#MyTri: How Triathlon Prepared Me For the Race of My Life
Daniel Allemond shares how triathlon played a role in beating a rare and aggressive form of leukemia.
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It is hard to put into words just what triathlon means to me. It’s so much more than a sport, a race or a hobby. It’s so much more than a swim, a bike, and a run. It’s a community of friends that have become family. It’s my reason to keep pushing, my reason to fight. Triathlon is something that makes me feel alive.
I started in my twenties, first as a 5K runner, then moving on to 10Ks and half marathons. But I wanted to do something more. Something bigger. I decided I wanted to participate in a triathlon. I signed up for Ironman 70.3 Augusta and was welcomed into the triathlon community of Lafayette, Louisiana with open arms. I had no idea at the time how important these people would really come to be in my life.
Training for that first race was grueling, but I felt like I was getting faster and stronger with each workout. But when fall came, I started to notice something was not quite right. I began feeling tired. No matter how hard I pushed, I could not keep up with my friends on the bike. My runs were getting harder. I found myself having to stop to catch my breath, which was odd, as I had always been the type of runner who did not walk until the run was complete. My coach thought I may be overtraining, so she gave me some rest days and cut back on my workouts. Instead of feeling better, though, I started to feel even worse. With my first 70.3 race quickly approaching, my wife, who also happens to be a nurse practitioner, convinced me to see a doctor. Thinking it would be something minor, I agreed to have some lab work drawn.
That’s when I heard the words I never expected to hear, much less at the age of 29: “You have cancer.” Suddenly, my 70.3 was on hold. I had an even bigger race on my hands.
The treatment for my leukemia was intense. In most cases, patients with this type of leukemia go into remission and are cancer-free after the first 30 days of treatment. That was not the case for me, as I was found to have a rare form of leukemia that was difficult to treat. I had multiple setbacks during my treatment and a few very scary complications: a blood clot in my arm which required me to take blood thinner injections twice a day for three months; dangerously low blood counts that landed me in isolation in the hospital many times; and a case of encephalopathy that caused my brain to swell and compete paralysis of the right side of my body. At this time, I did not know if I would ever walk again, much less race.
I went through well over a hundred chemo infusions, twenty-one spinal taps, eight bone marrow biopsies, thirty- five nights in the hospitals, countless pills, over fifty trips to New Orleans (a 3 hour drive from my home in Lafayette), and eight months of waiting and praying before I would find out I was in remission. This was great news, but my fight was not over. I still had over two and a half years of chemo ahead of me.
My love for triathlon kept me focused during my treatment. I had set a goal to complete IronMan 70.3 Augusta, and I would do anything to achieve that. I rode my trainer and jogged when I could. My fellow triathletes visited often. They kept my mind off of my situation and provided comic relief. They were there when I needed them. When I needed a little extra motivation to keep going, I would turn to Ironman videos. So many days, I would lay in my hospital bed fantasizing about the moment I would hear Mike Reilly say the words…”Daniel Allemond, you are an Ironman.”
Slowly but surely, with the help of my coach, and surrounded by the triathlon community of Lafayette, Louisiana, I started working to get back in shape. I was able to participate in several races. As I did when I first started racing, I began with a 5k, then relayed a half marathon, then ran a half marathon and several smaller triathlons. With every swim, every bike ride, every run, I looked forward to the day when I would travel to Augusta, and finish the race that I started.
Cancer treatment had taken a toll on my body, but I started slow, stayed consistent, and trained hard. Just eight months after my final cancer treatment, it was time for Ironman 70.3 Augusta. I was excited and nervous, but in my heart I knew that over the past four years I had put in the work and I was ready.
And I was so ready. I breathed a sigh of relief when I exited the swim. I felt more confident as I transitioned to the bike, and I had a good ride. Once I made it to the run, I felt like I was in my element. The day grew HOT, but ice bags, adrenaline, and sheer joy kept me cool. I crossed the finish line after 5 hours and 18 minutes.
There was no doubt that I was proud of my accomplishment, but finishing this race meant so much more to me. In a way, it closed the door on my cancer. It was done. I had beaten leukemia. I had finished the race.
The following November, I raced Ironman Arizona, and I got to hear Mike Reilly tell me I was an Ironman.
For the next three years, my wife and I lived a pretty normal life, free of leukemia and everything that went along with it. But both of us always had a feeling that it wasn’t over…and that relapse was a part of my story. These fears were made real when we visited with my oncologist in 2021. A bone marrow biopsy confirmed my leukemia was back and this time, chemo wouldn’t work as well. My best chance of long term survival at this point was to undergo a stem cell transplant – a long, difficult, and scary process I never wanted to experience.
I was back in the race. This time, I was going bigger – not only did I want to beat cancer for the second time, but I wanted to mark this win by crossing the finish line at the Ironman World Championship in Kona.
I had a line placed in my chest, and was hooked to a continuous infusion, twenty-four hours per day, for eight weeks. I carried my infusion pump in a fanny pack as I ran, rode my bike, and lifted weights. When my body was ready for transplant, I underwent multiple days of total body radiation, followed by aggressive chemotherapy, to wipe out my existing immune system to replace with my father’s donated stem cells.
Dreaming about the day when I could race Ironman again helped me stay focused. I rode a stationary bike in my isolation room on days when I was strong enough. Some days the most I could do was get out of bed to take a shower. Finally, after one month in the hospital, I was released to a recovery apartment near the transplant center, where I was monitored for complications. I spiked high fevers, experienced a rare bacterial infection in my bloodstream, and developed swelling of the brain.
Now, I hope and pray that the worst is behind me. I am finishing out my 100 days in isolation in our New Orleans apartment. To date I have had over 100 chemo infusions, countless blood draws, daily pills, 24 lumbar punctures and 15 bone marrow biopsies. Once again, I find myself starting over in regard to my physical fitness. I am scheduled to return home to my wife in September, and we will welcome our son William into the world in December. I have officially signed up for Gulf Coast 70.3, and plan to compete Ironman Florida later in the year.
And my ultimate dream remains: to run across the red carpet in Kona! If I have learned anything from my two battles with cancer and from my experiences in triathlon, it is that Ironman’s slogan has proven to be true in my life so many times: Anything is possible.