When BethAnn Telford found out seven years ago she had brain cancer, her doctors told her she would never run again.
Since then, Telford has had two brain surgeries — and continues running races. This Saturday, Telford competes in the IRONMAN World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
Telford, 43, won a chance to compete through Kona Inspired, where fans voted on videos of inspirational people they thought should go to Kona. Telford was one of eight winners to secure a spot in the IRONMAN race alongside the elite athletes. Telford has competed in two previous IRONMAN races in Lake Placid, N.Y., but the race in Kona is known as “the big dance.”
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“My goal is not to be speedy. … My goal is to finish, and when I cross the finish line, it’s not only for myself but also for those thousands of other people I’ll be taking with me on that venture,” Telford said.
Telford has turned her personal story into a cause to raise money for brain cancer research. She created Team BT to accept donations, and her efforts have raised more than $350,000 for the National Brain Tumor Society and Accelerate Brain Cancer Care.
It’s still dark out when Telford arrives at her gym at 3:30 a.m. for race training. She spends at least a few hours running, biking, swimming and weightlifting before heading to her job as a special events coordinator at the Government Printing Office.
“Sometimes I have to work through the night because the Government Printing Office never closes … and then I just start the day over again,” she said.
The race itself is already a test of Telford’s strength and endurance — a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2-mile run. But Telford has added hurdles. She regularly gets migraines and has no sight in her left eye from the brain tumor. Because of the medication she takes, Telford has problems with her bladder and will have to catheter herself during the race.
In the months leading up to the IRONMAN, Telford worked with triathlon coach Alyssa Morrison, who trained Telford free of charge after hearing her story.
“I think most people in her situation tend to use their condition as an excuse. I’ve never once, ever, heard her complain. Ever,” Morrison said.
Next year, Telford has another brain surgery scheduled. Telford said sometimes she feels down thinking about the surgery, but at the same time she recognizes the responsibility she now holds in being a role model for others who have cancer. Telford often visits cancer patients at children’s hospitals and shows them her wrist, where the word “hope” is tattooed. It’s a permanent reminder for Telford to continue pushing herself during her training and races.
“I tell them where I’m going and I say, ‘Look, on the 13th of October, you watch me because you’re there with me and we’re going to do this,'” she said.
UPDATE: Telford finished the IRONMAN in 15 hours 13 minutes and 42 seconds. See results.