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How'd She Do It?

A triathlete's comeback.

The Latest Road to Recovery

Smyers' loved ones hope she hasn't exhausted her reserve of pragmatism and her ability to see the silver lining, despite this huge loss. She'll need her strength, as her recovery from the thyroid cancer has not gone entirely smoothly. Her doctors decided to operate again in July when they discovered a couple of oversized lymph nodes. Then they pushed back the surgery to August after Smyers developed a mumps-like virus. It sometimes feels like she's riding into a headwind, but she forges on.

"People ask me, 'How do you do it?' " Smyers says. "But the alternative is not to be a pro triathlete. That alternative is distasteful to me. I love what I'm doing. There's more in me."

Jill Newman and the other elite-level triathletes fully expect to be dueling with Smyers on the World Cup triathlon circuit probably within the next few weeks. They offer her unqualified respect and admiration, but not a great deal of sympathy -- at least, not on the course.

"As competitive athletes, we're on the ragged edge at all times," says Newman. "I can universally say that none of us feel sorry for her when we compete. When the gun goes off, she's fair game. And she's a tough one to beat."

Phil Barber is a freelance writer based in Calistoga, Calif.

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