A daughter’s diagnosis turned this mom into a tri-powered fighter for children with Angelman Syndrome.
In October 2004, Deanna McCurdy went to Hawaii. Her husband, David, had a work conference in Kailua-Kona, and Deanna tagged along for some beach time. Much to her surprise, said beach was full of triathletes.
“Little did we know, the Ironman World Championships was taking place that weekend,” McCurdy says. “It piqued our curiosity, so we decided to go see the athletes cross the finish line.”
McCurdy remembers feeling “in awe” of the event and strangely compelled to join in. “We had been hoping to have children, but weren’t having any luck at that point,” McCurdy recalls. “I remember thinking, maybe this is what I am supposed to do instead.”
The former mountain bike enthusiast began researching triathlon, convinced this was her calling. But just before she clicked the “register” button on her first race, the doctor called: McCurdy, against all odds, was pregnant.
“Funny how life works, isn’t it?” McCurdy smiles.
Her first daughter, Hailey, was born in 2005; two years later, her sister Hayden joined the family. Before her first birthday, Hayden began to experience acid reflux, which would aspirate into her lungs; she lagged on physical and cognitive developmental milestones; seizures became a common occurrence. After a multitude of testing, Hayden was diagnosed shortly after she turned one with Angelman Syndrome, a neurogenetic disorder that primarily affects the nervous system and requires lifelong medical care and functional therapy. It’s relatively rare, affecting around 1 in 15,000 people.
McCurdy tackled the diagnosis with a resolve to provide the very best life for Hayden. But such tenacity is exhausting: In taking care of her child, McCurdy was failing to take care of herself.
“I needed an escape from the day to day battles of the special-needs world–fighting insurance companies, researching therapies, being a voice for a child who can’t speak for herself,” McCurdy says. She went back to that day in Kona; maybe triathlon was the answer.
McCurdy signed up for her first race, Ironman 70.3 Augusta, and surprised herself by qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships. More importantly, she realized triathlon could not only be a healthy escape for her, but also a platform to raise awareness for Angelman Syndrome.
McCurdy founded Team Miles for Smiles, a running and triathlon team that raises funds and awareness for the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics (FAST). The team name is taken from the fact that Angelman Syndrome is often characterized by frequent laughing, and smiling, among other traits. Since 2010, the program has expanded, with team members in the US, Canada, Australia, and Singapore raising thousands of dollars and crossing hundreds of finish lines ranging from 5K to Ironman.
McCurdy’s racing resume has grown too: Today, at age 43, she has several Ironman and 70.3 finishes to her name and is one of the top age-group women on the XTERRA circuit (at XTERRA National Championships in 2016, she was the fastest female amateur).
“I would not be the athlete I am today if I did not have my daughter,” McCurdy says. “She has taught me the value of seeing joy in the little things, not taking my abilities for granted, how to dig deeper than I ever imagined possible, dream big dreams and not put off making them become reality. Miles for Smiles is my way of giving back, sharing with others a little about our world and journey, and showing them how much more rewarding it can be to race for others.”