Thriving after cancer

When Marietta resident Ginnie Guthrie signed up this spring in the midst of chemotherapy to run her first triathlon, she had her doubts.

But when the day of the event came in mid-September, those doubts were long gone.

“Whenever I started the triathlon, I knew that I was in shape and I knew that I could do it,” she said.

Diagnosis of an autoimmune form of cancer and draining chemotherapy treatment couldn’t stop her. Ultimately, the only thing that kept her from completing her first triathlon, a sprint event at Portage Lakes near Akron, was a broken bicycle chain.

“It won’t be my last” triathlon, said Guthrie, who’s already planning to take a bike maintenance class to overcome that obstacle.

While it was her daughters that pushed her to sign up for the event, it was a helping hand from a group of local cancer survivors that helped get her training.

Actually, MOV’n Dragons member Judy Baker prefers the term “thrivers” to survivors, which is how the group’s Thriver Fund got its name. The team of thrivers and supporters promotes a healthy lifestyle and competes in rowing events with its dragon boat.

In March, some members of the group decided to give back to the community by starting the Thriver Fund, aimed at providing financial and moral support for people coming out of cancer treatment to get back into an active lifestyle.

“No one is turned down,” Baker said. “You just have to be a cancer survivor who wants to get back to physical activity.”

The form that physical activity takes can vary. Some recipients have opted for therapeutic massage specifically designed for oncology patients, while others might choose Zumba or some other form of exercise. For Guthrie, it was joining the Marietta Family YMCA and having a personal trainer help her prepare for the triathlon.

“(Baker) talked with me and figured out what was best for me,” Guthrie said. “It wasn’t just a pat, ‘This is what we give out.'”

Guthrie had joined the Friends of Belnnerhassett Cycling Club in May, even before her chemotherapy ended. But she wasn’t sure how to go about training for the other parts of the triathlon. The Thriver Fund provided both direction and support.

“When you have to face reality again … there’s someone out there who can help you,” Baker said.

Twenty minutes was about all Guthrie could handle when she started at the Y in August. But she gradually built up, just as she’d done with cycling.

When she joined the cycling group, she couldn’t finish a three-mile ride. But during August’s Rivers, Trails and Ales Festival, she completed one of nearly 30 miles.

To make sure there was no chance of backing out, Guthrie’s oldest daughter, Traci Pauley, paid in advance when they signed up. Ironically, she broke her ankle and had to bow out, rolling over her entry fee to the next year. But she was on hand to watch her mother do what might have seemed unbelievable a few months before.

“She started crying when she saw me swimming, just because she knew … how far I’d come,” Guthrie said.

The initial contribution from the Thriver Fund maxes out at $50. Baker said the group is still deciding where to go with the fund and whether additional awards will be available to previous recipients.

Applications can be picked up at the Marietta Family YMCA, the Marietta Community Foundation, the Betsey Mills Club, the Strecker Cancer Center and fitness locations around the area.