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Face of the Race: Cheryl Parrish

Cheryl Parrish’s mountain is waiting. It waited while she kicked cancer. Twice. It waited while she struggled to get back on her bike, while she summoned her courage and regained her strength.

That wait will finally be over when Parrish competes at the Leadville Trail 100 MTB in August. Parrish will reach her mountain, and if her history of triumph over adversity is any indication, she will conquer it.

Tell us about multiple myeloma. What is your current status?   

Multiple myeloma is cancer of the bone marrow and immune system. It’s a blood disorder related to lymphoma and leukemia because it usually arises in the bone marrow. There is no cure for multiple myeloma, but treatments are available that slow its progression. Its cause is unknown. Certain risk factors slightly increase a person’s chances of developing multiple myeloma, such as being over age 65, male, African-American, or having a family member affected by multiple myeloma.

This is the funny part: They told me when I was 37, blonde and blue-eyed that I had 98% plasma cells cancer, that I had six months to live and needed to get my affairs in order. I am currently in complete remission, as far as I know. After my femur broke in 2009 and my foot in 2010, I stopped all treatment.

One of your doctors told you that you would never ride a mountain bike again. Describe what that first ride after cancer was like.  

This was EXTREMELY traumatic for me. I was told after the spontaneous femur fracture in 2009 that I could never mountain bike again.

In fact, I had just ordered a new bike for Sea Otter that I still have only ridden a few times. I was in a nursing home, wheelchair, using a walker and crutches, etc. It was sometime in 2011 before I got back on a bike. My racier-type bike seemed too scary, even on non-technical terrain, so I bought a heavier suspension trail bike.

I was really terrified of falling and had some gross picture in my mind of the rod popping out of the leg or my left leg not being able to flex. My first time down the Guadalasca singletrack in Sycamore Canyon was very scary. I got off and walked a few times, and was very slow. Let’s say it took a LONG time to get my confidence back and I’m still working on it. My technical skills have never been the same.

Why apply for the Leadville Trail 100? What will this race mean to you?

When I make my mind up, I don’t back down. After I joined the lottery and slept on it, I joined the training camp the next day, to be sure I have a number at the race. Leadville will be my ultimate, but it’s still “easier than cancer!” I have custom stem caps on my bikes that say “easier than cancer” to remind me on every ride.

This race means I am doing a lot of difficult training. It’s a personal goal, and one of the biggest ones in my life, other than beating cancer twice.

What are your goals for your first LT100?

I am praying to just finish it in less than 12 hours and get a buckle. I’m also raising money for cancer through Cycle for Survival. Every dollar I raise goes to fight rare cancer. Join the battle with me! Donate here.

You’ve made it your mission to inspire other women, especially older women, to get out and ride. What is it about riding that makes you want to bring it into other women’s lives?

Good question. It just seems there aren’t enough women in mountain biking, period, but as I get older, there are even fewer. One funny thing is last year, when I was training for Counting Coup, a few younger women made comments to me like, “Wow! I hope I am still pedaling when I am 50.” What does that mean? I am 54. I will be 55 for Leadville. “Still pedaling?”

I would like to encourage all women to know that it’s possible and that mountain biking is so much fun! I spent most of my life fighting to survive. The rest of my life is going to be riding mountain bikes, racing and showing that I go out there for me. I am not there to impress anybody but myself. There is no failure when you try.

What or who inspires YOU out on the trail?

This is a tough question. My favorite song is “God Bless the Broken Road.” I have the photos that remind me every day of what it felt like to be in the hospital — room 860, no hair, feeding tubes, in isolation for weeks, and a machine sucking out my saliva. I could not swallow. Just dying. I never expected to leave that hospital room. So every day is a day to remind myself how lucky I am to have the opportunity to ride a bike. Just being able to walk gives me enough gratitude to be inspired to hit the dirt! I love the sound of the tires in the dirt.

And really . . . Leadville? Dreams just don’t get any bigger, do they? Many people have inspired me. When I think of my friends, so young, who have died of cancer, this inspires me to go ride for them. I talk to many of them while I am riding and ask for faster legs.

The people in my life who inspire me at this time include Douglas Kubler  (he says age is just a number), Lauren Mulwitz (a.k.a. Mighty Mouse), Amy Horst, AJ Sura, and Colette McFadden.

You’ve already booked your Leadville stay. How much time will you spend there?

I will be there for five days for the camp. I am going around July 21 until August 12 and hope I can acclimate a bit. I hear a lot of different stories about that part of it — whether or not it helps or not to be there early.

You’re coming armed with a Crock-Pot and a griddle. What will you cook for yourself in Leadville?

Yes. My favorite breakfast is one banana and one egg. Mix it in a bowl and it makes the best pancake! I can make oatmeal, tri-tip, chicken, and chili in the small Crock-Pot. I won’t have a kitchen the last three nights before the race, and will be booted into a sleeper room.

How did you come up with the name of your blog, “Ride for Life Warrior”?

I always feel I am riding for my life. If you have heard of the Warrior society, they put on a big race called Vision Quest and Counting Coup. My endurance race last year was Counting Coup and I thought well, I consider myself a cancer warrior and so it all fit.

Growing up I knew the Indians were smarter than the cowboys. They did not come with loud guns and boots. They came quietly with bow and arrow. During chemotherapy I would visualize in my mind the Indian Warriors, scouting my body with a bow and arrow, killing every cancer cell.

Why did you choose the quote, “Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow,” from Dan Rather as your blog’s tagline? How does it relate to mountain biking?

I loved Dan Rather. I have always been afraid, but have gone on anyway! Yes, it applies on every ride, whether it’s a ride I am not confident I can climb, or some scary technical downhill. It’s a reminder that I may be afraid, but I can do it!

Do you have any other favorite quotes that motivate or inspire you?  

I love inspirational quotes. One of my favorites is by Dr. Seuss. It’s etched in a glass dish that sits on my coffee table: “You’re off to great places. Today is your day. Your mountain is waiting, so get on your way.”

Helen Keller has inspired me the most and I live by many of her quotes: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure” and “When we do the best that we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.”

I also like these two:

  • “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” —Mark Twain
  • “All endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hour’s toil. The fight to the finish spirit is the one . . . characteristic we must posses if we are to face the future as finishers.” —Henry David Thoreau

Tell us about your bike.   

My favorite bike at this time is my 2012 RDO Niner — the Green Hornet! Fast and furious!

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