Dear Friends and Family,
I am currently at Mayo Clinic sitting in the chemo chair passing time. Today I am receiving number 5 of 8 rounds so I have 8 more weeks to go then a surgery in mid-May to reverse my ileostomy.
As some of you have already heard via text and Kathy’s Facebook, on Saturday I skied and completed the 56 kilometer (34.7 miles) American Birkebeiner Ski Marathon “Birkie”. This was a personal stretch goal that I set back when I started radiation and chemo treatments in August. It’s been a long haul and hitting these milestones keep me motivated and on a positive track.
The distance of the marathon is one thing to deal with but the hills are what take a toll on you, burning 1000 calories an hour. During the marathon we have 4600’ of hill climbing. The chart at left is a couple years old and they have added 2Ks and a hill since then.
On January 12th I had my follow-up consults at Mayo Clinic with my surgeon and ostomy nurse. They all gave me the green lite to start exercising. My first question to the surgeon was can I get on my skis and they both gave the OK and said that I could even withstand the impact of a fall but recommend not to belly flop!
In order to do this the stars had to align perfectly which involved working with my medical oncologist to make sure I was at the end of a chemo cycle on race day when I’m feeling the strongest. Dr Kassi told me that doing this event was as important to my recovery as the chemo. He gave me a green light to go with a caution to know when to quit if I felt too fatigued and to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate…
I also received my second round of chemo on January 12 so was not feeling well enough to start my training regiment. On Saturday January 16 my ski buddies coaxed me out of bed and my training for the Birkie started 34 days before the event with a 5-mile ski. On February 6th I skied 25Ks at North Kettle Moraine State Forest to test skills on black diamond down hills. I accomplished my goal and took a hard fall and was extremely happy when I got up and continued to ski. I passed the test of falling to my replaced hip side with no pain to the new surgical area and didn’t damage my ostomy. On Feb 15 during my final pre-Birkie ski I experienced pain in my left shoulder and left hip abductor as a result of the fall. Really, I can’t ski the Birkie because of this? On the way home I stopped off to see Dr. Kearns at Northwest Health Care Center. On Wednesday Dr. Jake and Heather worked on me and the abductor released and relaxed along with the rotator cuff strain in my shoulder.
The final piece was to have a team in place race day.
Team Kathy, Guardian Angel #1 that day, has not left my side since August.→
All systems go and I started my Birkie “tour” in rough conditions that ranged from icy tracks on downhills with speeds exceeding 30 mph to slush up to your ankles. At the 26K rest stop Kathy met me and I was hurting and considered dropping out of the race and calling it a valiant try ( I was hearing Dr. Kassis's advice). Kathy said I knew best but consider skiing another 16Ks to Mosquito Brook.
Along came Team Guardian Angel #2, my skiing buddy Walt Calder. He sacrificed his race and skied with me to the finish line with our hands joined and held above our heads. I’ll never forget what Walt and Kathy did for me that day.
← Me and my other guardian angel Walt at the halfway point
Me and Walt crossing the finish line →
Much of my inspiration comes from the attitude of Kikkan Randall and her teammates on the United States Nordic Team. They refer to going deep into the “pain cave” during training and competition as a key to their skiing success. What’s sad is we have U.S. athletes on world cup podiums and no one even knows who they are. I went the deepest I have ever gone into my pain cave to cross the finish line.
← Me with one of my favorite sport idols, Kikkan Randall:
Lesson learned from this Birkie: Never, never, never quit.
Vulneratus Non Victus is the motto on the O'Grady coat of arms, which translates from Latin to Wounded but not Defeated. How appropriate!
Lastly, thanks to all of you for your constant and continued support.
God Bless You All,Michael O'Grady