One year ago, triathlete Karen Newman achieved a goal she had been working toward for 30 years. Today, she faces the toughest challenge of all.
BY KAREN NEWMAN
As I lie on the coach or the picnic table or the floor day after day, hour after hour, I purposely remember my blessings.
Remembering the blessings in your life gives you strength when the waters rise, when defeat looks imminent.
It’s hard to lay still. It’s especially difficult when moving and being a world-class athlete was your identity, your joy. I cannot change my circumstance, yet with
God’s help, I can rule my mind.
Ruling your mind is powerful. Remembering your blessings helps you keep your mind focused on the victory.
One of the blessings I keep close to my heart as I traverse this valley, battling stage IV cancer, is something that happened just last November.
For nearly 30 years, God gifted me with the ability to compete in triathlons, aquathlons and biathlons. I love everything about them: The challenge, the extraordinary places you travel to; waking in the wee hours when the world is still asleep, the brilliant stars that take your breath away, the electric energy as you arrive, the new and old friends you meet; the beauty of a sunrise, the glistening water, the prayers, the
frenzy as the gun goes off; the mind control, the jumping over fear and doubt, the pushing of one’s body beyond the limits, the elation of crossing the finish line or standing on a podium.
I miss racing so much. And yet I am so grateful for all the years God let me chase my triathlon dreams.
At first, I just wanted to finish. And then I raised the bar. I wanted to place in my age division, then overall, then make Team USA and compete in an age group World Championship, then win Nationals, then Worlds and then break a World record. By 2013, all those dreams had come true except winning a National Championship.
To win, everything needs to go perfectly. Sadly, for years at Nationals, something always came in my way; a slow leak in my tire, chemotherapy, a competitor grabbing me in a vice grip induced by fear during the swim, bone metastasis, rocks in my goggles, a race belt falling off, loosened handle bars, to name a few.
But on November 10, 2018 in Miami Fla., something extraordinary happened.
I wasn’t planning on being in Miami to compete at the National Aquathlon Championships. I was planning on retiring. I’d just competed on July 12, 2018, at the age group World Aquathlon Championships in Denmark where I placed 6th overall and was the top American with the fastest run, despite enduring radiation to four pelvic tumors just months before.
When a fellow competitor asked if I was going to the National Age-group Aquathlon Championships in Miami and subsequently announced the date November 10, 2019 (11-1-19), hope rose up within me.
The number “111” had been God’s special way of encouraging me through hard times. Maybe that long ago dream of winning Nationals was in my future.
Leading up to Nationals, I won every race overall for women and once overall for men and women. I felt strong, ready. Yet when I arrived, doubt crept in.
Each time doubt threatened to overwhelm me, God would send me a 111 on a building, or the clock would read 10:11. He was so faithful in his encouragement. I could only do my best.
The Larry and Penny Thompson zoo was a perfect venue for the race even with the alligator signs warning us not to swim in the lake. I wasn’t scared, but another competitor was. I asked her before our wave went off if she would like me to say a prayer. I don’t know what I said but when I finished, multiple hands of other competitors were upon us. We all felt blessed. Never had that happened before a National Championship. I knew it was going to be a great day.
When the gun went off, I gave everything I had. My swim and transition were perfect. As I began to run, I felt Jesus running with me. My mantra; “All for your glory Lord; all for your glory.” I pushed past the heat, the pain. When I crossed the finish line, there was nothing left to give. I had given it all.
My husband Peter met me at the finish line, hugged me and told me he thought I came in fifth. I was crushed. I really thought I had won. I collected my things and we began to socialize. When the announcer said he’d be presenting awards in 3 minutes, I went to check the standings. Miraculously, I saw my name in the number one slot and fell on my knees. I’d won.
I stayed on my knees with my arms raised and wept.
I just couldn’t believe that God gave me my dream. And incredibly on November 10th (111). It was more than I could ask or imagine. The cancer treatments, the pain, the doubt, the trials, the insurmountable odds were all washed away in a moment of unimaginable bliss.
When the announcer put the gold medal around my neck and said “Here is Karen Newman, she is a stage IV metastatic breast cancer survivor, and she is your National Champion,” I wept again. Then I smiled in awe as I looked out over the crowd. I pointed to the heavens and the two award winners to my left and right grabbed my hands, raised them higher.
It is a moment, I will never forget.
No other National Championship win would have been so rich.
Do not lose hope if your circumstances look dire or your dreams are taking a while. I waited nearly 30 years before winning a National Championship.
Before that win, I waded through many deep dark valleys. I know what it’s like to be on a bedpan; I know what it’s like to be broken. And I know what it’s like to taste victory.
In the waiting, remember your blessings; write them down, keep them close. Thank God often. This is the only way I am making my way through my present circumstance with glimmers of joy and hope and victory.
Featured Photo Caption: Karen Newman, carrying the U.S. Flag in the Parade of Nations at the 2016 Aquathlon and Triathlon World Championships in Cozumel, Mexico. Photo courtesy Karen Newman