Cancer survivor returns to claim victory on Tahoe Rim Trail

When Alison Chavez laces up her running shoes Saturday for this weekend’s Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run, she’ll be looking for more than a finish. She’s out for redemption.

Chavez, 40, first attempted the 100-mile trail run in 2013. Although she had competed in triathlons at the Ironman level and ran several 50-kilometer and 50-mile races, this was to be her first hundred miler.

Just weeks before the race date, however, Chavez discovered a lump in her breast and was diagnosed with cancer.

Her doctor encouraged her to go ahead with the race because treatment would leave her too weakened to continue her training.

So she persisted.

“I think the stress of finding out I had cancer and having a lump growing in my chest, added to the fact that I had to start chemotherapy two days after the race, I ended up not finishing,” Chavez said. “I stopped at mile 68.”

With little time for regret, Chavez returned to her Los Angeles hometown to start chemotherapy on the following Tuesday. For the next year, she turned her focus to survival, going through 20 rounds of chemo and seven major surgeries.

Her endurance training was put on hold, but it served her during the treatment process. Not only was she physically strong with a high tolerance for pain, her experience helped her to be mentally tough.

“It helped give me some perspective,” she said. “When you think about running 100 miles in 35 hours, that’s a hard concept. If you take it in little chunks it’s an easier way to think about it.”

Cancer treatment was much the same.

“You have to break it down,” she said. “You try to conquer a bunch of mini goals.”

There were other parallels as well.

“You have ups and downs with both. You have triumphs and setbacks,” she related. “You just have to ride the highs and manage the lows.”

She continued to intermittently run shorter distances through her treatment, but she started training in earnest again after her final surgery in July 2014. In December of the same year, she completed her first 100-miler,

Since then, she’s run two more, including the Western States Endurance Run.

Last week, she traveled from her new home in Santa Rosa, Calif., to the Tahoe Rim Trail to familiarize herself with the course. Her boyfriend, Chris Bassett, who has run both the 100-mile and 50-mile distances, offered his expertise.

“He took me out there under the guise of showing me all the places that might still be covered in snow and how to get around them,” she said. “But out there on the first day of training, on the top of Snow Valley Peak, he proposed to me.”

The trail, with its bittersweet memories, lost its sting.

“Now, everything is happy, happy, joy, joy,” Chavez said.

Still, she has unfinished business.

“I see the Tahoe Rim Trail as coming full circle,” she said. “It’s the closing of the chapter on the whole cancer journey.”

Collecting the finisher’s buckle on Sunday, she said, will give her sense of closure and victory.

“I want to cross that finish line, get the buckle, and give George (Ruiz, race director,) a hug,” Chavez said. “It will be my way to say, ‘Screw you, cancer. I won!’”


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