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Iron Girl, meet a woman of steel

Pat O'Connor will join nearly 800 other women in this year's event.

By DEMORRIS A. LEE
Published March 30, 2007


It was the news that would change her life.

Last July, Pat O'Connor went for her annual mammogram. Doctors saw what she called a "smiley face." Three lumps at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock.

"At that point, they always tell you that you have an 80 percent chance that the lumps can be benign," O'Connor, 50, of Palm Harbor, said. "But a little birdie just kept telling me that 48 hours was going to come and they were going to tell me I had breast cancer.

"I got the call and that Monday, that was the news that basically changed my life."

In August, O'Connor was seeing a surgeon. It was Stage 1 cancer. In September, she had a mastectomy; her left breast was removed.

But in early October, just 10 days later, O'Connor was running in the RYKA Iron Girl 10K and 5K event in Clearwater.

"I felt like I was well enough and I had such a positive experience from the first one I ran," said O'Connor, who did the 5-kilometer event.

This Sunday, just two treatments shy of completing chemotherapy, O'Connor will participate in the Iron Girl again.

The women's-only event is expected to bring nearly 800 runners, walkers, mothers and daughters to the race's start at Coachman Park.

In its second year in Clearwater, and fourth year in existence, Sunday's race sends athletes ages 7 to 77 over the Memorial Causeway and back.

"I've been going to the gym; I walk my neighborhood," O'Connor said. "The Memorial bridge will be a little concerning. But I feel stronger than I did after the surgery."

The bridge, 90 feet at its highest point, was O'Connor's concern at last year's event, and she conquered it.

Iron Girl is one of three brands under Tarpon Springs-based World Triathlon Corporation's umbrella. The other two are triathlons - Ironman and Ironman 70.3.

The Clearwater race kicks off the Iron Girl season, which includes nine races throughout the U.S., from Atlanta to Bloomington, N.M., to Seattle.

With Iron Girl, each participant is given a race bib with her first name on it. There's a catered breakfast after the race, which includes linen on the tables, white fold-up chairs and perfectly displayed food.

"It's not those stale bagels," O'Connor said. "It's an elegant event."

Iron Girl caters to female sensibilities, said Judy Molnar, manager of the Iron Girl brand and a former Ironman competitor. "You can be as competitive as you want, but because it's women only, it just highlights the excellence of women," Molnar said.

For the second year, Iron Girl will team with Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. The organization provides support programs for young adults living with cancer, and education and resources at no charge. Last year, Iron Girl contributed $40,000 to the cancer fund and looks to double that amount to the Columbia, Md.-based organization.

"They work with college students," Molnar said. "They provide an outlet that says, 'I still want to live. I still want to be active. I want to be productive in society. I don't want this disease to beat me.' "

O'Connor shares that stance.

She goes to chemotherapy twice a month. Her second-grade students at Richey Elementary School, in New Port Richey, don't know she's battling cancer. Her wig is cut just like her hair used to be.

O'Connor, along with her husband of 13 years, Richard, have "rallied" around the disease. She rallied around having Stage 1 cancer; then around the size of the tumors she had; then chemotherapy. And with just two treatments remaining, she's beginning to rally around five years of hormone therapy she will have to undergo.

"I feel blessed," O'Connor said. "I have had a tremendous amount of support from my husband and friends."

As she crosses the Memorial Causeway on Sunday, she will have support again - just like last year, when she crossed the finish line and the announcer called her name and told her story.

"I just started bawling," O'Connor recounted. "I'm not in it for the time. I am a jogger. I enjoy the camaraderie. I cheer everyone else on. Now, my big goal is to finish and not to be last. And to get across that bridge."

Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com

IF YOU GO

RYKA Iron Girl 10K/5K Run/Walk Event

When: Sunday. Both races start at 8 a.m.

Where: Races begin at Coachman Park

Registration: On-site registration available at Coachman Park, on Saturday from noon-4 p.m. and Sunday from 6:30 a.m.-7:45 a.m.

Fees: On-site registration fee for the 5K is $35 for individuals, $50 for a mother/daughter team. For the 10K, the on-site registration fee is $45 for individuals, $70 for a mother/daughter team.

Course: Both races start at Coachman Park and go over the Memorial Causeway. The turnaround point for the 5K is just after the runners come over the bridge. The turnaround point for the 10K is Mandalay Avenue. Athletes will return over the bridge and back to Coachman Park.

 

On the Web

www.irongirl.com

www.ulmanfund.org