We’re Inspired By- Ann Schroeder
After cancer killed her mum, Ann Schroeder took a path towards a healthier life.
Life is about making choices. Lene Schroeder made a choice: to smoke 20 cigarettes a day. Her choice killed her. She died at the age of 65. Her daughter, Ann Schroeder, made a different choice.
When Lene Schroeder died of lung cancer a year ago, her daughter Ann didn’t know how to deal with her grief. Her mother’s death was sudden – Lene died just four weeks after the doctors diagnosed her. Ann realised that the shock and grief at her mother’s death had the potential to overwhelm her.
Ann knew that she needed a positive challenge for her to channel her energy to help her battle through the grief. She had seen posters around her hometown, Conwy in North Wales, advertising various triathlons and recalls thinking to herself: “I’d like to try a triathlon one day.” After Lene’s funeral in September 2011, Ann realised that her triathlon moment had arrived. “It was the memory of my mum that pushed me to sign up for my first triathlon,” she says. “I feel like mum was stolen from me. I never want my daughter Maja to go through that. It took me a long time to get pregnant, and she’s never going to remember her grandma. It’s heartbreaking, but training for a triathlon has given me focus. Without it I would have seriously struggled to come to terms with it all.
“My mum didn’t have a healthy lifestyle. Smoking 20 cigarettes a day for 47 years destroyed her body. Losing her made me realise how frail we are. We only have one body and should look after it. The other reason why I’m doing the triathlon is I want to inspire my daughter and show her that it’s important to have a healthy lifestyle.”
Ann had been an active child growing up in Denmark. She enjoyed horse riding and going skiing. She continued to stay in shape as an adult, going to spinning and Zumba classes. Her decision to take part in her first ever triathlon would signal the beginning of a new chapter in her life. She signed up for a local race, the sprint-distance North West Triathlon in September 2012. It would take place exactly a year after her Lene’s death.
“I knew how to swim but my technique wasn’t great so I began taking lessons, once a week for eight months. As the months went by, my swimming really improved and I completely conquered my fear of the water. That gave me a huge confidence boost.”
Last winter, Ann didn’t follow a specific triathlon training schedule but went swimming several times a week and upped her regular attendance at spinning classes at the gym. As she didn’t own a bike, the classes offered a great way to build strength and endurance for the triathlon challenge ahead. The other key benefit was she could fit them in around caring for one-year-old Maja.
“I read books about triathlon to give me focus. However, I kept my goal very quiet to begin with because it felt like a very personal challenge. After a while people started to ask why I was going spinning so often, and I admitted that I’d signed up for my first triathlon.”
Having come out of the triathlon closet, Ann started to really appreciate the positive effect the sport was having on her life. “When I felt really miserable and down, those were the days when I needed my training the most. It brought me back to a happy level and helped me to deal with my grief.”
Armed with The Triathlete’s Training Bible by Joe Friel, Ann trained as often as she could, taking one rest day each week. “The book’s a bit nerdy but it’s packed with great information for beginners. I followed Joe Friel’s instructions on proper running technique and knocked minutes off my 5k time.”
At the start of June, Ann took several significant steps towards her triathlon goal. She bought a bike and started cycling outside. She also signed up for a Race for Life 5k event. She wanted to experience the atmosphere of a big race, and focus more on her running. “I’d left my run training quite late because it was my weakest discipline. I loved the atmosphere of the Race for Life and was surprised to discover I have a massive competitive streak, which really made me want to improve. I wanted to turn myself into an athlete.”
Ann also wanted to raise money for Cancer Research UK and discovered that, by coincidence, that was the North West Triathlon’s nominated race charity. “It meant that the race became even more personal,” says Ann. “I do think there’s a selfish element to my fund-raising, though. I worry about getting cancer myself so I see raising money for Cancer Research UK as an investment. I don’t think some of my friends realised that when you sponsor someone, it’s an indirect way of saying ‘I support you with all my heart’. When you’re training for your first triathlon, that support gives you a huge boost.”
After focusing on her physical condition and getting into shape, it was time to consider the mental side of triathlon training. “I signed up for the triathlon in honour of my mum, but at times I had to take her out of the equation because it felt too sad. It had to be a fun challenge, even if it was hard. I also tried to keep the triathlon in perspective. If you can’t see the funny side when something goes wrong, it’s time to refocus and question your motives.”
Ann also hoped her decision to train for a triathlon would start conversations about loss. “A lot of people didn’t ask how my training was going before the race, because they knew that my mum’s death had prompted the challenge, and they didn’t want to talk about death. I want people to ask me how I’m doing, but it’s much easier not to mention it. When friends do ask me how I’m doing, it feels like they’re really supporting me.”
Triathlon has offered Ann a way to invest in herself, her family and her future. When race day finally arrived, an all-female swim wave felt supportive and fun, and helped to calm any pre-race nerves. She had decided to enjoy the experience rather than worrying about her time. “I just wanted to have fun and finish,” she says.
“It’s not easy to describe how I felt after the race,” she says. “I felt relief that my body had carried me across the line, then pride. I’d signed up for this challenge less than a year ago, and now I’d achieved my goal. I felt honoured that my partner Gary, his parents and my friends had come to cheer me on – their support meant so much to me. I also felt inspired by the other triathletes. It was amazing to be among so many incredible people who challenge themselves. I loved it – I have definitely caught the triathlon bug.”
Ann’s daughter Maja won’t remember her mother’s first triathlon, but she will grow up surrounded by the sport. “I want to create a healthy home environment so she understands that sport is a normal thing to do,” says Ann. The family’s plans for 2013 include going to France for the Chateau de Chantilly Triathlon (castletriathlonseries.co.uk), where Gary will make his triathlon debut.
Triathlon has changed Ann’s life.
She’s fitter, healthier and stronger than ever, and she’s using that strength to cope with the loss of her mother. “The numbness of losing someone close never goes away but it does become easier to deal with,” she says. “When I was feeling down about my mum’s death, my triathlon training made me feel better.” Ann’s choices would have made her mother proud.
Reducing the risk
When Lene Schroeder died of lung cancer, her daughter Ann chose to embrace a more active lifestyle, to improve her own health and to set a good example for her daughter. “I want to create more conversation about staying healthy, because we have a responsibility to be there for our children,” says Ann. She decided to take up triathlon to achieve that goal.
According to Cancer Research UK, up to one in four cancers could be prevented by lifestyle changes. In the UK alone, 3,000 cases of cancer a year are linked to inactivity. Despite the mounting evidence that regular exercise reduces the risk of developing cancer, only 39 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women are currently hitting the government’s target.
Introducing physical activity into your routine can lead to enormous health benefits. In a Swedish study of 40,000 men, researchers found that daily physical activity reduced the chances of both contracting and dying from cancer. The study revealed that people who exercised for an hour a day were 16 per cent less likely to develop cancer, and people who exercised for just 30 minutes a day were 34 per cent less likely to die of cancer than sedentary people.
In women, the risk of developing breast cancer drops dramatically – a 20 to 40 per cent drop if you exercise regularly.
Ann Schroeder completed the North West Triathlon – a 500m swim, 20k bike, and 5k run – on 2 September 2012 in 1:39:21.
For more information visit cancerresearchuk.org, and to support Ann’s triathlon challenge, visit justgiving.com/AnnSchroeder
This article was originally published in Triathlon Plus magazine. Save time and money by having every issue delivered to your door or digital device by subscribing to the print edition or buying digitally through Zinio or Apple Newsstand.
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on Sunday, October 28th, 2012 at 5:30 am under Magazine.
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