The Florida Iron Man involves swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles. It is one of the toughest sporting competitions in the world.
Many people, including me, have trouble swimming half a mile let alone 2.4 miles. Cycling 112 miles might involve the equivalent of cycling flat out on an exercise bike for 6 hours. I have trouble even making a start on my exercise bike!
Running 26.2 miles is not easy as many young and healthy people find out when they have to stop or stagger to the end. Jane Tomlinson recently completed the Florida Iron Man, in 15 hours and 48 minutes.
Before the race, the announcer told the crowd: “Jane Tomlinson from Leeds, England is racing. She learned 4 years ago that she had only 7 months to live because of terminal cancer. She has been doing triathlons ever since.”
Jane has a supportive husband called Mike and 3 lovely children, Suzanne, Rebecca and Steven. She has had cancer for 14 years. 4 years ago she was told she had 7 months to live. She has now lived 4 years since she was told she would die within 7 months.
Many people, who are on the receiving end of news that they have terminal cancer, just give up and wait to die or take drugs which will hasten their end. Jane, on the other hand, decided to live and coped with her illness by taking up various tough sporting challenges.
One of her daughters commented on a recent TV documentary that Jane was “never a sporty person before all this. She did gardening and walking and that’s about it. I never saw her run or do anything athletic.”
Jane wanted to leave her children a lasting memory of their mum achieving things: “I know having cancer is not a positive thing but I just wanted to find a way to live and remember that I am still alive and pleased to be here. I try to just enjoy what I’ve got in front of me.”
Many sick people give up their roles as carers and wage earners. Jane has kept her roles as a mum and a wage earner. She looks after her three children and works as a radiographer. She started training to be a radiographer 14 years ago after her mastectomy. She needs some of the money to be able to travel to the sporting events she competes in.
What amazes me about her is how she manages to live such a full life and still attend at hospitals and clinics to receive the treatment she needs to keep going.
She does this by first creating her treatment schedule as the priority and then fitting in the rest of her life around this. Her life is so full that many people can’t believe she is ill:
“Some people don’t believe that I am actually poorly but I am. Occasionally you remember that things are pretty dire.” Even walking can be painful because of the tumours in her bones.
Some criticise her being away travelling and competing instead of staying with her family. Her answer: ” If I do these events, I will be fit enough to spend time with my family.” Some of her family went with her to Florida.
Her doctor comments: “Jane is an example of what can be achieved through modern anti cancer treatment but the majority of my patients don’t run marathons.” That is an understatement.
Jane had several obstacles in her path before she actually arrived in Florida.Her hip was sore and stopped her training for the iron man. At times she was undecided as to whether to go or not :
“I don’t think I should go but that does not mean I won’t go”. Her husband Mike did not want her to go: “She could be a paraplegic by the end of the race or even die.”
In the end she decided to go and Mike supported her because:
“She can’t put it off till next year because there isn’t a next year. It’s now or never”. Jane commented: “If I don’t give myself an opportunity to try, it will always be unfinished business.”
She packed her gear with the help of her friend, Ryan, who would be her companion throughout the Iron Man. She made sure she included her pain killers
She arrived in Florida and decided to attempt to start the race even though she was not fit. No terminally ill cancer patient has attempted an iron man before. She explained one reason for racing: “One of the reasons for doing this is to challenge people’s perceptions of illness”.
Mike had never been as scared as this before. “I wish to hell she wasn’t doing this.” He didn’t tell her what he was thinking because she needed all his support in what might be her last great venture.
Mike remarked: “There aren’t many boundaries left that you can bring down in the world. She has gone from being told she is going to die to doing an iron man. I would never have believed it”
Jane seemed to enjoy the swim and got through the cycle ride. In the marathon she was still running after 9 miles. “Absolutely incredible!” exclaimed Mike. “She is obviously not comfortable and is feeling pain in all the places she has got cancer.”
Steven told his dad to calm down. He knew that his mum would be alright.Over 80 competitors had pulled out after 13 hours but Jane was still competing. Mike cried out: “She ‘s still running – bloody hell. You’re going to do it! Go for it, love. We’ll see you at the finish”
At the finish, Mike expressed his amazement again: “I never thought in a mllion years she would get to do this.” Ryan, Jane’s companion on the race, commented: “Jane just blew me away!”
Jane’s comment not surprisingly was: “This is the final thing I am doing.” By the end of the iron man race Jane had set an inspiring example for both the healthy and the sick. She and Mike had also raised 1 million pounds for cancer research.
All of us are terminal but not all of us have realised it yet. Life is too short to waste however long we may live on this planet. We all need to take swift action to do what is important to us while we still have the chance.
Jane’s life is just one of those lives that can inspire us to achieve far more than we could dream possible and to make the most of whatever life we have left. We can all compete in our own iron man race.