Three years ago I was matched with Fran Etzkorn as part of Team PHenomenal Hope's Let Me Be Your Lungs (LMBYL) program. LMBYL matches athletes with PH (Pulmonary Hypertension) patients so that we can get to know each other, encourage each other, help to inspire each other as we face our challenges, share each other's stories, and raise awareness of PH.
Fran is an inspiring individual whose persistence and determination in battling PH puts me in constant awe. In getting to know Fran I discovered that while she was a volunteer firefighter she was instrumental in getting a new fire station built in Golden Gate Canyon. Coincidentally or maybe not the fire station sits near the end of one of the toughest, longest and continuous road bike climbs on the front range of Colorado. I have ridden this climb several times since I learned about Fran's part in getting this station built. It always gives an extra boost for that last couple of miles when I pass the station and think of Fran.
For the LMBYL program I am racing in the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race (MTB) on August 10 for the second time. As part of my training, I have competed in the Silver Rush 50 MTB earlier for the last four years. This race is also in Leadville Colorado which means it starts around 10,000 feet of elevation and climbs above 11,800 four separate times. What racing at this elevation means (and what I sometimes fail to appreciate on race day) is that your legs can only generate 70-80% of the power that you can at lower elevations due to the lower oxygen content in the air. My first silver rush (4 years ago I managed to just get under the official cutoff with a time of 7 hrs and 47 minutes. As my endurance and racing wisdom has increased my times in the silver rush have consequently come down. This year I had a great race and finished in 5 hrs and 15 minutes which was over an hour faster than the year before. The experience of exerting myself to my physical limit for hours on end with the perception of not being able to get enough air in my lungs really struck home for me as to how it must feel to live with PH. Thinking of what Fran must go through when she feels short of breath day in and day out made me realize how trivial and temporary me being short of breath during a race is compared to living with PH.
This year I will also be competing in the Leadville stage race July 26-28. This is a three day race covering the same course as the Leadville 100 and provides a chance to preview the course and determine how I should pace for the 100. Last year I finished the stage race in 9 hours and 17 minutes so my goal for this year was to finish in under 9 hours. I had a good race and great weather and finished in 8 hours 30 minutes and 18 seconds. I only mention the 18 seconds because had I managed to get under 8:30 I would have gotten a large belt buckle and moved up a corral placement for the 100.
I am so thankful to have been paired with Fran and to be inspired by her. Last year I completed my first Leadville 100 MTB in 11 hours and 22 minutes beating my goal of finishing in under twelve hours and earning a finishing buckle. This year my goal is to complete the Leadville 100 under 10 hours and 30 minutes. Thank you for your time and please consider donating to Team Phenomenal Hope.