for the MS 150 and were on the team “Amanda’s Angels”. I talked to some of my friends (i.e. Leigh Ann and Patty) and wondered with only 30 days before the ride would I beable to raise the minimum needed to ride and would I beable to make the trek down and return? With their encouragement I pushed the button signed up, now I was committed.

The fund raising part started slow and I wasn’t sure how I was really going to raise the funds. I mentioned to my co-workers I had signed up for the MS 150 would they help me. I spread the word on facebook and asked for help from my friends. With a little desperation from myself I was able to surpass the minimum goal in just a few short weeks. Wheeeww with that behind me now onto the ride.

I asked a couple of people from the team what their overnight arrangements were and quickly realized I needed a place to stay. The MS site had a central phone number to call to make reservations for teams, individuals, families, just about everyone. That was easy, one room for a family of 4. Who forgot to check the calendar before that was done? ME! So with a baseball tournament for 1 son, wrestling practice for the other son and a softball game for my husband I realized it was just going to be ME and my bike, Okay! I can do this.

Friday night I packed my backpack, checked my bike/tires, and got a couple phone numbers from my Tri girlfriends so we could meet up. YUP, totally nervous nelly making sure I had it all together. I even laminated the cue sheet just in case it rained and I got lost.

Woke Saturday morning at 4am, got it together and off we went. We pull up to Woodcrest Station exit and the cars were backed up on 295 so far that it was a longer wait than I had time. I needed to meet up with the team at the baggage drop off by 5:40am. So off to the next exit to sneak around and if I had looked at my instructions I would have realized Woodcrest Station Road was closed. OK park in the Xerox parking lot and they were ready for the overflow. Baggage drop off, clean porta potties, volunteers everywhere it was awesome!! Still pitch black!! But it was awesome!! I kissed the family good-bye and off to the meeting spot. I thought WOW the enormity of this event was just awe inspiring. I easily found the team, hard to miss bright orange jerseys, they are eye catching!

I joined the team at the back of the first group to go off which were the Century riders and the fast riders and then there was me….yup I got in their somehow. We took off with the start of the event and slowly made our way through the parking lot onto the road and through a residential community. We were so close to each other we could have changed each others gears. My good friend and riding buddy Leigh Ann and I were just chatting away with exhilaration over the start, we were stoked, and it was thrilling to be among that many riders that had started this journey to support MS. Within minutes a rider comes up next to us and says “Do I hear my tri girls?” We look over and here comes Dave Rode up next to us. Small world in a SEA of thousands of riders. We continued on our journey accompanied by Laura Bonnette Longo and Becky (?). It was so cool to ride together as a team. We had so many shout outs asking how the Angels were doing? And where’s Amanda?

The 70 + miles took us through back roads, farm fields, cranberry boggs, volunteers and policeman at every turn. There were rest stops every 15 to 20 miles with food, water, Gatorade, DJ’s, bike mechanics and porta potties, yes clean porta potties!!! We were riding 5 riders deep at times and nothing in front but bike riders and nothing behind but bike riders. OMG!! I love bikes!! Becky and Laura turned off at the Century tour and Leigh Ann and I continued on to OC.

The first 70 miles felt like a one mile walk around the park and then Somers Point came and we were so close, the sea air the breeze the smell of the finish line and we turned the corner along the back bay and there are 2 bridges in front of us, 2!! Oh NO!! I’m asking everyone where’s the finish line? Where is it? Do we have to go over those bridges? The answer was YES, not one but both of them! The steam came out of me faster than a freight train speeding down the tracks. With my trusty sidekick, Leigh Ann, I made it up and down both of those bridges. As we came into town we past the house where the team “Amanda’s Angels” were staying. The house was decorated in orange of course. The people were cheering us on, the kids were so excited to see us with the orange jerseys. The finish line seemed more like a mission. We finished the ride strong flying into the finish line side by side. The crowd cheering us on and Leigh Ann’s mom as our personal paparazzi, it was without a doubt an incredible accomplishment, 78.9 miles later.

The ride wasn’t over yet, we still had Day 2. This time we had a trio, Leigh Ann, Cheryl Tavano and I.  The start for Day 2 was not full of the fanfare Day 1 had. You got up ate breakfast (served by the MS volunteers) and off you went. We didn’t quite get that at first but eventually realized we needed to just get on our way. Still pitch black, the bridges seemed less obtrusive then the end of our ride the night before. Day 2 we had a couple of things going on, our seats weren’t quite as comfy as they were on day 1 (OUCH!). There weren’t as many people on the return trip as we had going down. We knew early on that the way home was to jump on a pace line and stay with a group.  There was only one stretch of the road between rest stops where we didn’t have a group to draft and it felt endless. We soon recovered and found a mixed group of riders that worked well together and we —-I was thankful!! I’m pretty sure Leigh Ann and Cheryl Tavano were too. As we got closer to the finish line we were peddling faster and faster, (maybe that was just me).  We had our paparazzi all set up for our finish line photo. Just one phone call 5 miles before the finish line, which our amazing Leigh Ann did while riding in the pace line at 16 + mph.  I don’t know if  I should be writing that but that was nothing but amazing. We finished all lined up together, me, Cheryl Tavano and Leigh Ann. Just a wonderful feeling, another 78.9 miles later.

What a memorable weekend it was, thanks to my teammates “Amanda’s Angels” what a great ride!! My riding buddies especially Leigh Ann and Cheryl for sticking with me on the ride and making the ride so much more than just a ride to the shore.
We’ll never forget the sights we saw. The guy riding his bike with Harley boots and a green pillow on his seat. Leigh Ann was looking for that pillow on Day 2. We shared a couple of laughs with him. The one guy who was in desperate need of new shorts, made me laugh so hard (at the jiggly butt) that I couldn’t keep pace. The one rider who said he was very disappointed with the ride because he couldn’t understand how (7,000) riders wouldn’t stay single file. HAHA!! The hole in the road that wasn’t really a hole, stay alert people. My left turn when everyone was turning right in front of me, I respond to hand signals people not signs. The volunteers and spectators just thanking us for riding for the cause, just doing something we love to do and they were thanking us!!  (I know it was so much more than that.)