Nipples Optional: A Memoir - Prologue By Susan winn

Twenty years after my diagnosis of breast cancer, I finished the Chicago Marathon with my daughters, Kathryn, Bridget, and Maureen. I never really thought this was possible. I never dreamed it would occur. 20 years prior I was in the midst of chemo and they were ages 8, 5 and 2. A dream come true that we would accomplish this together, but then a dream never dreamed.

Crossing that finish line was one of my proudest moments in life. Mother hen and her three chicks finished, matching outfits with pink shirts celebrating their mother’s survival.

The marathon was not my idea! I had already run 14 marathons and completed my 3rd Boston Marathon at age 50. I was done running marathons. Boston 2007 was horrendous weather. A Nor’easter blew in and I ran 26.2 miles soaked in cold rain, braving the wind. It was not pleasant and I was done, so done.

I think running the Chicago Marathon was Maureen’s idea. The idea of running a marathon is like the idea of having a baby without an epidural. Both are great metabolic endurance performances. Both are grandiose ideas. Both are much more difficult than you could ever imagine.

Maureen was attending college at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska and she somehow convinced her sisters of the grandiose idea of running a marathon together. When I was presented with this idea I said, “Seriously girls, I’m done. Dad and I will be happy to fly to Chicago, and be spectators. Been there, done that, body hurts.”

I eventually got persuaded into training and registering. Once I paid the $100 registration fee I was committed. It was the very first marathon for all three daughters. I was my 15th. This plan of running a marathon did not come without reservations on my part. All three girls had athletic abilities. I just don’t think they understood the challenge.

Kathryn maybe understood the challenge. She attempted training for a marathon prior and ended up in the emergency room on four occasions suffering from dehydration. Bridget self proclaims, “I don’t like to run.” She ran cross-country her freshman year of high school and soon decided cheerleading was a better sport and much more glamorous. Maureen, I believe to this day, did more marathon beer drinking than actually running at that pricey Jesuit school she was attending.

We traveled to Chicago with our male supporters: Kevin, Bryan, Ryan and Josh. I secured a hotel on Michigan Avenue, walking distance to the start, which was also the finish. The four of us made a pack to say together and finish together. I worried, as a mother should. Someone will go down. Kathryn was most worrisome to me with her previous history of dehydration. It was unseasonably warm that Sunday reaching a high of 90 degrees. My sister, Pam, along with her son Tyler’s cross country team volunteered to serve water at the 10 mile mark. As we passed Pam and Tyler at the water station we looked great. Smiles, hugs and photos. We continued on our merry run.

At 13 miles, the beer drinking college student developed stomach cramps. Colon distress. Port-a-potty stop #1. Diarrhea. Kathryn gets a little worried, pops a Phenergan (left over from a previous ER visit) and some Immodium (anti-diarrheal). Miles 16, Maureen feels better and Kathryn starts walking. Stomach cramps. Colon distress. Port-a- potty stop #2. Actually Bridget had already made a stop to pee so this was most likely port-a-potty stop #3.

“Girls, we are wasting time!” Having never run a marathon with a group I had never had to worry about the elimination needs of others. I pleaded with Maureen and Kathryn to stop. “Call Dad, the boys will come get you.” We slowly trudged on. Kathryn started walking again saying, “Just leave me, I’ll finish on my own.” In my frustration I yelled, “Don’t walk, walkers don’t finish.” From there things got UGLY and the following comments were made: “Don’t ask me again how I am doing, please don’t talk to me or look at me.” (Kathryn) “I have a gut ache because I’m constipated because YOU told me to carbo-load.” (Maureen) “I never thought this would be so physically and mentally challenging.” (Kathryn) “What are the signs of heat exhaustion, I think I have heat exhaustion.” (Maureen) “Go ahead, quit if you want.” (Mom) Quitting is NOT an option!” (Maureen)

Apparently quitting was not an option. By the grace of God, my three marvelous daughters and I finished the Chicago Marathon in 5 hours and 10 minutes. It was my slowest and proudest marathon finish.

Maureen and Kathryn were fairly ill. Maureen was still suffering from diarrhea and promptly headed for the port-a-potty. When she re-joined the group someone asked where her name tag and race number was. Her reply, “Well they were out of toilet paper!” The Chicago Marathon is great because it is a flat course and they serve cold beer at the finish. Maureen sat on the curb trying to recover as I fetched our beers. I was about to hand Maureen her beer and she waved me off saying, “Mom, I’m too sick to drink that.” I responded, “OK, I’ll drink it for you.” A mother hen always takes care of her chicks.

Susan WinnComment