When I was a little girl, my father took me to my first race at the Phoenix YMCA track meet. I was so shy that I didn?t speak up when the girls were being organized into 100 yard dash heats. After all the girls ran, I was still standing there. My dad, legendary Tucson sportswriter Corky Simpson, told the person in charge I hadn?t run yet. There was only one solution. I ran in a boys? heat. I remember that race like it was yesterday. The gun went off, scared the hell out of me, and I took off like a shot out of a cannon. I opened my eyes, and the race was over. My dad was very excited and I was not sure why. Then I looked behind me. The boys were all still running! I had won my first race.
A couple of years later my foot began to hurt and the doctors didn?t know why. It took years of tests and speculation before the doctors did exploratory surgery and found undifferentiated sarcoma — a soft tissue tumor — in the arch of my left foot. Doctors thought the best approach was to remove the tumor, and then ?watch and wait? to see if it returned. It did.
The tumor was removed again when I was 16. Again, because it wasn?t aggressive, the doctors said to ?watch and wait?. It then returned a third time when I was about 19. I guess I knew it was different this third time. I was in such pain that the weight of a bed sheet was pure agony. I remember having to soak my foot in hot water before going to bed. It?s the only way I could get to sleep. The tumor was now deemed very aggressive and my life was in jeopardy. So the leg had to go.
Believe it or not, I actually felt relief when I learned I faced amputation. If I gave up the leg, I would give up the pain. And I had been in some form of pain from the cancer since I was around 9 years old. That?s a long time. But what was worse than amputation was the chemotherapy. I went through treatments every 3 weeks. Each treatment lasted for 72 hours. I would check into the hospital on Friday after classes, and hook up my Hickman catheter to the chemo drip until Sunday night. Not fun. Of course, I also lost all my blonde hair. I looked like a cue ball for about a year and a half. Every time a little bit of fuzz would appear, I?d have another treatment and it would be gone. I was in college at the time — the University of Arizona — land of the beautiful people. I was not one of the beautiful people. But I made it through.
The chemo ended, my hair grew back, I graduated from the University, and I started my first teaching job. I thought my illness was behind me. But the cancer struck again during my first year as a teacher. This time it was in my left lung. For the first time, I was really scared. And I have to admit I was angry. I had had my leg amputated. I had gone through chemo. I didn?t complain. I had been given a 90% + chance of no recurrence. This wasn?t supposed to happen. But it did. I had the lower left lobe of my lung removed, and listened to a doctor tell me that maybe I?d be among the lucky 10% who survived. I didn?t want to think about that, so I hid my illness for over ten years. I told no one I was an amputee (long pants helped) and a cancer survivor.
It was just easier for me to avoid it?.Or so I thought. My ?secret? finally caught up with me and I had to go through post-traumatic stress syndrome a decade after my diagnosis because I hadn?t faced the biggest trauma of my life. What jolted me out of all this denial and secrecy? One word: Running. I began running local 5 and 10 kilometer races. Eventually, I worked my way up to 10-milers, half marathons, and marathons. 10 years after modern medicine saved my life?.Running literally saved it again. In 2003, I tried my hand at triathlon, becoming a member of the US Paratriathlon team from 2004-2009. During this time, I competed around the world representing Team USA, winning 2 national championships, along with 2 world championships. In addition to the Olympic distance triathlon, I?ve also completed 2 Ironman distance races with a best time of 13:23. In 2006, on a ?whim? (I get those a lot!), I ran my first ultra-marathon distance, a 50K race in Toronto, Canada. I surprised myself by winning my age group with a time of 4:58. This planted an idea – maybe I could run even farther. In 2009, I completed four 50-mile runs, with a female amputee worlds best time of 9:13. This qualified me for the Western States 100 Endurance Run lottery. On December 5, my name was drawn from the hat, solidifying my entry into the grandaddy of all ultras: ?STATES?. I have been teaching elementary school since 1985, and am currently a fourth grade teacher in Sahuarita, Arizona, just south of Tucson. My students are great and are very excited about the 100 mile race. I just love
Amy is taking part in the Country Music Marathon in Nashville today along with Team LIVESTRONG. Join us for our other Team LIVESTRONG events and go to www.livestrong.org/team to sign up!