February 21 2018
Karen Lyons started running to escape hardship–and couldn’t stop.
Hometown: St. Louis, MO
Battling cancer didn’t stop me from finishing the Ironman World Championship triathlon.
After my doctor told me I had stage 4 colon cancer, I set three goals: to celebrate 25 years of marriage with my husband, to live long enough to see my son and daughter get married and to compete in the Ironman World Championship triathlon race in Hawaii. With only a five-year survival rate of 6 percent, I knew the odds were against me, but I wasn’t going to give up on my dreams.
Two years after hearing my diagnosis and still receiving chemotherapy, I found myself setting up my transition area in the dark morning hours of what would become my most memorable race day ever.
Getting to Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, wasn’t an easy journey. I went through radiation treatment and multiple rounds of heavy chemotherapy on top of several surgeries to resect areas of my liver and colon. But even while enduring the toughest of times, it was my desire to live that kept me fighting.
As I treaded water in the Pacific Ocean, waiting for the iconic cannon fire to signal the start of the race, I looked over to see my family happily waiting to cheer me on. In that moment, I reminded myself that my purpose for the day wasn’t to be fast; it was to finish what I started and hopefully inspire others along the way.
After gliding through the 2.4-mile swim, I ran through the transition area, where I hosed off the saltwater. Grabbing my bike, I set out on the 112-mile course with the mindset of taking one mile at a time.
Though the bike course was tough with rolling hills and strong headwinds, seeing my support crew—35 of my closest friends and family had come to support me— helped energize my legs and spirit to continue.
Relief filled my body when I came to the end of the bike portion and changed into my running shoes for the last leg of the race. Heading out on the island’s famous Ali’i Drive, I soaked in the moment while watching the sun set across the ocean. As my legs continued carrying me forward, I reflected on the experience I was living, feeling so blessed and grateful to be alive.
I stuck to my plan of running from aid station to aid station, which helped chunk the 26.2-mile distance into manageable pieces. During the last few miles of the run, I heard the finish-line party and felt it drawing me closer with every step.
Running through the chute, I was overcome with emotion. I crossed the line with a total time of 14:50:32 and flew into the open arms of my mother, husband, two children and oncologist. In that moment, I knew it was possible for dreams to come true.
While some might say I finished one of the biggest endurance events in the world that day, I know fighting cancer is my greatest race. I will continue to arm myself with the lessons Kona taught me. I will endure and always have hope that life continues after the finish line.
Running taught me to fight for my dreams. Build an army of support, and your potential is limitless. I’m still receiving chemotherapy every other week and might be for the rest of my life, but I now know that anything is possible as long as I’m powered by hope.
Want to learn more about Teri and her foundation, Powered by Hope? Check out terigriege.com and find out how you can support her work in fighting colon cancer.