In 2008, Tess Balsley was in high spirits and two months away from competing in her second Ironman Triathlon and training for a third when, following a routine mammogram, she was hit with the news that she had breast cancer. “I remember thinking, ‘How in the world is this possible? I’m in the best shape of my life,’” Tess said. “I was out riding 100-mile training rides, swimming endless laps in the pool and running better than ever.”
She discussed her options with her oncologist and opted to undergo a lumpectomy immediately to remove the tumor. She required chemotherapy and radiation therapy and chose to wait to begin treatment until after the November Ironman. The day after she returned home, she began chemotherapy. “Training kept me strong, and I went into chemo on an adrenaline high. From Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day, I was cycling through the highs and lows of chemo rather than bicycling,” she said.
Tess was determined to participate in her third Ironman, scheduled for the summer of 2009. While training, she learned that she had been selected by lottery to participate in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii, in October. She was over the moon.
“That is every triathlete’s dream come true, and I felt it was my consolation prize for having to go through cancer,” she said. “It was a fairy tale come true to have my family and my sister, Anne, there rooting for me in Hawaii as I crossed the finish line.”
Seeing Tess’s strength in overcoming the obstacles set before her lit a fire in her sister, Anne Ruybal. “I remember getting choked up when I saw Tess cross the finish line,” Anne said. “I also thought exercising for 14-plus hours non-stop was out of the realm of my imagination or physical abilities, but something in me was intrigued.”
Inspired by her sister’s perseverance, Anne began swimming, biking and running regularly and competed in her first triathlon in May 2009. Then, in the fall of 2010, she found a lump that concerned her. After a mammogram and biopsy, she was diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. “I had a lumpectomy in October to remove the pea-sized tumor, followed by radiation. I had Oncotype DX testing done, and after reviewing the results, my doctor said I would not need chemotherapy,” she said.
As Anne’s treatment progressed, the sisters decided it was time to race together and in November 2010, they signed up for Ironman Arizona 2011. While training, they agreed they wanted their efforts to support something bigger. After researching different charities, the duo chose to dedicate their triathlon experience to fundraise for Susan G. Komen® through the organization’s DIY program.
“No other organization had the DIY donation platform that Komen has,” Anne said. “That made it easier for the two of us to fundraise while living in different places.”
Since launching their first fundraiser in 2011, the sisters have participated in an additional six full Ironman events, plus several half-Ironman events, and other distance races. So far, they have raised more than $84,000. Since Ironman athletes swim, bike and run a total of 140.6 miles in a single day, they hope to reach an ultimate fundraising goal of $140,600.
“We have been blessed to survive cancer and now it’s our turn to pay it forward by fundraising to help Komen find cures for breast cancer,” Anne said.
Komen’s DIY Fundraising allows fundraisers to decide where, when and how to raise money for Komen, while providing a variety of tools and resources to help supporters along the way. To learn more or start your own fundraiser, visit www.komen.org/fundraise.
Statements and opinions expressed are that of the individual and do not express the views or opinions of Susan G. Komen. This information is being provided for educational purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice. Persons with breast cancer should consult their healthcare provider with specific questions or concerns about their treatment.