Angela Ivory picking her way down a rocky trail in New Mexico, at the Ghost Town 38.5-mile race, Jan. 18, Hillsboro, New Mexico; and, bottom, Josh Hite on his way to winning the Arkansas Marathon, Sept. 19, Benton, Arkansas
During the lead-up to the first Komen Upper Cumberland Race for the Cure, I suggested the race to two area running friends and wrote this story for the Herald-Citizen, Sunday, October 11, 2009.
Two well-known runners have registered for the Upper Cumberland’s first annual Komen Race for the Cure 5K. Race-day registration begins at 6:00 a.m. and opening ceremonies are at 7:00 a.m., Saturday, October 17 at TTU’s Hooper-Eblen Center in Cookeville, with the race starting at 8:00 a.m.
Extreme runner Angela Ivory of Nashville has scheduled the race, as has elite marathoner Josh Hite of Cookeville. Both runners ordinarily favor much longer distances.
Ms. Ivory has not run such a short race since January of 2004. Friends kid her that maybe she can’t.
In 2003 she discovered cancer in her breast. It changed her life, but not in the way anyone would imagine. She endured the usual weary horror—lost a breast, lost 22 lymph nodes, and endured months of chemotherapy and radiation.
None of that bothered her much; she was already skilled at endurance. It only altered her arc. In 2004, when the medical aggravation was over, she started a new phase—running a marathon (26.2 miles) every weekend. She ran 47 in one year. After barely more than a year, she had run a marathon in each of the 50 states.
She was just starting.
She made two new goals: run two marathons in each state, and run an ultramarathon in each state. An ultramarathon is any race longer than 26.2 miles; typical distances are 31 miles, 50 miles, 62 miles, and 100 miles.
She only lacks five marathons for the first goal and 18 ultras for the second goal.
Each weekend requires a trip for Ms. Ivory, usually a long trip. To make time for her weekend travel, she usually takes leave on Monday or Friday from her job with the State of Tennessee, where she works as an environmental engineer. Last weekend she was at a 24-hour race in her hometown of Memphis. The week before that she was in Bellingham, Washington. This Sunday she is at a trail marathon in Lincoln City, Indiana. And next Saturday she will visit Cookeville.
All this, she does while fighting cancer. After four years, it has returned. Bothered by back pain in 2007 that she thought was caused by all the running she went to a chiropractor, and she tried physical therapy. Neither helped.
She then had MRIs and a bone scan. The images showed that breast cancer had metastasized as an inoperable tumor on her lower spine. It ate holes in her pelvic bone as well. She now takes a medicine to rebuild her bones and another medicine to inhibit the production of estrogen, which the tumor feeds on.
The 41-year old Ms. Ivory is in continual pain now. Her iron count sometimes gets so low that just walking makes her out of breath, and she occasionally has to take iron infusions. She has a bone scan every four months to look for signs of new cancer. Except for her spine and pelvic bone no new sites have appeared.
In her online blog, “See Tiger Run,” Ms. Ivory discusses her various treatments candidly and with humor, absent of any self pity. And through it all, she runs.
Local marathon ace Josh Hite is a runner near the top of his game. He has penciled in the Komen Race for the Cure too. This year alone, Mr. Hite, who is 31, has won three marathons, and he has finished among the top three seven times.
He strives to run about two marathons per month and has run 13 so far this year. He is on track to complete 20 to 22 marathons this calendar year, he says.
Conventional wisdom holds that an elite marathoner should not run more than two or three marathons per year. Mr. Hite scorns that practice. Additionally, he runs high mileage during his training, and expects to exceed 4,000 miles of running this year. His success has led to a sponsorship with Marathon Guide, an online race service.
Komen Upper Cumberland, which carries the formal name Upper Cumberland Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, was approved by the national organization in December 2006. Since then, Komen UC has raised and granted $240,000 to non-profit organizations to help provide education, screening and treatment for breast cancer throughout the 14-county region of the Upper Cumberland.
Eileen Stuber, President of Komen UC, recently explained how the local affiliate was formed.
“The impetus was being a breast cancer patient. And when I was through with that I felt like there were lots of things that patients needed that weren’t available to them,” said Mrs. Stuber.
She had discovered her breast cancer in July, 2004. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy followed. As it had for Ms. Ivory, cancer changed the life of Mrs. Stuber. She was inspired.
“I started looking at what was out there,” she says.
She discovered Komen, the national organization, and in June of 2005 her physician husband Harry and she attended the Mission Conference in Washington, D.C. They were impressed enough with Komen’s work that they decided to form a local affiliate.
“They said, ‘Here’s the application,’” Mrs. Stuber said. “It was two inches thick,” she chuckled and then added quickly, “I’m not kidding.”
One element of the application was called a “Community Profile.” That required demographics of cancer in the 14-county area. An enormous undertaking of data gathering followed. Mrs. Stuber is quick to credit the work of many colleagues in that sweeping effort. A lack of needed data and consistent record keeping emerged as one of their discoveries. That fact made the job harder than it should have been.
“We learned about poverty and illiteracy,” she adds.
A key discovery: Only 39 percent of women who needed screening were being screened, and there was an excess of late-stage cancers among those who were screened, diminishing the odds of a stricken woman’s survival. As a result, Mrs. Stuber says Komen UC is trying to increase the screening rate to 50 percent and to reduce the incident of late-stage cancers.
The application took a year and a half to complete. The National Board approved the application in December 2006.
And now it will all culminate, finally, in what Mrs. Stuber called the signature event for Komen, the Race for the Cure 5K. Come next Saturday, Mrs. Stuber and all the other Komen volunteers will be joined by Angela Ivory and Josh Hite, and hundreds of other runners—some of whom are cancer survivors—in a collective celebration of life and a united resolve to fight breast cancer to a sulking standstill.
A large turnout is expected. Summer Brown, Chairman of Logistics, says her committee is preparing for 1,000 to 1,500 runners. Chip timing will be used. The race course has been certified by USATF. More race information can be found at http://www.komenuppercumberland.org/, and runners can complete online registration there.
It is fitting that Angela Ivory and Josh Hite meet again, and here. Their first meeting came this past June 13th, at the Moonlight Boogie in Ellerbe, N.C. That meeting cemented them in running folklore. Mr. Hite had heard of Ms. Ivory but had never met her before then.
That Ellerbe race started at 6:00 p.m., and so proceeded into moonlight. Both a marathon and a 50-mile race were being contested, the two distances laid out on courses that partially overlapped. The temperature at the start was 102 degrees, Mr. Hite recalls. He was running the marathon while Ms. Ivory was running the longer distance.
After the race Ms. Ivory disclosed how it had ended up. “There were only two from Tennessee. He was first and I was last. We were perfect bookends.”
Around 21 miles into the race, Mr. Hite had lapped Ms. Ivory on a common portion of the two courses, coming up behind her. He was leading the marathon, but the heat had taken away his strength, and he was barely able to go on.
“I was just trying not to crawl,” he says.
He had to keep going if he were to hold off the man he’d passed a mile back. Mr. Hite pulled even with Ms. Ivory. He recalls the subsequent events:
“Angela, help me. I’m about to fall. Just run with me,” he said.
“No, honey, I can’t keep up with you,” she told him. But she smiled and encouraged him. “You’re doing great! Just keep going. Just keep going.”
“But I’m only running nine-and-a-half minutes per mile,” he protested.
“That’s all-out for me,” said Ms. Ivory.
Mr. Hite grabbed her hand and pulled her along a short ways, drawing energy from her exuberance and praise. She told him he was looking great, that he had it all wrapped up, that he was making her proud.
Mr. Hite went on to win that race. The energy that pulled him through the last few miles, he credits to Ms. Ivory.
“Her positive energy was beyond encouragement. She had a positive energy about her…better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Period.”
So it was that the one who was last helped the one who was first.
That day Mr. Hite had not known about Ms. Ivory’s cancer. She joined his fight to win the race then; he joins her fight against cancer now.