Welcome to my new bi-weekly series, “Inspiring Greater Fitness”. This series will highlight people who inspire me. My hope is that this series will show myself and my readers that ordinary people can lead extraordinary lives. Lauren is a perfect example of that. She has been an athlete her entire life and is a two-time Ironman Finisher. I’m lucky to call her my cousin. Get your tissues ready-her story is good!
For anyone who knows me or has known me, being actively involved in athletics and setting big goals have always been a part of my life. My love for sports started at a very young age and I was very lucky to have amazing, supportive and encouraging parents who allowed me to get involved at a very early age. From the age of five and up until middle school, I played basketball for Taylors First Baptist. It was then in sixth grade, that my coach at the time encouraged me to try out for the JV team at Wade Hampton High. I made the JV team as a seventh grader and moved up to Varsity in the ninth grade. Throughout my four years of high school, I played basketball, volleyball, soccer and softball with the dream of playing basketball in college. I was also on an AAU travel team that traveled pretty much the whole southeast playing highly competitive teams. With all of those sports activities, injuries were bound to happen. I jammed and broke fingers, rolled ankles and sprained this ligament or the other.
However, I was stopped in my tracks when I was playing in a rivalry basketball game when I was fifteen and suffered a stress fracture in my lower back. The pain was unimaginable and all the activities that I had participated in and that had been so important to me, might not continue. I had to wear a body brace from May to September of that year and was told by my orthopedist that I only had a 10% chance of ever running or playing sports again. Emotionally, I was devastated… at least for a while. After a period of time, my competitive spirit awakened and I was determined through much physical therapy and by the Grace of God, that I would beat this.
Fortunately, my growth plates had not closed and new bone was able to grow when I had experienced the fracture. The next year, I was back playing sports. I was still aiming for my goal to play collegiate basketball and was able to attain that goal and played four years for Presbyterian College.
Now fast forward to life after college. My love for a physical challenge has never subsided. If anything, it has grown! I began running in races in 2007 and slowing began participating in 5k’s, 10k’s, half marathons and triathlons. Each time, the challenge for me was to train harder and to do more. I always swore I would never be like “those crazy people” and do a marathon. Well…. In February 2012, I completed my first marathon.
My first marathon was not glorious by any means. I had been battling an injury in my leg weeks leading up to the race. I kept pushing through the pain because there was no way I was going to let all my training go down the drain and not complete this race. So I ran the race and THEN went to the doctor where I found out I had a torn tendon in the front of my leg. That resulted in 2 weeks non weight bearing and crutches. Of course I was not satisfied.
I began training again and was looking for that next challenge. My “ultimate” dream since I was a little kid was to do an Ironman Triathlon. The harder and longer I trained, the more the realization set in that I just might be able to do an Ironman. The 2.4 mile swim, followed by 112 mile bike and concluding with 26.2 mile run seemed daunting, but I was excited at the possibility. I had a close friend who had completed the Ironman twice, once while my husband and I were cheering him on. The exhilaration of watching him complete this goal was contagious.
On New Years Eve 2012, I signed up for the Louisville, Kentucky Ironman. It is said to be the third most difficult course on the Ironman Circuit. I trained nonstop every day including weekends. Most days would start around 4:30 am for the first workout and would get the second work out in right after work. On average, I trained approximately 12-24 hours a week. I came face to face with Louisville in August 2013. The race began at 7 am and 14 hours, 1 minute and 3 seconds later, I had completed my first Ironman! The feeling of completing an Ironman is indescribable. Words are inadequate. The 4 am wake up calls, the long swims and endless bike rides for a year had all paid off. The fatigue, soreness, the missed Saturdays and Sundays that I could have chilled instead of trained, all seemed worth it. So of course I could not be “one and done.” New Years Eve 2013, I signed up for Ironman Texas. So May 17th, 2014, 14 hours and 49 minutes and 23 seconds later, I became a 2x Ironman Finisher. And it continues……
At what point did you realize that you had a special athletic ability?
I would say I began an interest in sports at around the age of 5. My parents signed me up for church basketball and T-ball at early age. I had always loved being outside running around than inside watching tv or playing with dolls.
What was the best part of Ironman and the worst?
Best – First let me say that I believe truly living means experiencing things outside of your “comfort zone” and striving to achieve things that are bigger than you are. Signing up for an Ironman is huge because it is such a “journey” getting to the start line. There is so incredibly much that goes into the training, the planning, the nutrition, the time away from family and your spouse, the races, the money, etc. The best parts of Ironman Louisville and Texas were 1) The amount of support from my husband, my family and friends. I could not have asked for a better support system. My friends and family have traveled near and far to support me, to cheer for me, carried all my stuff to and from races, helped me through the emotional ups and downs, etc. Seeing them and hearing their encouragement throughout the course of the day for 140.6 miles is something I will treasure for a lifetime. 2) The camaraderie of the athletes on the course. Few people actually “get” this addiction and it is awesome to encourage and be encouraged by like-minded people who are all out there trying to achieve the same goals as you are. 3) The journey. Since 2012 when I signed up for that first Ironman, I have learned so much about myself, have made lifelong friendships, joined the GHS/GCM Triathlon Team and have motivated and helped trained some of my friends who are delving into the sport. It is so much more about the personal relationships and experiences that I have shared.
Worst – There is a lot of prep involved for race day and it can be a little stressful. You have to “expect the unexpected.” Just because you have a race plan in place, does not mean that the plan will happen accordingly as you wish. So the worst experience for me was in Texas. Half way through the swim, I got kicked in the head by a random foot. Didn’t think much of it at the time until about mile 80 of the bike. I began feeling extremely nauseous, I couldn’t eat or drink anything, my vision was blurred and I was riding poorly. Stopped into the next rest stop, which was at mile 90 and was assessed. The medics thought I had maybe suffered a concussion and made me sit for 10 minutes and gave me Zofran for the nausea. After much debate, I decided to get back on my bike and finish out the 112 mile ride and make a decision about continuing once I got back to transition. Was feeling a little better after getting off my bike and decided to tackle the marathon. I did not want a DNF (did not finish) by my name. The marathon was pretty miserable as it was close to 90 degrees and was a 3 loop course. My nutrition plan went down the drain and at that point, I was doing whatever I could to just freaking finish the race. Finished the race in 14:49:23 and had a nice little visit to the med tent where I received two IV bags. And yes, I want to do another Ironman.
What sporting events are currently on your bucket list?
- Boston Marathon (I am currently about 7 minutes away from qualifying)
- NYC Marathon
- Big Sur Marathon in California
- Escape from Alcatraz – legendary race in San Francisco. You finish this race and you have some serious bragging rights J
- Ironman Coeur d’alene
- Ironman Lake Placid
- Finally, although it is a long shot. KONA, Hawaii for the Ironman World Championships. Maybe by the time I am 80 years old, I might qualify. If I don’t qualify, I want to at least volunteer it and experience such an amazing event.
What do you struggle with the most in your fitness journey?
“I am my own worst critic and I am very hard on myself. I think being goal oriented and self-driven is a great thing but sometimes it can be my downfall. It is part of my innate nature to try to improve with each run or swim or bike ride. I constantly want to “beat” the last workout’s time and having this mindset all the time is not beneficial for your training, your health or sanity. I have made a conscious effort in the last year to slow down, listen to my body and to enjoy the workout.”
Why go to the lengths that you do in your fitness journey?
“Feeling healthy and being active makes me feel alive. I love doing what I do and I have a real passion for it. I love the challenge, the people, the experiences, the traveling, motivating others, etc. I love using my fitness to motivate others who are just beginning their fitness journeys and want to set goals for themselves whether it be a 5k or an Ironman. I just love the enthusiasm!”
Who inspires you and why?
“Without a doubt it is my sister, Courtney Dobson Grass. Courtney is four and a half years younger than me and although she is my “younger” sibling, I look up to her more than anyone else. In the last five years, Courtney has been dealt a rough hand. (Going to try to put 5 years into a condensed version). On New Year’s Eve 2009, out of the blue, Courtney began having a weird sensation going down the right side of her body. After running several scans at the ER, it was determined that she had a 4 cm mass on her brain. At the time, the doctors were unsure if the mass was a stroke or brain tumor. After meeting with a team of specialists in Greenville, they determined that the mass was indeed a brain tumor. Courtney was referred to Duke University where she was evaluated by the top neurosurgeon in the country. They felt it was low grade at the time and the plan was to monitor her every few months with MRI’s to keep a close eye on it. They told her to live her life. During that time, Courtney and her husband were trying as best they could to live a “normal” life and Courtney became pregnant. For the most part her pregnancy went as planned until the last trimester. Courtney developed new symptoms and the doctors at Duke felt it was in her best interest to deliver early. The delivery went well and we are blessed with a beautiful, healthy little girl.
Six weeks after Addison’s birth, Courtney met with Dr. Friedman at Duke and it was decided that brain surgery would have to be done. After almost 7 hours of surgery, (open crainiotomy) and while being awake for portions of the surgery, the doctor reported that the tumor was the size of a small orange and he had to leave the “rind” or borders due to it being in her speech area. Dr. Friedman took samples during surgery and tested them and reported that all the specimens (at that time), were Grade 2 Astrocytoma. A week later we found that the frozen pathology confirmed it was a Grade IV Glioblastoma – The most aggressive and dangerous brain tumor there is. Courtney and her family were devastated as this would mean a very aggressive treatment plan in store.
Courtney began the process of learning to walk and talk again. For a while, Courtney had extreme difficulty forming words and translating what she was thinking into how she would say it. It required so much strength and determination with much help from her husband and family. She began 30 radiation treatments and chemo within a few weeks of surgery. Courtney has a great team of doctors that work closely together from Duke and Greenville to monitor the tumor, her blood counts, distribution of chemo etc. Courtney’s treatment plan consists of traveling to Duke every 8 weeks for testing and MRI’s. The doctors at Duke feel that it is necessary to monitor the tumor that closely due to its aggressive nature. Courtney is currently on 2 oral chemos – Temodar and Gleevec which she takes daily. She also has to drive from Sumter to Greenville every other week to receive an intravenous Chemo called Avastin. Avastin is crucial in Courtney’s treatment as it stops blood flow to the residual tumor. All of these “chemo chemicals” take a toll on Courtney as she experiences nausea and extreme fatigue but she never complains and tries to live her life as normal as possible.
All of this to say, my sister is my hero. The amount of courage, faith and strength that she has shown over the past 5 years astonishes me. Since her diagnosis, I dedicate each race I participate in to her as I feel like this is a way I can “do something” for her! She is my motivation, my strength, my rock…”