Celebrating life: Triathlon organizer ready for 16th annual event despite recent heart attack | TheUnion.com

Celebrating life: Triathlon organizer ready for 16th annual event despite recent heart attack

Sixteen years ago, a group of friends completed a triathlon in the Cascade Shores community on Scotts Flat Lake in the memory of their friend Barbara Schmidt Millar.

Cathy Anderson-Meyers was there from the very beginning of the Celebration of Life Triathlon.

And friends, family and supporters of the annual event are no doubt relieved to know that she’ll be there again this Sunday, after suffering a heart attack last month.

“Cathy has poured her heart and soul into this and she’s been the great push to keep this going,” said Karen Ling, Barbara Schmidt Millar’s sister. “She has been the driving force behind this. If it hadn’t been for her, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”

The event not only celebrates the life of its namesake, who in 1995 died of cancer at the age of 42, but also the many lives lost and those saved in the ongoing battle with the disease.

More than 400 women typically turn out each year for the event, either to compete in the triathlon individually or as a member of a team.

But make no mistake about it – while the women diving into action Sunday morning might be competitive, this event is truly meant to be a celebration that raises awareness and funds for the fight against cancer. The money raised helps fund mammograms for locals who do not have health insurance and cannot afford to pay. It also offers scholarship funding for local women continuing an education in nursing or the health care field.

And leading that charge each year has been Anderson-Meyers. This year, after having a stent placed in her heart on Aug. 15, will give just another reason for her to celebrate life.

“It definitely will,” Anderson-Meyers said. “I’m going to be there. And that’s a real good thing this year.”

Anderson-Meyers said she and her husband had headed out for a Saturday morning walk with their dogs when she began to feel nauseous, “but not like with the flu.” They continued walking, but had only covered a few hundred yards when she experienced tightness across her chest.

“With all those red flags, I told Geno we better head for home,” she said.

Her symptoms continued, including back pain, and the Chicago Park couple headed to the emergency room.

Though she knew the symptoms and knew there was a family history with heart disease, she wasn’t sure that’s what she was experiencing until she was informed by hospital staff after undergoing a battery of tests.

As she awaited the results of the testing, the first of which apparently didn’t indicate a heart attack, her concern grew over what was actually happening to her.

“I cried a lot, although I tried not to,” she said. “I cried more before they came back with the blood panel and told me it was a heart attack. It was just like, if it’s not my heart, what is it?

“Friends showed up at the hospital and I would burst into tears.”

Once she learned the results, just as those who know would expect, her worries were set aside as she sought to put together a plan of attack.

“They said ‘Cathy, you’re so calm.’ But now that I knew what was wrong, there was no need to cry.

“It was more like ‘What do we do now? Let’s take care of it.”

The next day that plan played out at a Sacramento hospital through an angioplasty in which a bare metal stent was placed into her heart to take care of a blockage. The next night she was back home.

“I just look at those women who have had or have cancer and it’s so much worse than what I’ve been through,” she said. “Knowing what they grow through, having chemotherapy, radiation and surgeries … There are stories out there by the dozens where this event has helped change lives – empowering women to change their lifestyle and be healthy – those are the inspiration. That’s more important to me than anything else.”

Triathletes and supporters of the local triathlon might have trouble envisioning Anderson-Meyers taking it easy in recovering from her heart attack, considering the energy she exudes at the event, from her shouts of encouragement on the course and hugs of accomplishment at the finish line.

Along with remembering her friend, Barbara, and raising money to fight the disease that took her, Anderson-Meyers also loves the Celebration of Life because it encourages women to try something they might have never believed possible. It also emphasizes living a healthy lifestyle.

And that, perhaps, was the reason so many were shocked to hear the news of her heart attack. Anderson-Meyers said she has been eating “healthy” ever since her husband had a stent implanted in his heart years ago. And as a guide of backcountry snowshoe tours and outdoor camps, clinics and workshops through her business “CathyWorks,” she certainly seemed to be living the epitome of a healthy lifestyle.

“Probably because of her fitness level, you never expected it happening to her,” Ling said. “It was definitely a shock to all of us, a wake-up call to all of us.

“But she’s coming through it like a champ. We all love her and support her and want the best for her.”

Though she’ll be at Cascade Shores Sunday, she’s let go of some of her duties through the event’s army of volunteers and board members. Last year, she got back in the water to swim as a member of one of the teams. She last completed the entire triathlon three years ago at the age of 60. She had planned to do that again to celebrate her 65th birthday.

“Now I think I’m going to do it next year,” she said. “Just to make sure I still can do it.”

Although her family and friends might be more willing to support that decision a year from now, when she’s further removed from the “wake-up call,” just having the driving force behind one of our community’s most inspirational athletic events will be reason enough for another Celebration of Life.

“The Lord gave us Barb and gave us this event to celebrate her,” Anderson-Meyers said. “Things aren’t going to interfere with that. They might create chaos, but they’re not going to stop it.”

Contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton via e-mail at bhamilton@theunion.com or by phone at 477-4240.

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