by Steffan “Cookie” Cook

On December 1st, 2011, Kristen was told she had breast cancer and just 14 days later, was told that it had spread to her lymph nodes under her left arm. And like any Spartan would, she knew it was time to fight.  

She explains, “My work made adjustments to my work schedule to minimize my exposure to other people and germs once the chemo started 12/23/11. It took a long time for it to sink in that I was really sick.”

The reality of the gravity of her illness hadn’t quite taken hold.  ”I don’t think it truly hit me until after surgery when they told me that the cancer in my lymph nodes had been much more aggressive than that in my breast.  I think in reality it’s a good thing I didn’t realize back then all the things that were going to happen.  That would’ve been too much to digest all at once.”

The process had, in all reality, only just started. The chemotherapy brought about all manner of unwanted reactions. Nausea, tiredness, fatigue, and aches through the body.  The surgery put Sifers on the sideline for some time, “Surgery was tough because for about two weeks I was basically grounded.  I had three incisions, four drains coming out of my chest and a drug ball that dispensed medication.”  

The once active Sifers could only sit by and wait for her body to recover.  ”I had stayed fairly active during chemo, adjusting my activity based on how I felt.  Now I couldn’t do much of anything.”

Luckily, Kristen had already been leading a physical, active life beforehand and this proved to be a rudder that would help steer her ship through those stormiest of waters. Prior to starting chemotherapy, Kristen had been training at NDS Athletics, a  Kettlebell school in Lakewood, California, under the guidance of Spartan Race veterans Junior Nartea and Matt Trinca.

“Junior was great at giving me alternative movements when I wasn’t sure what to do.  He also helped me with some stretches & strength movements to regain my range of motion.”

Other, small obstacle races played their part, too. One in February of 2012 and then another in June would pave the way for what was to come later – the Spartan Sprint in Malibu.

“I had to walk most of the first one, but loved doing the obstacles in spite of feeling pretty crumby from the chemo.  It was important for me to do this because it had been a goal of mine when chemo first started.  The second obstacle race I did a week after chemo ended.  Again I had set that as a goal during treatment and it felt like a great way to prove I still could push myself to try new things.”

And so, as 2012 began to roll to a close, the Malibu Sprint came looming into view, but with the support and training – not to mention the resilient defiance Kristen had shown throughout 2012 – it proved no match her.

“I’d say the most difficult challenge for me was the wall traverse.  Not being very tall, I found the grips and footholds a little too far apart and slippery.  It was one of the two places I got to do burpees. The other was the spear throw.”

The experience at Malibu lit a fire under Kristen and those flames saw her conquer the Super in Temecula in January a few weeks ago. With two-thirds of the Trifecta complete, Kristen is now looking to celebrate her beating of Cancer with the Trifecta in Northern California later this year.  An incredible accomplishment given all she’s endured.

“Never give up.”  Says Sifers.  ”My staying active was a huge part of my treatment.  I would add that being a part of a community like the NDS community was huge.  It provided me with a place to practice.  The people that go there are awesome.  I always felt supported and encouraged.  I had people I’d only known for a short period of time take me to my chemo treatments.  Even when I wasn’t up to practicing full speed I would show up and when I left I felt better mentally.  Having a place to go that helps you physical, mentally and socially is a huge plus.” 

Sifers is an an example of complete and utter refusal to accept defeat. On that same token, it’s the same attitude that will see you not only conquer whatever is put in your way through life, but perhaps on a smaller scale, the next time you sign up of your next Spartan Race.

You’re stronger than you think. Remember that.  See you at the finish line.  Get registered today

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