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Duel in the Pool

By Mary Eggers
Photos by Steve Morse

It’s not often that I struggle to find the words to say after an event. Today I am struggling. It was so much more amazing than we could have ever imagined. Sit back, grab a good latte, and thank you for allowing me to share this experience with you.

The Race
I don’t have much to say about the details of the race. It’s really well documented as many of you have seen and read. Click here for some of the video coverage and click here for Lisa Barnes’ play by play. She captured every single moment of the actual race. Also try googling “Eggers vs. Armstrong” — we seem to be hitting the CNN airwaves!

maryFirst things first… we need to be honest… Mr. Armstrong was gracious in this competition. He had very good reason to come here and kick my ass. I have done a lot of trash talking. Now I won’t say he threw the race.  He might have eased up slightly… but he made me work for that win. With all due respect he’s much more talented than me, he is a swimmer as he’s come back to triathlon, and he could have absolutely destroyed me. I am not even a good kicker.

During the actual race he was talking to me, saying come on Mary! Come on Mary! Had I been able to breathe much less shout something to him it would have been along the lines of shut the hell up Armstrong. Since I was kicking at about 900 times my lactate threshold however, I couldn’t. Let’s give proper credit here, he knew why he was here and it was much more important than a 50 kick. I knew that whatever game he brought, I had to bring my A-game. You don’t dare a seven-time Tour de France winner and bring a B-game. (My A-game might be his D-game, but that’s life.)

So a big kudos to Mr. Armstrong for having the graciousness to make it fun, and for making me work for it. Believe me I did.

What was it like to meet Lance Armstrong?
Believe it or not I wasn’t that nervous. We’ve been in contact over the last five weeks and even that morning. The amount of people who were there in the lounge we were waiting in made me nervous. As soon as he walked in, he shook my hand — I think he gave me a hug but my memory is not clear — and I felt at ease.

maryI have always been mindful to not be that fan who rushes up to him screaming “Oh my gawd I am your biggest fan” and rattle off his stats. I am sure he knows his stats and if he doesn’t, well then there is always Google. I was careful to give him space, because everyone wanted his attention, wanted him to do this and that, so I backed off as much as possible. I did have the opportunity to talk to him and I kept it about the event and I made sure to let him know we have raised $51,000 as of an hour before the event. He was really happy about. THAT was speaking his language.

I found him to be very kind, gracious and very interested to meet the teens. He shook all of their hands and took a photo with them after the race. They were totally over the moon. They had a poolside spot for the whole thing. One of the girls said to me, “I just hugged Lance Armstrong.” That’s how it should be.

The Money
Mr. Armstrong talked about the obligation of the cured. He told the story of the doctor who on the day of his discharge told him that there were two exits from the hospital. The private one, where no one knows you were here, no one knows you had cancer, and you quietly go on about your life. The other door is the public door. Where there are people waiting for you and you share your story, listen to others and essentially “pay it forward” when it comes to cancer.

He chose the public door. Thank God. Thank God he did.

We have so much power as a human race, especially today, to help one another.

We raised $51,000 without the help of any local running store or bike store. To be fair, I am sure everyone comes to stores asking for donations. There are budgets and economies and each does their own thing for charity. So I totally understand. I just want to make this point: we did it on small donations.

maryEver hear the story of the optimist and the pessimist? While the optimist and the pessimist were arguing whether the glass is half full or half empty, the opportunist snuck in and drank the water. While people are out there debating on the value of social media, we snuck in there and used it to stage one of the greatest fundraising coups ever seen. We had one anonymous donor give us $5,000. Our teammates pooled together their money at Qt2 and donated another 5k. The Zimmet group matched total donations for a total I believe that was $2500. One woman donated $10 five times over the past 5 weeks. Most donations were $5-250. This money came from your pockets.

To me that demonstrated again, the power of people. Regular people. You-and-I kind of people.

While I was at the reception a woman grabbed me by the arm. She was elegantly dressed to a T. She wanted to know how I managed to raise that kind of money in five weeks; what was my strategic plan?

I looked at her. Here I was standing in a 10-year-old black dress, clip in hair (That’s my pool to party secret… shhhhh) and I was half the woman this lady was. I smiled. “We did it by asking.” And that is the God’s honest truth. I begged, you shared. Teens Living With Cancer raises $51,000 PLUS.

The Speech
During his speech Mr. Armstrong stated that the highlight of his trip was the Duel in the Pool. As I said above it was not because of the race. He explained that his and my paths crossed on Twitter and because of that we not only raised all this money, but we are expanding Teens Living With Cancer to Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, filling a much-needed hole in what I consider to be the forgotten age group of cancer victims (age 13-19). He, like we were, was astounded at the power of social media. How it has shrunk the world and connected us all.

He gave me one of the highest compliments I have ever been given. His words have had me in tears most of the day. He said that I was authentic and that I was passionate about Teens Living With Cancer. My initial reaction was to disagree, but I understand that there are times when a thank you is appropriate.

I struggle with being called a hero. I struggle with being called an inspiration. When people say something like that I interpret it to mean WE. The Teens. The teens are the heroes and they are the inspiration. I didn’t do anything inspirational or heroic. They did. They stared down the barrel of the gun we call cancer. They fought the fight, they survived.

When I think of authenticity, I think you are or you are not. It’s not something I aim to be. I am or am not. When this all began my only worry is that Mr. Armstrong would think I was some crazed fan who was out for personal gain. His saying those words allowed me to finally relax about it. I felt like he got it; he got me. Through however he came to that conclusion, I felt very honored to be given that compliment in that setting. Thank you for that Mr. Armstrong. I will always remember that, and I will always hold myself to that standard.

Mr. Armstrong quoted Muhammad Ali:  “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” He talked about how we need to take care of one another, look out for each other. It doesn’t take a lot of money. Sometimes it takes hitting share on Facebook, sitting down on the couch and listening, sometimes just a smile and a hug. That’s how we can take care of one another; that’s how we can make this world a better place.

A young lady asked him what his greatest accomplishments were. He said father, cancer crusader / Livestrong and cycling. It was important to him to communicate that while he was grateful for what cycling has done for him and given him. His priorities have shifted, his goals have changed.

A young girl the age of 12 asked him what it was like to not be able to have kids and then be able to. I can’t recreate the scenario but it was possibly the most hilarious scene ever as Mr. Armstrong apologized to her for swearing in his book, as she told him she was reading it. He asked if her parents were there as he delicately walked through the experience of being deemed infertile and then fertile again. Best Q & A ever in my opinion.

The Teens
At the end of the speech they rolled the film of the Duel in the Pool, although Mr. Armstrong had already revealed the winner on twitter.

When it came to the part of the video that pictures of Melissa were shown (Lauren and Doug’s daughter, who died at age 19 and inspired Melissa’s Living Legacy) I watched as her father looked down, and her mother put her face in her hands. They were sitting in front of my father and me. In front of 4,500 people her story was told, and how Teens Living With Cancer was born and where it is going was explained.

The teens sitting around us all looked at one another. One turned around and looked at me. This was the defining moment of this journey, at least for me.

We are not a big corporate foundation. Some places have $100K to use to organize a fundraiser. I am a volunteer, this is Lauren and Leah. Melissa’s father and brother made the awards, her brother did all the website design and Duel in the Pool logos. Lauren and Leah worked tirelessly for five weeks for this endeavor. We are grassroots; like real grassroots. This event and Mr. Armstrong helped to shine a spotlight on this foundation and the programs we can offer through Teens Living With Cancer. That was their moment. That was our moment. It was like, wow, we have this voice.

maryWhat’s Next
We have no idea. Everything throughout the past five weeks has led to this point. We had no idea we would wake up this morning to messages from friends in New Orleans and California and Georgia that we were on CNN and other news channels. Will it raise more awareness? More money? Will it open doors? We don’t know.

For me, I will continue my work with these teens. This is what I am passionate about; this is our crusade and what we have done if nothing else is shown ourselves that anything is possible in this world with a little hard work.

In my dream situation I would love a position where I could continue to develop fitness programs for teens who are post-chemotherapy or in treatment. I feel that’s a place I can contribute best. It allows me to combine my experience as a nurse, fitness consultant, coach, etc. (I don’t need a six-figure salary, just enough to cover my family and good dental).

I will continue of course to do that right here too. But just in case the folks at Livestrong are reading — I have a lot of passion for Teens Living With Cancer, for this age group, and to try to help them through something I know something about.

Thank You
Thank you to so many people for so many things. Thank you to Lauren, Leah, Doug and Matt for all of your hard work. To the families of Teens Living With Cancer for the support. To the University at Buffalo for allowing us to crash the party and helping us make this event a reality. To Roswell Park Cancer Institute for expanding TLC.

To our teens: for being the true heroes and the true inspiration behind everything. You guys are what this is for, and what you had to go through to be part of this is not fair, not right. Together we fight back and together we raised the middle finger to cancer yesterday.

To my mom, dad, aunt, husband, son: for teaching me to dream and keeping my feet on the ground. Curt Eggers, you said from the beginning that he would say yes, that we would hit 50K and that this would open doors for Teens Living With Cancer. You have that intuition and I thank you for that.

To each and every one of YOU. Who shared, retweeted, donated pennies, helped spread the word.

To Mr. Armstrong: for answering that tweet. You said in your speech that you were so glad that you did, and trust me, so are we.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Together we did this. Power of the people.

For more information on Teens Living With Cancer, visit www.teenslivingwithcancer.org. To learn more about Mary, visit http://ironmomma.com.

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