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Publication Date: Friday, September 14, 2001
As strong as iron
As strong as iron
(September 14, 2001) Local athletes test their mettle to help people with leukemia and lymphoma
By Diana Reynolds Roome
When a couple of Mary Posey's athletic friends first suggested she do the Ironman Triathlon, Posey could only reply, "Are you insane?" The Ironman consists of 2.4 miles of swimming, 112 miles of bicycling and 26.2 miles of running, all to be accomplished within 17 hours. On Aug. 26, four Mountain View athletes, including Posey, completed the Ironman Triathlon in Penticton, British Columbia, raising more than $30,000 among them for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Over the past eight months, they have been a frequent sight, running at Rancho San Antonio and cycling together on Foothill Expressway in their Team in Training purple, green and white bike jerseys with flashes of neon yellow. As part of a Bay Area group of around 60 participants for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, they have practiced as far afield as the East Bay and Petaluma, swum in Burlingame, cycled over Skyline to the ocean, and run from Aquatic Park in San Francisco and over the Golden Gate to Tiburon. Their rigorous training paid off. They all crossed the finish line as thousands of onlookers cheered and yelled their names, receiving the coveted Ironman medals, tee-shirts and caps that put them in a class of athletic super-achievers. "It was fabulous," said Posey, "though we were all quite a sight for a few days, especially going down stairs." She admitted she was now taking three weeks off to "do nothing," though she'll soon get back to doing 15-mile runs to stay in shape. For Posey, Eric Nedervold, Craig Farless and James Raybould, their own triumph was trumped by the fact that friend and teammate, Louie Bonpua, also finished the race. Bonpua, a 37-year-old natural athlete with chronic myelogenous leukemia, joined the team after going through the rigors of chemotherapy. He came in with about 3 minutes to spare. The audience and other athletes went wild. "Louie is running on willpower and love," said Farless, 33, a Lockheed Martin engineer who has participated in marathon events since 1997. "Meeting people like this is one of the most valuable things. None of us had a personal commitment before we started, but now we can each name 5 or 6 people who are affected [by leukemia or lymphoma]." Farless practices martial arts and used to play football, run track, wrestle and pole-vault. For him, a triathlon was a natural next step, one he found a much bigger challenge. "Initially, I just wanted to do a marathon before I was 30," said Farless. "For the triathlon, I had to learn to swim -- from 25 yards to 4,225 yards." Eric Nedervold, 40, was already an experienced swimmer, and at first saw the triathlon as a comparatively inexpensive way to lose weight. After gaining more than he wanted through years of desk jobs as a software engineer, he reckoned that running a marathon would be cheaper than hiring a personal trainer. Since joining the Leukemia and Lymphoma Team in Training a year ago last March, his weight has gone down but his sights have expanded. In that time, he has done three triathlons, including the Wildflower and the Vineman, which are half the distance of the Ironman. Though he started out not knowing anyone with leukemia, he now knows several, including the team's 9-year-old honoree, Will Lawson, who attended the event in Penticton with his family. Lawson received a bone marrow transplant from his brother five years ago, and is now doing well.
Posey participated in the Ironman for the second time this year, stirred in part by memories of those who have battled disease. Two friends, one from school and one from college, had died of leukemia, a cancer of the blood. Her mother has twice battled breast cancer, and one of her greatest supporters, her father, died earlier this year. She had first become acquainted with the American Society for Leukemia and Lymphoma's Team in Training while running her first marathon in 1998. She failed to finish by two miles, but thought the participants for the LLS were well organized, with dedicated coaches, special T-shirts, and an impressive success rate.
Since joining the Team in Training, Posey has completed five triathlons, including the Ironman twice. She has come to believe the warning of a friend: Triathlons are addictive and have a way of leading on to bigger things. "Eight years ago, after I had my second kid, my biggest goal was making 15 minutes on Stairmaster," said Posey. A touring cyclist throughout her college years, getting back on a bicycle was no big deal. Then six years ago, she joined the Masters swimming program. The real challenge for her was running, and that 26.2 miles still scares her most. "People train to do the Marathon alone. But the Ironman is a big deal, even in the triathlon world. It's not something you take lightly," Posey said.
Long hours of training and the grueling grind of forcing reluctant muscles to achieve ever longer and harder workouts were compounded by being away from her family at weekends. In spite of her doubts, Posey completed the Ironman Triathlon, Canada, last year. Her family solved their problem by following in her footsteps. Husband David and sons Brian, 11, and Erik, 8, are now triathletes themselves, and they all watched her become an Ironman again this year. "The first time you cross the finish line, it's truly extraordinary - it's overwhelming," said Posey. "There are 20,000 people cheering for you and an announcer calling your name. When I finished, I had a desire to do it again, and to help others along that journey." Before long, Posey had committed to mentor the local group for Team in Training. She also persuaded Bonpua, who lives in Milpitas, to come to the first meeting. She knew him when he did his first triathlon three years ago, and he was soon convinced to progress to an even bigger event, despite his recent debilitating treatment. "Mary was very persistent about having me on the team," said Bonpua. "It was amazing how someone else had so much faith in my ability to accomplish such a feat, even when I myself didn't think I could do it." For the rest of the group, the challenge was still enormous, but of a different order.
"The Ironman's all in your head," said Raybould, 23, who was on the rowing crew at Stanford University and is now working on San Francisco's bid for the 2012 Olympic Games. "We train in order to put our bodies into a sufficient physical state that, on the day, the mind is the only thing tested." Despite moments of pain and discouragement, they all mustered the fortitude to make it to the end. Raybould finished first on the team and 7th in his age-group, in 10 hours 54 minutes, almost qualifying for the world champion triathlon in Hawaii. Nedervold wasn't surprised that he took 14 hours 41 minutes, and ranked in the 1,500s out of 1,800 participants. Farless finished with 19 minutes to spare. On this first attempt, they were only too happy simply to make the deadline. "For your first distance event, you don't really know what you're doing, and it's not something you can practice on a regular basis," said Nedervold. There were compensations, too. "I don't think anyone got cheered more than the people who came in during the last 15 or 20 minutes." People at home, too, have shown their admiration for the athletes, regardless of their ranking at the top or bottom in the Ironman. "I'm like a rock star on campus," said Posey, who is a volunteer teacher in the Music for Minors program at Springer school. Nobody, it seems, is about to let the glory or the fitness fade. Farless is planning to do a half-Ironman Triathlon, as well as the LLS Marathon in Anchorage next June. Along with Raybould and Nedervold, Posey has already signed up for next year's Ironman Triathlon. Bonpua is looking even further ahead. He has not only signed up for Ironteam 2002, but is aiming to race in Hawaii, among the world champions.
The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training is the largest endurance training program in the U.S., coaching 30,000 runners, walkers, swimmers and cyclists this year. Team in Training events have raised millions towards finding cures for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkins disease and myeloma. To read more about Louie Bonpua and his experiences, go to: www.ShrimpLouie.com. The next local informational meeting on IronTeam will be at 6.30 p.m. on Sept. 19. at Sun Microsystems, 901 San Antonio Road, Mountain View (near San Antonio Road exit off 101). For other events, contact www.teamintraining.com or call (408) 271-2873.