In 2009, Teri Griege had just come off a disappointing performance in the Louisville Ironman, by her standards.
One year before, the Creve Coeur woman who had already run the Boston Marathon and the Chicago Marathon, finished just a single spot away from qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. But in 2009, Griege finished the grueling test of running, swimming and biking ten minutes off her previous pace in the same competition.
Two weeks later, she went to the doctor for a colonoscopy, to find out why her training had been, in her opinion, "off," and why her injuries weren't healing.
Four hours later she learned she had stage 4 colon cancer, which had metastasized to her liver.
The bucket list
Griege chose a course of action for her own treatment: radiation, chemotherapy, and resections of her liver and colon. She also crafted the proverbial "bucket list," determined to be present on her daughter's on her wedding day and enjoy other family milestones:
- Celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary in March 2012 with her husband David, a mortgage banker and former City of Creve Coeur Plannning and Zoning Commissioner
- Live to see her all her children get married
- Complete the Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii.
More than a year and a half later, Griege is on what she calls maintenance chemotherapy twice a month, and considers her situation "stable."
Her kids aren't married yet and her anniversary is still a three months off, but, she can cross number 3 off her list.
Griege submitted her story to Ironman organizers in a contest that would select a featured athlete for the event. It is one of only two ways for participants to be chosen (an auction is the other) outside of qualifying.
She made the cut and and went to Hawaii for the October competition. A fanbase of more than 30 friends and family, including her oncologist, also made the trip. The race and her story, will be featured Saturday on NBC.
"I never thought I'd be inspirational to others"
But Griege did just that, by going the distance through grueling testings and treatments.
“The first three months, I probably got at least two emails a week from people saying they went and got colonoscopies and probably one out of five had pre-cancerous polyps removed,” she said.
And the need for screening came closer to home, as Griege discovered a genetic component to her own case, which led her sisters to get checked. One learned she had stage 3 colon cancer.
Griege may have saved her life.
Setting the pace
Those involved with her treatment say Griege has also had an impact on others receiving care at the same time. Kourtney Liddy, at the estimates between 60 and 70 people patients have come into contact with Griege over time. All have asked, "What's Teri doing?" as they take stock of her progress while fighting their own battles.
How could someone continue with a rigorous athletic regimen while undergoing equally rigorous cancer treatment?
“I think (the training is) what gives me the will to keep fighting, keeps my body stronger, ready to fight against all this stuff," Griege said.
Embracing a "seize the day" philosophy, Griege remains involved in local efforts to support cancer awareness, including Pedal The Cause, which raises cancer research funds that stay in metro St. Louis. Her team, the Paramount Pedalers, raised the most money for the 2011 event, $78,140 toward an overall amount of $1.325 million.
"Teri Griege, You're an Ironman!"
It's difficult for Griege to describe the wave of emotion she felt as she completed the Hawaii event (1,676 overall, she placed 34th in her age group). An announcer led the crowd in chanting, "Teri Griege, you're an Ironman!" as she arrived in the arms of her mother.
Griege said she felt full of gratitude, like she'd just won Wimbledon, after the 140 mile event was over.
The next race
So, how does someone top off competing with people Griege describe as "the cream of the cream of the cream?"
She finished the New York City Marathon two weeks later and has plans to finish the five marathon "majors," including Berlin next September and London in the spring of 2013.
"There’s life after whatever card you’re dealt," Griege said.
Coverage of the Ironman World Championship, along with featured material on Griege, airs Saturday on NBC at 3:30 CST.