By Karen Neuser
FFCrew + FF Blog contributor + runner + Ironman
This is the story I posted on my Facebook page the week of Ironman. Needless to say, Fellow Flowers and Declare It Day were a huge part of it. My friends held another Declare It Day ceremony the day I registered for Ironman, just to make it official. Here is my story…
It’s Ironman Week! As race day approaches, I can’t help but remember and reflect on how and why I started this amazing journey. These 4 photos tell a large part of the story.
February 5, 2014: Black Flower-Rock Star. That had to be my attitude going into surgery for a double mastectomy and complete hysterectomy. (I had been diagnosed with an early, small cancerous tumor in my left breast. Due to a strong family history, I decided that was what gave me the best chance to never hear those words again. I was so lucky to not have to receive radiation or chemo). Surgery went well, but I was having a hard time coming out of it. I was nauseous and hot and in pain and couldn’t keep any food down. My support crew was right there beside me.
About 8:30 my husband and everyone left. They were exhausted. I remember laying there in that bed, feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t sleep because I hurt everywhere, I couldn’t eat because it made me sick. A wonderful nurse urged me to eat something so I could take some different pain meds that wouldn’t make me feel sick. I nibbled on some Saltine crackers and jello and my nurse came back in and decided I could try the pain meds. Soon after I dozed off. I woke up and looked at the clock. It was 11:57 pm and I felt so much better. The first thing I thought was, “11:57, that’s 3 minutes before midnight – 3 minutes before Ironman cut-off time. If I can get through this day, I can get through Ironman.” That moment, I called the nurse, who helped me get out of bed and I walked a lap in the hall. And there my journey began at 11:57 pm, February 5, 2014.
Ironman Registration Day 2014: Green Flower-Courage I volunteered two shifts the day before I planned to register. One was catching riders as they come up the helix off the bike course. I had the last shift. I watched as 3 people were told their race day ended there. They did not make the time cut-off. That alone was almost enough for me to change my mind. I don’t love the bike. I am not fast on the bike. That was my greatest fear thinking about whether I could do this or not – could I make the bike cut-off? I remembered how I felt that night of surgery. The next day I clipped in my green flower and went and stood in line to register. I was all by myself, feeling scared, nervous, but excited. Some guy was handing out business cards as I waited in line. Yep, that was Zeus Arreguin. Once again I was lucky! After I registered I took that picture and sent it to my support crew. They replied with encouraging words. Then, I took the first step in tackling my fear: I drove the bike course. What the **** had I just gotten myself into? It would take more than Courage to get through this!
Red Flower-Strength: I knew very early on that Red would be my go-to flower. I was starting behind in my fitness and starting behind in my mental strength. There were so many training days where I questioned what I was doing and why I thought I could do this. Who did I think I was? There was one particular day, driving to the Horrible Hilly 100K in Blue Mounds State Park…I was super nervous about this endeavor – I dislike the bike and I was going to ride 70 miles of hills with a killer at the end?
As I passed John Nolan Drive, I started to cry. I thought of every woman I know who has heard the words “You have Cancer.” So many who have to find far more strength and courage in their battle. Every. Single. Day. No hill could compare. So they were my inspiration. Those hills were for them. I made it that day. Through the hills, the wind, and the rain. It was one of the most difficult days I had, mentally and physically. And when I reached the top of that last hill I cried again, and thanked all the women I know for giving me an ounce of their strength.
September 13, 2015: The day I hope to hear “Karen Neuser, You are an Ironman”. The truth is, even though I get to cross the finish line and hear my name, I will be thinking of every single person who has helped me along the way. My family who has allowed me to be selfish, my crew that just gets it, my friends who kindly ask about my training and listen to me blather on, and my E3 teammates who have made this journey so much easier and enjoyable. And most of all, I will be thinking about my Mom who showed me how to be STRONG through her battle and who I miss every day. It’s going to be an amazing Red Flower day!
Looking back on September 13, it truly was the most amazing day! Everything went right, but I was prepared for the worst. I’m a mantra person. For every event, big or small, long or short. My Ironman mantra: Be Where My Feet Are. I would repeat that to myself over and over! Take one stroke, one pedal, one step at a time. Enjoy the journey, embrace the suck, and relish the joy! For me, crossing the finish line at Ironman was the culmination of an 18-month Declare It Day party!
My “Year of Yes” was last year, 2015. My DID goal for 2016? Focus on the Blue Flower: Be Content to NOT be the one crossing the finish line. Give back, push others forward! I accept it, I want it, I embrace it. I Can & I Will!