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This Sport Saved My Life: Cancer Survivor Supports Youth Through USAT Foundation

by USA Triathlon Foundation

A photo of Lee Harkleroad wearing a hat
Lee Harkleroad

Triathlon. That’s the only explanation Lee Harkleroad’s surgeon has for him surviving a “really nasty case” of prostate cancer.

Based on the amount of radiation he received, his surgeon anticipated the cancer would either come back, or he’d be diagnosed with another form of cancer.

“She said, ‘Whatever you want to get done in the next five years, you’d better get it done,’” Lee said.

Now 12 years in remission, Lee has proved her wrong. 

“I’m past the stage of when prostate cancer comes back, and past the stage where other cancers are likely to get you,” he said. “My surgeon has no explanation other than the veracity at what I exercise.”

His surgeon hung a photo of him in his tri kit on her office wall, as a reminder to other patients that they can turn bad news into something positive, like Lee did. 

Lee, who says he “participates, as opposed to racing,” continued to train for IRONMAN Wisconsin amidst surgery, radiation, hormone therapy and blood clots. When medicine caused him to lose muscle mass, he persevered, despite having to teach himself how to run again.

He made it to the finish line in Madison and made it halfway through the run before having to stop.

“Tri training was like my therapy,” he said. “It was my way of getting through a nasty card that life plays on you.”

What started as a fascination with Kona has now turned into a lifestyle.

“I’ll do it as long as I can walk—75, 80—as long as I can,” Lee said. “It’s just good for my bones.”

When Lee was approached about supporting the USA Triathlon Foundation, it was a very easy decision to say yes.

“I think this sport saved my life,” he said. “When you get so much out of something as I feel like I have, you want to give something back.”

Lee said he’s passionate about getting youth involved in tri triathlon to build lifelong healthy habits and confidence. He’d also like to see the sport grow in inclusivity and diversity.

“If kids are developmentally disabled, there shouldn’t be a limitation there,” he said, as he mentioned recently racing alongside Chris Nikic at IRONMAN Ohio 70.3. “And beyond kids, I’d very much like to see triathlon be a sport of color than it is now.”

Through his support to the Foundation, Lee hopes more people will be able to experience racing.

“What triathlon has taught me is how to fight. If it (cancer) comes back again, I’ll fight it again,” he said. “It’s good training for life. I think I’m a good businessperson because of triathlon, because it made me tough, resilient and adaptable. I think it just creeps into every aspect of your life.”

Although blood clots have set back his recent training, Lee will be fighting for that IRONMAN finish as he prepares to race in Alaska, California and Arizona.

The USA Triathlon Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and the charitable arm of USA Triathlon. With its mission to transform lives through sport by providing opportunities to swim, bike and run, the Foundation serves to generate a greater impact on the multisport community through charitable giveback and grants that advance the Foundation's three pillars: (1) Encourage youth participation; (2) Inspire adaptive athletes; and (3) Ignite Olympic/Paralympic dreams. Since the Foundation was established in 2014, it has provided millions of dollars in grants to organizations and individuals in pursuit of its mission and pillars to create a healthier United States through triathlon.

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