BethAnn Telford is like many other fitness freaks: Wake up early in the morning and maybe take off on a long bike ride through winding side streets in the dark before the dawn. Or perhaps she’ll head to the pool for multiple laps in solitude, or even slip on the old sneakers and take off on a lengthy and refreshing morning run.
Then she returns home to shower and prepare for the day as an events coordinator for the U.S. Government Printing Office.
But there is another side of BethAnn Telford that people other than close friends never see. The pacemaker in her back. The vocal cords narrowing in her throat, making even swallowing an ordeal. The bladder catheter she has to wear.
And the 97 percent left-eye blindness caused by a brain tumor.
Diagnosed with the tumor in 2005, Telford underwent surgery and basically had to learn the basics of walking all over again. Ever the competitor, she surpassed expectations (her doctor said ever running competitively again was pretty much out of the question) and entered a local 5K in her hometown in Pennsylvania. Also being somewhat stubborn, instead of walking the entire route as her doctor and friends asked her to do, she ran the final half of the race after seeing her father screaming and yelling his support.
She was just getting started. Over the next couple of years she participated in the Marine Corps Marathon, the Boston Marathon, and many mid- and full-length triathlons, including the Ironman 70.3 Eagleman in 2007. In 2008 and 2009, Telford ran the Ironman Lake Placid.
But this was all small potatoes compared with what she REALLY wanted to do – go to Hawaii. Not to take in the volcanoes, the beaches, and the coffee, but to run in the Ironman World Championship.
Ironman has a lottery program, where an applicant can enter and hope to be chosen for an at-large position. She was always overlooked. But this year, Ironman started the Kona Inspired program, allowing the general public to vote on “the most inspiring, determined, and dedicated individuals,” and giving them a shot to compete in the granddaddy of all triathlons.
Telford entered and won.
Now the REAL work began. Her body was shutting down as a result of the tumors, which had spread to her stomach. Because of her narrowing vocal cords, eating is difficult. Digestion is painful, and because her bladder is shutting down, anything comes right back out nearly instantly. For perspective: An average bladder can hold up to 16 ounces; Telford’s gets full with about a shot-glass worth of liquid.
She has lost more than 28 pounds in the past year. Not exactly the ideal conditions to be preparing for the biggest triathlon in the world in.
There is still more to come. In December she has to decide whether to undergo another operation for her brain and stomach tumors. In February, doctors will remove her bladder.
She knows she’s not getting any better, and likely never will. “There are some days that I do think about the future and those are the days that I get really depressed,” Telford told ESPN.
But running in the Ironman World Championship gives her hope and inspiration. “I think there’s someone pushing me through this that I can’t see,” Telford said in the same interview. “This is the best thing that’s happened so far in my journey, other than the people I’ve met. I’m excited for the brain tumor community, for the kids, and I hope that I’ve inspired more people. Just being given the chance to be able to complete it …” Telford stops herself. “Because I will – it’s in my heart.”
Also providing Telford with hope and inspiration are those in a similar situation: children, especially those with brain cancer. Anya Zvorsky is a first-grader from Shiremanstown, Pa., and is Telford’s “bestest friend in the world.” They met after Telford’s father read about Zvorsky’s similar battle in the local paper, and the two have been near inseparable on race days ever since. Zvorsky even has a fake tattoo on her wrist, mimicking Telford’s real, similarly placed tattoo that reads simply “Hope.” (Zvorsky and her mother were provided transportation by Team Inspiration to join Telford in Hawaii).
Shortly before she left for Hawaii, Telford gathered her friends at her home for lunch in a gesture of thanks, for their emotional, financial, and general support of her goal. She thanked them individually and pointed out how much of an impact they’ve had on her and those with brain cancer in general (Telford’s foundation, Team BT, has raised more than $350,000 for various brain cancer charities and programs).
After encouraging everyone to stay as long as they’d like, Telford paused. “I don’t know if I’ll be here next year,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “So I thank you for making this dream come true now.”
On Oct. 13, that dream came true. Telford finished the Ironman World Championship in 15 hours, 13 minutes, and 42 seconds – good for 78th in her division and 1,780th overall.
And she crossed the line carrying a white flag with the names of hundreds of children who have battled, or are still battling, brain cancer.
“There’s so many people that I wish were still here, so to be able to take them with me to Kona, even if it’s just hand-written on a flag,” Telford told ESPN before the race. “I’ll prove to everyone that this wasn’t about me, it was about all those people on that flag.”
BethAnn, here’s hoping you realize you’ve proven so much more than that, and for that, we thank you.
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