Vickroy: Make room, Tony Stark, for this Ironwoman
By Donna Vickroy firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @dvickroy August 12, 2013 7:22PM
Courtney Javorski, of Worth, is a cancer survivor and will soon compete in her first Ironman competition in Louisville, Ky. | Donna Vickroy~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 14, 2013 6:13AM
What’s an Ironman competition to someone who’s already moved mountains?
On Aug. 25, Courtney Javorski, of Worth, will swim, bike and ride a cumulative 140.6 miles in one of the most grueling contests known to man.
But for Javorski, 35, it may seem like a walk in the park compared to the obstacle course her body has already been through.
“I always seem to be in that smallest percentage,” she said.
So she should feel right at home racing beside some of nation’s world’s fittest athletes.
Her story begins in 2008, when Javorski — a fitness instructor, esthetician and massage therapist, as well as a triathlete — became pregnant with her daughter, Eva. Routine prenatal tests revealed that she had the human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection.
Most HPV infections (90 percent) go away by themselves within two years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. But sometimes they persist and can cause a variety of serious health problems, including cancer.
“At first doctors weren’t sure if I’d be able to have the baby, but then blessings happen and they said I was,” she said.
But six weeks after Eva was born, doctors detected cervical cancer and performed a hysterectomy.
For awhile, 2 words seemed to go well. Javorski continued to get her scans and continued to train. Then, just shy of two years after her surgery, she learned that the cancer had returned.
A difficult course of radiation and chemotherapy was prescribed, causing serious exhaustion. Yet she continued to work out through it all.
“I was miserable. I was embarrassed. I didn’t want anyone to know,” she said, including her teenage son, Shane. “I didn’t want people to treat me differently. I didn’t want sympathy.”
Working out was the only thing that made her feel normal, in control, Javorski said.
“I felt empowered to be able to keep doing it,” she said. “It made me forget about what I was going through.”
After 33 radiation treatments and six weeks of chemotherapy for five to six hours at a time, the cancer was finally gone.
Though she celebrated her two-year anniversary of being cancer-free last month, the treatments caused other health problems.
The radiation left scarring and ulcers in her bladder, causing severe pain when she urinated. For eight months, doctors struggled to find a way to relieve her fibrosis. Finally, Javorski underwent 40 sessions of hyperbaric treatment at Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park in which she was placed in a sealed chamber filled with 100 percent oxygen for up to 90 minutes.
After that, she was sent to the Women’s Health Rehabilitation program at Accelerated Rehabilitation Services in Orland Park. Through massage therapy, therapist Michelle Musial was able to reduce Javorski’s pain level from a 10 to a 1. After eight months, Javorski was able to cut back to one therapy session a week.
“Through it all, I continued training, even running half-marathons,” Javorski said.
Then, last summer, on the Fourth of July, she was dealt another blow.
“I was trying to put on a pair of shorts and realized they didn’t fit on one side,” she recalled.
She suffers from lymphedema in her right leg, another effect of the radiation, in which fluid builds up in the muscles and stays there, causing fatigue and pain.
But not even that will stop Javorski from reaching the goal of a lifetime. When she competes in Louisville next week, she will wear a custom-made compression sleeve on her right leg.
Jennifer Harrison is Javorski’s coach, and each year she runs an essay contest, offering free coaching to the person who best answers the question: Why should you win free training for a year?
This year, Javorski won. And when management at Accelerated agreed to sponsor her, providing the financial backing she needed, Javorski said, “I realized this is my year. Everything was pointing me in the direction of Ironman.”
Harrison said Javorski already met one of the greatest qualifications for entry — the unconditional support of her family, especially her husband Todd.
“Competing in Ironman is a huge commitment. There are hours of training every day,” Harrison said.
Javorski will compete at the amateur level. Each year, there are 28 Ironman competitions around the country, culminating in the Ironman World Competition in Hawaii in October. Only 50 men and 35 women will qualify for that ultimate contest.
Javorski said she doesn’t have the slightest chance of landing in that elite group. She just wants to finish the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and the 26.2-mile run within the 17-hour deadline.
”Doing an Ironman in general is a massive accomplishment,” said Harrison, owner of JHC Triathlon Coaching in West Dundee. “Then to add Courtney’s health issues — from cancer to induced menopause and how that messes with your hormones — well, she is very impressive.”
She said people push themselves to such extremes for a variety of reasons.
“Some people are just competitive. Some are running away from something. And some, like Courtney, just want to prove that after all her body has been through, they can do it,” Harrison said.
She said the swim portion of the race, which will take place in the Ohio River, tends to be the easiest physically but causes the most anxiety among the competitors.
“There is a fear of being kicked or of drowning,” she said.
Javorski still has to decide what she will wear for that part of the competition.
“I have a lot to consider,” she said.
But one notion she will not entertain is the thought of not finishing.
“No. No way,” she said. “I will cross that finish line even if I have to crawl.”