“Go Team Grandma Helene!” “Go Team Grandma Helene!” chanted my niece and nephew with every step my out-of-breath Mom took as we clomped along the 3K Tubbs Romp to Stomp out Breast Cancer Snowshoe. That crisp, sunny February morning in Salt Lake City, Utah, my mother Helene, a breast cancer survivor who is currently battling lung cancer, strapped on snowshoes for the first time in her life. “These are pretty cool,” she said, clinking them together, fascinated with the sleek, light-weight design. “They’re not what I expected.” She envisioned wooden slabs with leather mesh. Give her a break she lives in the Sunshine State and doesn’t see much snow.
My brother Ron and his family reside in Park City, Utah, so we thought snowshoeing together in the February 7, 2009 Salt Lake City Tubbs Romp on Mountain Dell Golf Course would be a terrific way to support my Mom. I flew in from New York and we plucked my brother Michael and Mother from warm, sunny West Palm Beach, Florida so we could Romp to Stomp together.
The five year-old snowshoeing series, which has raised nearly three quarters of a million dollars for Susan G. Komen for the Cure since 2003, offers 3K and 5K options in five cities peppering the country—NJ, VT, UT, OR & CO. The upcoming Colorado event on March 7, 2009 TubbsRompToStomp is the largest, attracting over 2,200 participants last year.
As we clunked to the energized starting area, music cranked and 469 spirited snowshoers shook their hips and pumped fists. “Three … two … one… go!” We were off. Holding hands in a in a family chain, we thump, thump, thumped down the first steep hill onto the crunchy undulating snow-covered greens. The warm sun felt delightful as we marched within the pod of snowshoers zigzagging along the snow-carpeted sprawling field.
“I don’t think I can do this.” Said my mother, who was out breath and holding my arm. We were just 20 minutes in. Having undergone Chemo just two weeks earlier, she wasn’t at 100 percent and the thin air at 7,000 ft altitude wasn’t helping. While finishing the 3K was our goal, starting and staying together was most important.
After a brief rest and a “You can do it Grandma!” from my nine year old nephew Sam and seven year old niece Sklyar, Mom rallied. We pressed on slowly and methodically sipping the fresh mountain air. As an endurance racer who has competed in six day running races across the Kalahari Desert in South Africa and in Costa Rica, the Hawaii Ironman and adventure races in Borneo and Ecuador, I know what it is to suffer. This was the first time I had ever seen my mom dig so deep and I felt an unfamiliar athletic bond with her that is typically reserved for my fellow competitors.
At the halfway point, we met Barbara, also a breast cancer survivor, who was resting her weary feet daunted by poor circulation. She joined our posse. A man whose wife is a Survivor gave my mom his water, peanut butter crackers, and told her “You are such an inspiration for being out here, go do your best.”
As we neared the end of the tree-lined rolling route, the finish appeared atop the steep hill we descended nearly two hours earlier. My mom was hurting. “It may be time to call the rescue snowmobile,” she said, starring up the hill while stopping to catch her breath. With my brother Michael holding one arm and me clutching the other, we took it step-by-step with a few rest stops in between. “Go Team Grandma Helene!” we chanted in unison. Onward! We inched up the hill and upon crossing under the pink “finish” banner, my mom collapsed into my arms as we hugged. My family piled in and from beneath came a muffled “We did it!”