How'd She Do It?
A triathlete's comeback.
Sometimes Even Triathletes Cry continued...
Smyers rarely broaches the subject of her health with competitors. Still,
her fellow triathletes -- and, increasingly, those in other events -- know what
it's taken for her to continue to compete. Their esteem became tangible when
they elected her to carry the American flag at the 1999 Pan-American Games,
leading the U.S. delegation into Winnipeg Stadium.
Smyers says having people to look up to has helped her deal with the
adversity in her life and the roadblocks in her athletic career. "It has
helped me so much to have role models," Smyers says. "It's nice to know
I might be doing the same for someone else." Her models include cyclist
Lance Armstrong and Emma Robinson, a Canadian rower who battled back from
thyroid cancer to set a record at the 1999 World Championships. Closer to home
is a friend who's grappling with Lou Gehrig's disease.
"As bad as I have it, thyroid cancer is a curable disease," Smyers
says. "My friend has an incurable disease. He's basically in a race for his
life, and he's handled it with good nature. That has kept me from dwelling in
self-pity." Next week, when the Olympics are on, Smyers will watch her
competitors race, cheering them on, but also wincing at what could have been.
Her loss was hard for her: "I was disappointed at the time, for sure. I
felt my husband and daughter had made so many sacrifices, especially in the
months just before the Olympic trials. I was just feeling like I had sacrificed
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.