Making Natasha a Spartan

Austin, Texas 5/16/2015 – Spartan Sprint

quote“There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives, we will be unwilling to settle for less.”

~Kurt Hahn

Every once in a great while, you get an opportunity to change someone’s life.  I find most of the time I have no idea if something I did or said has made any impact on anyone’s lives. Sometimes I get emails from people who tell me I did, but I don’t go out trying to be a difference maker, I live my life and if I can be an example then I am happy to hear how I have inspired you in some way.

Last December my friend Natasha was in the ICU unit and posted on facebook she would love some company or someone to visit her and bring movies.  So of course I grabbed some DVD’s and went right up there.  I still get confused as to her illness (I’ll explain in a minute) but I gladly went up to visit. Unfortunately at the time she was under some heavy sedation so we did get a chance to talk in between her naps. I watched her sleep and chilled for a few hours. I don’t know if she really remembers everything, but I am sure she was grateful I was there if just for a short time.

I monitor her status from time to time and she has been living in the hospital basically for the last few years. Well this past week she commented on one of my pictures at how great I was doing at my runs. I privately asked her how she was doing and she said she had been out of the hospital for the past 3 weeks and was feeling great. In jest I mentioned if she ever wanted to run a race I would make her a spartan. Well she took me up on the offer! She decided on a Friday afternoon to up and participate in the Reebok Spartan Race Sprint in Austin, Texas the next day.

 Natasha’s Illness

So what I found out is that Natasha actually suffers from Eosinophilic Disease. What is an Eosinophil? An evil white blood cell that is a type of B cell. It has one job: attack parasites in the body. In her case these cells went rogue. Two (2) in every million people have  EGPA. In her case the Eosinophils are attacking multiple organs. EOS diseases have NO cure & NO FDA approved treatment. Let that sink in. We fight a losing battle daily with band-aid medications that rarely work.

She is currently in Stage 3, this is the last stage of her illness, and the cause of her recently mild heart attack. Yes you read this correct, she had a heart attack in March 2015 and is also on the transplant list for a new heart. Oh yeah and she also undergoes up to 5-hours of experimental Chemotherapy to fight this.

In September of 2014, she received her “death sentence” as she calls it, they told her she had give or take 5-years to live. As she told me “I no longer consider my illness a death sentence because I keep fighting through the tough times. Like I’ve said before, I’m Chronically Fabulous!” These are words of a true fighter.

The Race

Most of what I actually knew of her illness I learned during our race. I had no idea of some of these things when I asked her to do this, like the heart attack or that her cardiologist was probably going to hunt me down and shoot me because she has a strict no exercise policy or lifting anything over 5lbs.

But we started our adventure on the course at her insistence, she told me her illness was not going to determine how she lives her life and jokingly stated this could kill her today but it would be fun.  I guess it is a good thing she signed the Spartan “death waiver” then huh? So she tells me YOLO and off we go towards the start line.

Seriously I am a little worried at this point, but she is all smiles and doesn’t have a care in the world. We are in the starting coral and yelling AROO, AROO, AROO and now I can see it all sinking in, this is about to get real.

Just to review:

  • Heart attack in March (2-months ago)
  • On the heart transplant list
  • No exercise or lifting over 5lbs
  • She forgot her inhaler
  • 6-days post race she goes in for 5-hours of chemo

So armed with her feeding tube (yes still in), oh yeah she can’ eat real food either, her chemo port and the biggest smile ever, we took off on our Reebok Spartan Race adventure.

So off we go, walking our way to glory.

Mile 1

As we start off we instantly start talking about the past 6-months or so. Sometimes I am amazed at how fast time flies by. This is where I learn of her disease in depth, all the restrictions and how we shouldn’t even be walking. But she won’t quit so we keep going. She went up and over the saw horse looking things and then the 6-foot wall, at first it was intimidating, then she went for it and made it!

We hit the 1-mile marker and and she asked me if it was really a mile. Then it gets silent for a second and I can see something going on in there and she tells me, if you had asked her if she would have ever done this, she would have said no. I could tell she was proud of herself and she was ready to keep going.

Miles 2, 3, 4

It seems I did most of the talking, (I know imagine that!) but it was okay because we were working on her breathing and keeping her heart rate low. So I talked and talked and talked some more. I had plenty to say, it has been a busy 6-months!

As we approached the obstacles, she did just about all of them. I stuck the spear throw for her and then let her try, she had obviously never done that before and it did go straight, just not enough arm.  I asked her if she played softball as I was showing her how I throw it and the response was “No, I was a cheerleader!” okay then, cheer for me!

I did the rig pipe thingy because they would not allow me to assist her in any way to even try and she could not hold herself up there, so no big deal I knocked that out.

I carried her sandbag and mine too, can’t break the lifting restrictions and the water was a refreshing break.  This  is where we almost called it a day. You could say she was a bit stubborn and refused to let her illness stop her from at least trying the things that were doable. But her heart rate was going off the charts and we ended up sitting down at the water station to rest.

She wanted the medic and then didn’t want the medic so we sat and we talked and I tried to crack tasteless jokes to lighten the mood. Then I told her about my Houston Battlefrog DNF and how my motto for the Dallas Battlefrog was “Not Today.” So I told her that was her new motto to, not today. You are not dying or quitting this race today. Tomorrow you can, but not today! Then we looked around and I pointed out all of the other people just sitting around, taking breaks, goofing off, not doing anything. You see she felt bad she had to stop and was mad that she couldn’t lower her heart rate a tad. Then I calmly stated the obvious…what was their excuse? They were all healthy people, granted maybe out of shape, but they don’t have a death sentence or chemo therapy this week or a heart attack a couple months back. At this point it was like I turned on a light switch, she looked at me and said “yeah, what is their excuse?” she looked around and mumbled you are all healthy people just sitting around, then she stood up and off we went.

I also ended up doing the sled pull for obvious reasons, but she did do the Z-wall, even after much discussion on if should could, well she could and she did! She also did her own barbwire crawl and did the tunnel crawl.

But after the tunnel she saw the hill. She became petrified she would not make it up such a steep incline. She asked the volunteer to call for a medic just in case she died on the way up, no lie her words. The volunteer walked with us, we went slow and steady, up and over the big rocks and when she got to the top, out came a big “I did it!” and a huge smile and a high five! She truly has no idea how inspiring this is right now that she is just beasting this course. I mean, she isn’t even supposed to be walking to the mailbox! I told her the hard stuff is over, we are almost there. Then we took a selfie! 🙂

mountain selfie

Mile 4 Mile Marker was another milestone for us. When she saw the sign, knowing we had roughly a mile left she got really excited and of course we took the gratuitous picture. With her heart racing and struggling to get her breathing under control she looked at me and said “well crap, I’ve come this far, I can’t quit now with a mile left”…no, no you can not, not today.

Mile 4Continuing on we just keep going, I scale the 10-foot wall and then we approach the floating bridge. Without hesitation she gets up on it and starts across. On the last one she jumps off and immediately her arms shoot over her head and starts jumping up and down in the water. What a sight to see, such a huge smile on her face. When I get over to her, she is out of the water and on the shore and crying. I instantly think something is wrong and I ask if she is okay and needs a medic and you know what? It was a happy cry, she got so emotional completing that obstacle she broke down. I told her not to waste her tears on this one, you save them for when you leap over the fire and get that medal!

On we go, walking to the bucket carry she was having issues and we stopped and again I was about to get the medic. But she no, and just said when she got so excited it took its toll. Actually the whole day had now taken its toll on her and every step was a milestone. She marched on to the bucket carry and got some water and rested while I completed it with no problem.

The Last March

You can hear the festival area, I kept telling her we were so close, but the walking was really starting to break her down. I offered to piggy back ride her, but no that was not an option. It took a while but we made it to the slip wall, I knocked it out. I did the Herc hoist, Tarzan swing and I kicked the bell for her on the rope climb. Then we marched to the dunk wall. I could see the terrified look on her face. I told her not to get in but she did, then she started to hyperventilate of the thought of holding her breath and going under. In the end she did it, like a champ! Nothing but smiles as we get out and look to the fire.

The fire took awhile for her to go, but at this point we were not in a rush. I know her breathing was an issue and I think the thought of jumping over fire and into a water pit may have also been somewhat intimidating. She looked like a lioness actually, she was staring it down, pacing back and forth looking at it as if where to attack it. I am just standing off to the side waiting, my plan was to go with her and jump together and get it all on video from the side view. She walked up to me as if to talk to me and then she just took off.

I am so happy she went, but it was the funniest moment of my day. I wasn’t expecting it, I was a step behind trying to catch up to video and she also kinda blocked me and went to the far right. I was behind and now worried about landing on her, but I just pulled up and went in right behind her. Then I heard it. That laugh. That happy laugh I had heard all day every time she accomplished something.  We climbed out of the pit and marched to the finish and she got her medal.

It was hard to not break down. While her little heart was bursting from over use and stress, my was the complete opposite, sure I was getting choked up but my heart was full. I made her a Spartan and now I know no matter what life throws at her, she will always have this moment to reflect on. I hope this makes her stronger when she gets sick again and we end up watching movies together. I guess the next time I can take 300 and the sequel and we can yell our AROO AROO AROO down the ICU hall! Hopefully I don’t have to do that for awhile. For now, I will visit on chemo day and we can laugh about our adventure.

Natasha we may not get 5-years more with you, but I hope we get more. You have a fragile heart, but it is a heart of a warrior and you have one of the biggest hearts of anyone I know. Thank you for allowing me to bring you this special moment. I look forward to more adventures in the future! I am so very proud of you for this accomplishment.

Here is our video of the EPIC day.

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