Saturday Spotlight- Debbi Hole

Name: Debbi Hole
Age: 52 (and proud of it!)
Children: Ryan Ann, 32
Billy, 30
Taylor, 21
Kieran, 17
Occupation: Medical Transcriptionist

Please excuse the tardiness folks, I will be volunteering tomorrow at the NYC Marathon (Mile 16 for runners looking for a friendly face) so I had to get a whole weekend worth of exercise into one morning, took a little while LOL!

Ok, so last week you heard from Deb #1 (she is way faster) and this week, you will hear from me, Deb #2……the two Debs! Interesting fact, we both started running the hills on the very same day and run the hills usually at least once a week together. So, very fitting that we follow each other in the Warrior of the Week. And, no, we did not know each other before the Selden Hills.

I will apologize in advance for what is probably going to be a lengthy story, but to truly understand what running means to me, I have to take you back through a little history.

I must say it has been a rough couple of years. But it’s okay, because I am a better person today because of it. I have lost over 80 lbs and have realigned my priorities so that I feel I truly understand now what is important. I have undergone a positive transformation that would not have occurred without the negative experiences that I have had this past couple of years.

I will start by saying that I HATED running growing up. Gymnastics was my competitive sport of choice as I grew up but I played most every sport recreationally over the years. Even as a younger athlete, I could not run long distance and therefore I hated it. I would complain every time the track coach said the whole team had to run a mile. I was a hurdler, I never ran over 440 yards, why did I have to run a mile? As I grew older, I began to look at the runners in awe. They must be in great shape if they can run five miles! It was kind of a gold standard of fitness. And I always assumed that the older runners had run their entire lives, it was like a gift they were given to be able to run, a gift I did not possess.
The story begins in 2010. I was a typical suburban “soccer mom”. I was raising four kids by myself. I had managed to get two through college, had one in high school, and another in middle school. I worked two jobs and spent the rest of my time attending my children’s games, practices, school events, etc. Life was a blur, going by at lightening speed. There was really no “me” time, I would tell everyone that my time would come when my kids grew up and moved out.

Everything changed in May 2010 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I can remember the sense of disbelief I had when my surgeon gave me the news that the lump that had been found was invasive cancer. I had been sure that it would be nothing, because really bad things happened to other people, not me. I never got sick, not even a cold. Receiving that diagnosis was a blow, but the worst day came several weeks later, after my second surgery. On my second visit with the oncologist he gave me the news that the pathology report showed that I would need to undergo aggressive chemotherapy. I was absolutely devastated by this news. I held it together until I got out to my car, where I just sat and cried. I was going to go bald and get very sick…on purpose. Then I realized that I had things I still wanted to do, weddings to attend, grandchildren to meet. My best chance at doing these things was chemotherapy. This was going to happen, it had to happen. I couldn’t change it, so I better deal with it. I dried my eyes and vowed that I would do this, failure was not an option, and I would do it in such as way as to not disrupt the lives of my children. Everything was going to proceed normally, as it always had. I took control that day in a way I had never done before and the “new me” was born. Cancer was not going to take anything away from me, I was going to be the one in charge. The day before my first chemo session I went for a haircut. I had my long hair cut off and donated it to Locks of Love. Cancer didn’t take my hair, I gave it away and someone else benefitted from it! Out of this darkness had come some very positive energy and a strength that I had never known before.

I started walking while undergoing chemotherapy as the nurses told me it would help combat the fatigue, and it did. It was tough taking that initial step out the door, but I never regretted it once I had. By January of 2011 the worst of it was over. I had gone through three surgeries, four months of chemotherapy, and seven weeks of radiation. I felt like crap! My joints ached like those of a 100-year-old woman, my brain was shot, and I was dealing with an overwhelming sense of fatigue. I asked the oncologist what I could do to get back to normal. Surprisingly, his advice was simple: Exercise. He also showed me a very large and well-respected study that demonstrated that 4-7 hours of exercise each week would reduce the risk for my cancer to return by about 30%. So exercise was the answer. It was going to help me get my body and mind back to normal, and it was going to keep the cancer away. I was sold. On my way home from the oncologist I passed Lucille Roberts Bay Shore and pulled in to check it out. During the course of treatment, I had lost 26 lbs, but still at 5’4” and 186 lbs, I was a little reluctant about going into a gym. But this gym was different and there were many women in there just like me. The staff was amazing and very encouraging and assured me that they would help me every step of the way. I have never regretted that decision and have met so many wonderful friends in my years at Lucille Roberts.
As I started to exercise, the weight slowly began to come off. At the same time I began to read up on strategies to keep my cancer from returning. I read a lot of studies that point to the importance of losing weight and maintaining a healthy BMI, and cutting down on sugar. So, I decided to clean up my diet a little too, nothing too extreme. I had just been through hell and there was no way I was going to deprive myself of the things I love. I didn’t fight so hard to live, not to enjoy myself. But I cut down on the sugar and carbs, and began to eat more fruits and veggies. By June 2012, I had all total lost over 80 lbs.

So, when did the running start? I had begun to attend charity walks with my oldest son. It was a good way for the two of us to spend some time together and he needed to do them for his job. One day he was joking with me that we were walking almost as fast as some people were running, and suggested that I might actually want to run one of these 5Ks one day. I, of course, laughed very heartily at this suggestion. Remember, I couldn’t even run when I was young! But, the seed was planted and I wondered. I was doing so many things I never thought I could before in the gym, maybe I could run a 5K? At the same time, my friend Jennifer Knecht had begun to post about running races. She seemed to be so happy and having so much fun, and she was just like me. We both did the same classes at the gym, so if she could do it maybe I could. But then I thought maybe she was a runner when she was younger. You know, runners have always been runners. So, I asked her one day. When she told me she had never run before, I really began to believe that maybe I could run. The girls at the gym were going to do the Revlon Run/Walk for Women in NYC in May and a couple of them were going to run. I was drawn to the challenge of doing something that I could never do before. So right there I decided to take the plunge and sign up as a runner and I began to train. The first time I tried to run, I got one block before I had to stop. But I didn’t get discouraged and each time I went out I ran a little further. About three months after I started training I ran the streets of New York City…2.7 miles without stopping! Crossing that finish line was the best feeling in the world. I had done it, something I never thought I could do! I was hooked. The following week, with all my kids at the finish line I completed my very first 5K, The Elizabeth McNamee Memorial 5K, on Mother’s Day. The sense of accomplishment was amazing. Slowly I began to challenge myself to go further, to be a real runner. I ran my first 10K in October 2012. To me, I had arrived because a lot of people run 5Ks, but to run a 10K you must really be a runner, right?

I got side tracked a little after that race. A bilateral mastectomy had become necessary. I was really worried about the time off I would have to take. What would I do without the gym, my runs? Would I get comfortable on the couch and slide back to my old habits? I know it sounds silly, but these were real concerns for me. Two weeks after my operation I was given the okay to walk, and walk I did. One mile the first day, two miles the second, and then four miles every day thereafter. I was back on the road! At four weeks postop I was given the okay to begin running, slowly and so I did. By six weeks postop I was back to five mile runs and it felt amazing! Soon thereafter I was back at the gym. I had come full circle and now knew that I would never go back. Exercise was part of who I was now.

My running journey was almost sidelined again in late 2013 when I was diagnosed with arthritis and told that I had to stop running. The orthopedist said that the pounding was just too much on the knees and hips. I was upset, but didn’t think I had much of a choice. I had already set my sights on the Cow Harbor 10K, so I vowed to complete that race and then hang up my running shoes. And I tried, but my friends were running Turkey Trots and Christmas runs, and I found I just couldn’t stop. So needless to say I went for a second opinion and was told to absolutely NOT stop running but instead to be sensible and not run too much or too long. I liked that doctor’s advice so much better. I got a cortisone shot in the knee, and off I went!

Running for me really began to change on that fateful day January 19, 2014 when I decided to join the IGR girls at the Selden Hills. I had no idea what I was in for, but I had become a challenge junkie and was ready to try. When I finished that course, a whole world opened up for me. I had just run the toughest 6.2 miles I had ever run and survived. Physically, running the Selden Hills has made my legs stronger, but mentally it has given me the confidence to attack challenges that I never would have even considered before. It also made me part of a family that made running a much more social event. Up until then, all my running had been done by myself except for a few races in late 2013. Now races were a place to meet friends and I have increasingly found myself entering more and more, and training runs were group events, a place to meet up with friends. Since starting at the Hills I have conquered the 15K and a half marathon. I have gone from running at 10:08 pace in a 5K in December 2013 to an 8:40 pace in August 2014. I have come a long way since my first 5K back in May 2012, run at an 11 minute pace for a total time of 34.14 to my last race, a half marathon run in 2:01:49, roughly a 9:17 pace. I have been inspired by our triathletes to branch out to cycling and I completed my first duathlon a last September, winning second place in my age group. I plan to learn how to swim and hopefully attempt the sprint triathlon next year. I have already signed up for two half marathons next year, including my first trail half marathon, and will be joining several other Warriors to run our first marathon next Fall. I can honestly say that had I never run those hills that day, or met all these amazing and inspiring people, I would not have accomplished these feats. Those hills and the people who run them have given me confidence and encouragement. I ran a race in Central Park with my son last February and after we had finished he commented that if anyone had told him five years ago that he would have run five miles with his mother he would have died laughing and I agreed, I would have too! Me…..run…..five miles; those words back then did not even belong in the same sentence.

So, that is where I am at. The journey has been rough but I have been given a unique opportunity. I have been faced with my own mortality and it has changed the way I perceive the world around me. Out of something bad, has come something good so it’s all okay in the end. My oncologist says that he can’t offer me a “cure” in the traditional sense, so I guess the spector of cancer returning will always be hanging over my head. But the majority of women in my position go on to live long, happy, cancer free lives and that is what I focus on. I wake up everyday, privileged to have done so. I take my medicine, eat healthy, and exercise with the intent of making my body as strong as it can possibly be so if the cancer does return, I am ready for the fight. Most of all, I just enjoy life, smell the flowers, listen to the birds, and thank God that I am here. Life is not perfect, but that’s okay. As long as you are healthy, you can fix the other stuff.

Running for me means strength. Every time I run further or faster I know I have gotten stronger and I know that I can do anything that I put my mind to as long as I put in the hard work. I look forward to many more years of running and seeing you all at many more training runs and finish lines. And every time I cross the finish line of any race, in my mind I make a statement to cancer, “I am back and better than ever! You may have slowed me down, but you can’t stop me!”.

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