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Sometimes I find myself in the final miles of a hard run wondering if I have what it takes to finish. In those moments I often think about everything that’s going wrong, whether it’s miscalculated nutrition or missed pace goals. I can be very hard on myself, getting wrapped up in perceived failure instead of being thankful for every run because I CAN RUN. Until recently, when I met a runner who changed my perspective and challenged me to be grateful for every chance to push my body.
Meet Kristin McQueen. She’s a 34 year-old, 17-time marathoner who has endured 15 surgeries on her neck and brain and two rounds of radiation to fight metatastic thyroid cancer over the past 10 years. Read Kristin’s story and find out why she’s my inspiration:
Women’s Running: How would you describe yourself?
Kristin: I’m 34 and live in Naperville, IL. I have my doctorate in Physical Therapy and work in Chicago in the outpatient setting, treating many runners and triathletes.
WR: How did you begin running?
K: I actually used to hate running but I started while in college. I was a basketball player since age 10 and missed having that athletic outlet. It took me a good year to actually like running though. It didn’t click for me until I got lost one day and wound up going twice as far as I planned. I was forced to pace myself so I could make it home and that’s when I felt the infamous runner’s high. My endurance habit was born and to this day I still don’t particularly enjoy short distances.
WR: When were you diagnosed with cancer and with what kind?
K: I was diagnosed with Metastatic Thyroid Cancer in 2003 at the age of 24. I felt a lump in my neck and went through three different doctors before one finally listened to me and got the ball rolling by sending me right to a surgeon. So far I’ve had five neck surgeries, 10 brain surgeries (the most recent was just on April 30) and two rounds of radiation. It was the second round of radiation that caused a severe complication, which resulted in all of the brain surgeries. There has been a snowball effect with each surgery resulting in more complications. In a nutshell, I deal with:a partial airway, vision loss, hearing loss, vertigo, chronic pain, and nerve damage. I have yet to hear that my cancer is gone so it’s been my unwanted roommate for 10 years (my 10-year “cancerversary” is coming up on June 27).
WR: How has running help you fight back against cancer?
K: Running helped me through everything because it’s my constant. It has given me a goal with each surgery recovery and has been a motivation to push through when the complications keep piling up. It is a time when I try to make sense of what is happening. Life is always easier to handle after a run. I have also put my running to good use and have raced on behalf of the American Cancer Society since 2002. I’ve raised over $122,000 for them, all of them having taped “Suck it Cancer” to the back of my shirt.
WR: How many marathons have you run? How many IRONMAN triathlon races?
K: I’ve done 17 full marathons and nine full IRONMAN races.
WR: How do you fight through the long distance races? What do you think about in the final miles when it starts to hurt?
K: When I fight through the long distances it is with a smile of gratitude and a belief that if I am out racing endurance events, I am winning over all of my challenges. At IRONMAN Lake Placid 2012, I physically had a terrible race and was forced to walk the entire marathon portion. Let me tell you, that was one looooong walk but I don’t think I stopped smiling the entire time. I truly just love the opportunity to race and to be a part of everything. I’m used to having to adjust my goals based on what my body is doing so I’ve learned to just roll with it and enjoy.
WR: What keeps you running and training?
K: What keeps me running is really just my love of sport but also to show people that “anything is possible.” So many people find any little excuse not to do something out of their comfort zone but that’s where the good stuff happens. I hope to help people realize that a little rough spot in life doesn’t have to take them out of the game.
WR: Best running advice you’ve received or given?
K: The advice I usually give my friends is “SMILE! You’re doing a marathon/Ironman/etc.” As far as advise received, probably just to run my own race.
WR: You’ve already accomplished so much in endurance racing – what goals do you have now?
K: My main goal right now is to get a spot to race the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. The course looks miserable but it’s the Superbowl of triathlon. There is no way I would be able to physically get fast enough to qualify so I keep entering the lottery every year and this year have entered the Kona Inspired contest. My other goal is to run few marathons in the Western part of the country since I haven’t seen much of that area. Races are always such a fun way to explore new sites.
Next time my run gets hard, I’m going to think of Kristin and remind myself that ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE – what will you use to inspire your next tough run? Let me know here or tweet me @KaraDeschenes!