It wasn't like the finish line celebration and the checks for her four professional Ironman victories. But Amy Marsh’s Memorial Day overall women’s age group win at the Life Time Tri CapTex Triathlon sprint might have carried more meaning.
It was a modest scene – Marsh was one of many age groupers shuttling past the finish line in random time trial order, straining the ability of the excellent announcer to identify all of the athletes crossing the line.
When the timers unraveled the results, Marsh finished in 1 hour 8 minutes and 55 seconds for the .46-mile swim in Lady Bird Lake, 12.3 mile bike leg and 3.1 mile run in downtown Austin, Texas. That was just one second faster than 16 year-old runner-up Rebecca Rivers – who is 24 years younger than Marsh. But thanks to the random order of start, there was no dramatic finish line sprint.
In fact, recalls Brandon Marsh, Amy’s husband, one woman watching the podium ceremony exclaimed: “’Hey, a 40-year-old beat the 16 year old!’ She had no idea who Amy was or what she had been through.” Brandon Marsh added, “Memories are short. Two and a half years of being out of the sport and you really are kind of starting over again. Close friends of ours and people we know who follow the sport know her accomplishments and what this means.”
In October 2014, after feeling overly tired, Amy went for a routine blood workup which showed some troubling signs. After a bone marrow biopsy in December of that year, she was shocked to find she had acute myeloid leukemia. During the 18 months after her diagnosis, she went through five rounds of chemotherapy before receiving a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant.
While the bone marrow transplant worked, Marsh faced months of rehab that began with months of walking – and wondering if she would ever be able to resume swimming, biking and running at all. Or, optimistically, reaching anywhere near her old levels.
“That is the first thing when you are diagnosed,” said Marsh. “You wonder if you are done with everything. While going through treatment, I set little goals for my life. I said, I am going to get through this and when I get done with it, I want to stay active and just make little goals for myself.”
On the first anniversary of her bone marrow transplant, a milestone the folks at the famed MB Anderson Cancer Clinic in Houston call a “Rebirthday,” Marsh decided to test herself with a 5k run in the first week of June. “That was definitely a little painful,” said Marsh. “But I did it. And it was definitely painful. I wasn't running much then. And definitely not running hard. I got it done, but it was tough.”
Gradually over the next year, Marsh increased her exercise load. “It was six or seven months before she could jog or run,” said Brandon. A few months ago, Marsh was exercising 5 to 7 hours a week – two swims, a bike ride and three runs.
“A few months ago, my doctor gave me permission to swim in open water,” said Marsh. “They were worried about the bacteria and getting infections. So they wanted me to taper off my medications and wait a little longer until things settled down a bit. Once I managed to cut my medication dosage to one third and I did not get sick,” she was given the go ahead. “For an occasional race - not every day.”
Three weeks ago, she competed in the 14th annual Rookie Triathlon at Lake Walter E. Long. “That race was a little shorter than CapTex, but I didn't feel so good.”
On Memorial Day, things went well. “Just considered it my workout for the day,” said Marsh. “It felt better than it did three weeks ago.”
Marsh ran at 6:30 per mile pace – about a 20 minute 5k. “I enjoyed being out on the race course and seeing people I haven’t seen in a few years,” said Marsh. “I am enjoying it again. I love being active and being able to do this for the first time in a long time.”