Steve Trew meets two women who have shown him how it’s possible to overcome hardships in style.

I need to introduce you to a couple of athletes, Jackie and Holly. Their performances? Nothing too special, but what they’ve achieved? Nothing short of extraordinary. Trust me.

I’ve known Jackie half of my life, which makes it almost all of hers. I used to teach Jackie, back when the world was young and she was the PE teacher’s pet.

Whenever someone was needed to make up the netball team or stay behind and help out with the younger kids’ gymnastics class, hers was always the first hand to go up.

That was Jackie, and that still is Jackie. Jackie worked in a local bank and I’d see her there. I knew she was still a fitness freak and attended all the local gym classes, spin and yoga sessions. Jackie even took the time to get herself qualified as an instructor in many of these activities.

Then Jackie got breast cancer. She called it “the bastard” which was pretty apt and she decided to fight the bastard in the best way she knew how and by doing what she did best. She fought it through exercise. After every exhausting chemotherapy session, after every draining radiotherapy session, Jackie would go training.

Sometimes it would be a spin class, sometimes a weights circuit, sometimes a run. It didn’t matter what the session was, what mattered to Jackie was that she did it, every time.

She lost her hair, of course. Stuff like that happens. All those drugs fighting the cancer, but also devastating her body.

Then just a little while ago, two things happened. One was that Jackie did her first ever triathlon and the other was that after five years, she finally came off the drugs. Jackie had won. She beat the bastard. Jackie’s also done two 26 mile moonwalks (one necessitating the date for a chemo session be changed), one Race for Life, and one Nightrider 100 kilometres.

That’s Jackie: an amazing athlete, and an incredible human being.

I’ve known Holly a little less time than Jackie; about 35 years less actually. I met Holly and her friend Anya, at Los Cabos Ironman, in Mexico . I’d just finished the pre-race briefi ng with pro triathlete Michael Lovato, and we stopped off at a café for lunch.

They began chatting to us and we all had lunch together. We learned it was Holly’s first Ironman and Anya’s second. I asked if they were looking forward to it when Holly explained the swim could be quite difficult. She half lifted her arms and I saw the scars under both
arms. My eyebrows must have shot up six feet.

“Yeah, lymph nodes, breast cancer,” she said. The bastard.

I looked at Holly’s T-shirt properly for the first time. It was pink and it had written on it: “Yes, these are fake, my real ones tried to kill me.”

Holly had met Anya while she was going through the surgery process. But despite everything she’d been through, Holly and Anya were full of laughter, showing me that cancer and surgery were just things you deal with, and that life goes on.

Holly and Anya both finished Ironman Los Cabos, and they finished well. They were dancing and screaming and laughing straight after the event. I think it was absolutely my most favourite time that I’ve ever said the words: “You ARE an Ironman!”

My favourite time, but not the easiest because I was crying at the same time.

That’s Holly: an amazing athlete, and an incredible human being.

The day after the race, Holly emailed me, and she signed off with, “This doggie-paddling Ironwoman”. Holly also posted this: “Cancer is not a death sentence, but rather it is a life sentence, it pushes one to live.”

And the point is? You really can do anything. You just have to want to do it.

Go out there. Beat the bastard. Carpe every single diem, my friends, because you never know.

Steve Trew is an advisory coach for Speedo, he can be contacted for all things triathlon on trew@personalbest.demon.co.uk