Chemotherapy (six rounds, three weeks apart) and a lumpectomy last November behind her, she will try something else Sunday, joining more than 50,000 runners in the New York City Marathon, the first Randall has ever run. She will use her appearance to bring awareness to AKTIV against Cancer, an organization co-founded by Grete Waitz, a legendary Norwegian and New York Marathon runner who died of cancer in 2011. Its aim is to help cancer patients integrate physical activity with treatment. For AKTIV, more than 5,000 pairs of those wild socks have been sold.
“It’s surprising how many similarities there are between being an athlete and being a cancer patient,” Randall, 36, said in a phone interview. “As an athlete, I was always careful about not getting sick. I was always being sure to wash my hands and avoid public places, all that kind of stuff. You’ve got to get enough sleep. You’ve to eat right. You’ve got to get through a big process one step at a time. I just actually used some of the same tools and mind-set that I used as an athlete to go through my treatment.”
Randall says she feels good now and is “like a little bee just buzzing around,” training for the marathon, making speeches, working with business partners such as L.L. Bean, and raising her son, Breck, with her husband, Jeff Ellis, at their home in Penticton, B.C. Over the years, though, even as she was preparing for five Olympic appearances, she thought about trying a long-distance footrace.
“I thought about running the marathon before I even finished my ski career. I had gotten involved with AKTIV against Cancer while competing in Norway,” Randall said. “From my ski results, I have some name recognition in Norway, so I got invited to one of their events and started working with them. Every time the team and I would stop in Oslo, we would go work out with the cancer patients in the hospital in Oslo. I really believed in their concept and I knew they had a tie to the New York Marathon [through] Grete Waitz, the nine-time winner.
“One of my other teammates who also was pretty actively involved with them and was going to retire at the same time, we said: ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be fun if after we retired to go do the New York Marathon and run on behalf of AKTIV. It would be a fun new challenge for us.’ ”
That fun new challenge became a reality when AKTIV notified her shortly after the Olympics that it would honor Randall with an inspiration award in October 2018 in a ceremony that coincided with the running of the New York race.
“A couple of days later, I got the diagnosis,” Randall said. “I had to call [AKTIV] back and say, ‘You won’t believe this, but our connection just got a lot deeper because I’ll be going through this myself.’”
Randall announced in July that she was having treatment, writing on social media that “the color pink has taken on a new chapter in my life as I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Although we caught it early and the prognosis is good, my life will change quite a bit in the coming months. … It’s a scary thing to learn you have cancer and I have wondered every day since how this could have possibly happened to me. But I have promised myself that I will remain positive and active and determined throughout my treatment. I am going to bring as much tenacity, strength, and energy toward this challenge as I have throughout my entire career.”
There were detours as she powered through treatment following the diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma. She had hoped to attend the awards luncheon on Oct. 31 last year, and “for the first few rounds of chemo, I actually entertained the idea that maybe I could still do the marathon. But after my second round of chemo, I caught a bug from my son, from day care, and that just knocked me so flat. I started to realize that while it may be physically possible to run the marathon, it probably wasn’t the smartest idea because I only had two weeks between my last round of chemo and surgery and my immune system was already going to be compromised,” Randall said.
Instead, she focused on the short-term goal of being “as healthy and as rested as possible” for surgery. “I just decided that the marathon will always be there and I was going to focus on treatment. I did end up going to New York for the AKTIV luncheon last year, and I watched my teammates and some of our World Cup friends from Sweden run the race. I was in the finish area and watched them finish — I couldn’t help but get caught up in the energy, and I said right then: ‘Oh, yeah, a year from now I’m going to be back here. I’m going to be running, and I’m going to be feeling good.’ ”
And she is. The trick, as Randall and anyone with a serious illness learns, is to be grateful for individual moments while also being hopeful about the future. Her treatment continues for now with a chemo drug and hormone treatments.
“Now that I’m mostly finished with treatment, I’m trying to continue with that mind-set but with the perspective of: ‘I get to be out here doing things. I appreciate how good I feel. I am just incredibly grateful that my treatment was effective and that I do feel good,’ ” she said. “I’m really trying to honor the experience and not take any moment for granted. I want to make the most of every day because you don’t necessarily know how many days you have. I’m positive and optimistic — trying to be in the moment while trying to be optimistic about the future.”
Randall has never run a full marathon, and although she has done long training runs in the mountains in Alaska and at her British Columbia home, she has not run that far on pavement. Her goal for her first marathon is to finish in under three hours.
“That sounded really reasonable off my 5K time, but now that I’ve done the training, I realize that 26 miles is a long way and replicating that pace mile after mile is going to be challenging,” she said, “but I’ve been very public about my goal and I’ve committed to it.”
Just look for the socks.
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