Teri Griege: From Grim Odds to Kona Finisher

Cancer couldn’t kill Teri Griege’s dream.

Photo: Robin Frazier

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Cancer couldn’t kill Teri Griege’s dream.

A three-sport athlete in high school (swimming, basketball, field hockey), Griege started running marathons in her 40s, including Boston twice and Chicago. That led to triathlons and, ultimately, Ironmans. In 2008, at age 47, she completed her first, the Louisville Ironman, where the top five finishers in her age group (45-49) qualified for the World Championship in Kona. She was sixth. But it hatched the dream.

During the next year, she trained more seriously, her sights set on qualifying for Kona. But at the 2009 Ironman Louisville, she finished 10 minutes slower than the previous year. She thought it might be due to some niggling injuries that had been reluctant to heal. Her doctor thought otherwise and scheduled her for a colonoscopy and CT scan.

They revealed stage IV colon cancer which had metastasized to her liver. The five-year survival rate was only 6 percent. When Griege got the news on Sept. 17, 2009, it felt like a death sentence. Her first thought was that she wouldn’t be able to see her daughter, then in high school, one day get married. Nor her son, four years older. Forget Kona.

“I thought, ‘I don’t have long, maybe a year at best,’” Griege says. “I was pretty shattered.”

But not for long. The following week, Griege, who lives in suburban St. Louis, signed up for the 2010 Ironman 70.3 race in Branson, Mo. “I figured somebody had to be in that 6 percent, why not me?” she says. “I had this drive that I wanted to continue to work out.”

Having a goal helped. She had several major operations that first year, but worked out every day that she didn’t have a surgery. She rode her bike trainer or ran on the treadmill hooked up to her chemo IV. Almost a year to the day of her diagnosis, on Sept. 19, 2010, she finished the half Ironman in Branson.

Qualifying for Kona was out of reach, but she had not given up the dream, so she petitioned admission as the inspirational athlete of 2011–and was selected. Shortly after her 50th birthday, Griege traveled to Hawaii with a group of 35 supporters that included family, friends and two of her doctors. “When I was diagnosed, I decided cancer was way bigger than me,” she says. “I couldn’t take it on on my own. So I organized ‘Teri’s Troops,’ my army of supporters.”

They were there at the finish line, 14:50:33 after Griege had begun the World Championships, to share in the fulfillment of her dream. “Words can’t describe the feeling of victory and accomplishment,” she says. “Not just for me but for everyone out there battling cancer. It was not the finish, but the beginning. Look at what we can do. Dreams do come true.”

She has since raced the marathon majors in New York, London, Berlin, and Tokyo and completed a number of other triathlons, including the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas. Griege, now 56, continues to supplement her ongoing chemo with triathlons of shorter distance and events to raise money to fight cancer. In September, to mark the eight-year anniversary of her diagnosis, she will field a team of about 160 riders and ride 50 miles in Pedal the Cause, an event to benefit cancer research in St. Louis. Over the years, her team alone has raised nearly one million dollars in the event.

Griege says she is powered by hope. That’s the title of her book and her foundation, Powered By Hope, and it’s her motto. “Everyone out there has their own cancer, whether it’s physical, mental, financial, emotional, whatever,” she says. “The Ironman motto is ‘Anything is possible.’ I want the people I touch to know that anything is possible–powered by hope.”

To learn more about Teri, donate to cancer research, book a talk or order her book, visit Terigriege.com.

John Rosengren is an award-winning journalist and the author of eight books. 

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