From BSM to IRONMAN: A local cancer survivor’s journey
September 11, 2018
In 1999 Linda Hegle moved from San Jose to Grass Valley with her husband Robert and was looking for a way to get involved in the community.
After seeing an advertisement for the Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Women's Triathlon (BSM Triathlon), she decided to sign up for a two night triathlon training camp (organized by BSM Triathlon co-founder Cathy Anderson-Meyers).
On a September morning in 1999, Hegle – who had just turned 50 – entered Scotts Flat Lake in Cascade Shores to compete in her first ever triathlon and take her first step on a journey that would eventually lead her to the IRONMAN podium.
After completing the BSM Triathlon, Hegle continued her triathlon training until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003 at 54 years old.
"Thankfully we caught it early," said Hegle. "I was treated here at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and had amazing care."
Linda underwent chemotherapy and a double mastectomy before deciding to complete several more Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. She also ran in local races and competed in the Boston Marathon three times, once in 2013 during the bombing.
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As the years went on, Hegle continued to increase her strength and endurance. She began noticing "M-Dot" (IRONMAN logo) tattoos on fellow athletes and decided she wanted one of her own.
"At every race I continued to see people with shirts and tattoos with the IRONMAN M-Dot logo and was always in awe of them," said Hegle. "I dreamt of becoming an IRONMAN, but I also knew that I could never complete an IRONMAN Triathlon, it was just too long of a distance, too hard to achieve and you only had 17 hours to cross the finish line."
A full IRONMAN distance triathlon consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run.
"Whenever I had the chance to talk with an IRONMAN finisher, the one question I always asked was; I think I can wrap my head around swimming 2.4 miles and then riding 112 miles, but to follow that with a full marathon just doesn't compute," said Hegle.
In January of 2012 Linda raced on a marathon course that also happened to be the venue for IRONMAN in Tempe, Arizona.
"I was able to walk on the sacred ground where IRONMAN finishers had raced," said Hegle. "I even walked across the actual finish line and at that moment my dream turned into a goal. I wanted to become an IRONMAN."
In 2013, Hegle encountered another obstacle along her journey: ovarian cancer. Once again Hegle took time off from her training to undergo treatment and surgery, vowing to continue her journey to IRONMAN.
At 65 years old, Hegle traveled back to Arizona to compete in her first ever IRONMAN race. Not only did she finish, she also took second place in her age group, earning her a medal and a place on the IRONMAN podium.
"All the hard work and long training hours had finally paid off and I was never so happy," said Hegle. "It still brings tears to my eyes when I remember hearing Mike Reilly — the 'Voice of IRONMAN' — announce to the grandstands; 'Linda Hegle, you are an IRONMAN' 15 hours and 15 seconds after I heard the IRONMAN start cannon go off. I was forever changed."
On May 12, 2018 — six months before turning 70 — Hegle completed her second IRONMAN, IRONMAN Santa Rosa and once again podiumed, earning third in her age group.
"It was important for me to complete IRONMAN Santa Rosa because I wanted to prove to myself that IRONMAN Arizona was not a fluke."
Hegle said dedication, determination and support played a huge role in her triathlon success.
"It's not just swimming, biking and running," said Hegle. "It's also nutrition, hydration, strength training and more. However, no person ever achieves their goal without support and encouragement from many, many people. I am so thankful to my family and friends who have been there every step of the way."
In August Hegle and her husband began the process of moving to Chico to be closer to their children and grandchildren. Hegle plans to continue participating in triathlons, spend more time with her family and take advantage of the amazing parks in Chico. She will also become a lifetime member of Gold Country Triathlon Club, which she helped found in 2011.
"The knowledge that I have gained over the years and the experiences I have had are priceless," said Hegle. "And that's what I love about the sport. You are out there by yourself and, in the end, you are really competing against yourself. Your fellow athletes know that and are so supportive. It's a great community to be a part of."
For those looking to start their own triathlon journey, the 24th Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Women's Triathlon is at 9 a.m. Sunday at Scotts Flat Lake in Cascade Shores. The event is a sprint triathlon, consisting of a .5 mile swim, an 11 mile bike ride and a 3.1 mile run. Join hundreds of women for a day of fun and comradery. Registration is open until noon Thursday. Sign up today or at the event expo on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital Building 3, conference rooms 110/120. Visit bsmtri.org for more information.
Amy Abt is a member of the 2018 Barbara Schmidt Millar Celebration of Life Women's Triathlon Committee.
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