Kathy Wennihan was never the long-distance runner or mountain-climber kind. She’s more the type you’d find doing some light work in her garden for leisure. But now the weeds in Wennihan’s yard are taking over. She hasn’t had much time to tend to them since she began training for her first marathon. When we spoke yesterday, she had just returned from a 20-mile run in Des Moines, Iowa – the longest she’s ever completed, and the most miles she’ll build up to before taking on 26.2 somewhere near the Mississippi on July 19.
When asked why she’s doing this, she responded, “Why did I climb Everest?” in reference to a two-week round-trip journey to Mt. Everest base camp in Nepal that she embarked on with a group of 13 other cancer survivors in the spring of 2011. Prior to that journey, Kathy had never left the country before, had only been on a plane a few times, and had never before considered climbing a mountain. It was through a program at the local YMCA, which gave free three-month memberships to cancer survivors, that Kathy would meet Dr. Richard Deming. The radiation oncologist and head of Mercy Cancer Center in Des Moines led the Wednesday night guest speaker series, spin class, and post-workout smoothie and fellowship gatherings at the Y, where Kathy became a regular attendee. Her quiet, shy demeanor grew bolder as she peddled hard in the front row on her stationary bike, yelling back at Dr. Deming as they pushed one another. She made new friends, found new confidence, and decided to say yes when asked to be a part of what would become the first group of Above + Beyond Cancer survivors to take on a challenge of epic proportions.
“I’ve always been taught through Dr. Deming to do things that are out of your comfort zone,” she said. “When I finished Everest, it really taught me to get out there, try to help fight cancer being a cancer survivor. To honor those who have died from cancer. My life has been changed from that.”
Wennihan, who works as patient care technician at Mercy Medical Center, has battled sarcoma, including a pair of recurrences, deformities and lacks full use of her left arm. Yet she made it to Everest base camp, nearly 18,000 feet in the sky, by taking it one step at a time. She would fall frequently, but got up more times than she went down, and that’s what has given her the newfound understanding that she is capable of these challenges that may have seemed out of her reach before.
With the help of local trainer Mary VanHeukelom, former junior Olympic track coach Nick Woolley, and friends Carrie Crawford, Sam Carrell and Teresa Adams-Tomka, Wennihan – most of whom she met through Above + Beyond Cancer – Kathy is soaring to new heights this summer, and inspiring everyone around her along the way.
“She is somebody that doesn’t have the greatest natural athletics ability, but what she doesn’t have in natural athletic ability, she makes up for in sheer heart and determination,” said Woolley, who along with VanHeukelom joined Kathy on her grueling 5-and-a-half, 20-mile journey yesterday.
It’s not only that Wennihan is able to accomplish things she never thought possible, but also the way she finds grace and humor throughout these challenges that makes her a face of the foundation, encompassing all it stands for.
“Knowing that even though it’s not a fast run, I’m getting out there and doing it and I’m helping others be inspired I guess because everybody keeps telling me you inspire me,” she said. “I keep telling them I’m just doing the little parts I can do.”
With the help of her friends, Wennihan has worked hard to raise funds for the Million Dollar Marathon project, and is nearly two-thirds of the way to reaching her goal of reaching $7,500 to help with cancer research and survivorship programs.
For now, the weeds can wait. They’ll never rise higher than she can.
To donate directly to Kathy’s fundraising efforts, click here:
To read about Kathy’s preparation for the Mt. Everest climb, click here: http://aboveandbeyondcancer.org/archives/180