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Broken but not defeated
Six months after being diagnosed with cancer Inuvik woman completes marathon on broken leg

Andrew Rankin
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, November 5, 2009

INUVIK - The most responsible thing for Sue Clarkson to do after she had reached the halfway point of her 26 mile marathon on a broken leg was to stop.

NNSL photo/graphic

After running a gruelling 26 mile marathon in San Francisco on a broken leg, Sue Clarkson is greeted at the Inuvik airport by her husband Peter Clarkson, left, and Mike Olson, First Air director of sales, who sponsored the Inuvik-Edmonton portion of the trip. - Andrew Rankin/NNSL photo

But half of a marathon was not what the determined - many say stubborn - mother of three signed up for shortly after being diagnosed with an incurable form of lymphoma last April.

"I thought about giving up and at that point it wasn't important to get a really good time it was just important to finish. I said I was going to do it and that's what I needed to do. The pain was worth it."

Among 20,000 participants, she struggled for five hours and 40 minutes to complete the Nike Women's Marathon on Oct. 18 in San Francisco. The money raised through the event goes directly to supporting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to find a cure for all blood cancers.

"Now that it's done I guess I just feel really satisfied that no matter what the hurdles - life is all about hurdles, all about the struggle, no matter what the struggle is - if you can try to remain clear with your intent, what you want to do, it's possible."

Her challenge was immense. Her gruelling training regimen which included running five days a week, sometimes up to 30 km finally caught up to her. On Sunday, Aug. 30, she fractured her left tibia. But she kept running and the pain progressed to the point that in a week she could barely walk.

That meant no running for a month. Clarkson admits the setback was discouraging but instead of giving up she saw a physiotherapist regularly, did water running and yoga.

She ran 21 km about two weeks before the event to see how she'd feel. Her hopes of a complete recovery were dashed.

"I couldn't even walk two kilometres," she said. "I probably re-injured it. I was not OK. I was really unhappy."

She wasn't about to let a broken bone stand in her way, especially considering all the work she did in preparation for the big day.

Shortly after being diagnosed with a rare blood cancer, she found out about the marathon by visiting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada website and in short time decided to sign up. It was her way to take something positive out of her predicament.

Clarkson was able to get her friend and fellow nurse colleague Debbie MacDonald to join the marathon, as well as another buddy Rosalyn Woodcock in Whitehorse. The trio signed up to the marathon's online Team in Training program that helps participants get in shape while they fundraise.

Going into the event they wanted to raise $6,000 each. In the end, Sue raised $12,000 and MacDonald and Woodcock both met their goals and the money is still coming in. The Team in Training members from across the US and Canada raised $14 million for the society.

Debbie, who finished the half marathon stood and watched Sue muster up the strength to run to the finish line and managed to record the event on video.

"She was in an awful lot of pain," said Debbie. "She was pretty determined to finish the marathon because that's what she set out to do. I was really happy because people in front of her were throwing up, being carried off; there (were) people in chairs with twisted ankles. I was wondering how was she going to come across that finish line."

Afterwards Rosalyn treated her to an ice bath.

But Clarkson insists it was worth it. She witnessed thousands of runners wearing the Team in Training purple shirts bearing pictures or messages for the cancer victims they were running for.

Sue's shirt read 'stage two,' representing how far her disease has progressed. Sue, who as far as she knows was the only one participating with lymphoma, recalled a few inspiring moments.

"One person said, 'I'm running this for you,'" she said. "I thought, wow that's really kind. Another person said, 'I'll think about you when I cross the finish line.' So that was pretty special."

Though Clarkson still feels healthy, her treatments haven't produced great results. She and her husband Peter are studying clinical trials to see if there's something out there to help her. In the meantime she'll continue to see her specialist.

But she said she's adapting well to the disease.

"I feel a little more settled because I have more knowledge now and I don't have the same sort of fear about it," she said. "The marathon was one thing that I could control. The disease is beyond my control."

Deeply indebted to her community, she said her family is thankful for the enormous generosity both financially and emotionally shown by residents.

She hopes she's provided an inspiration to her community and beyond.

"You've got to get outside of yourself," she said. "It's not about me; it's about a lot of different people who are struggling with all sorts of things. I was able to offer a focus for people to come together to fundraise and share my experience."

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