Worth athlete survives cancer and grueling Ironman race
When a diagnosis threatened the life of this active mom, she made a run for it.
Nearly five years ago, during a routine obstetrics appointment, Courtney Javorski of Worth discovered she had cervical cancer.
So a half decade later, what was she doing on Aug. 25?
Long, long distances.
Javorski, who has been cancer-free for two years, competed in the Ironman event in Louisville Kentucky. This elite competition consists of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and 26.2 mile run. The rigor of a race like this is taxing for a healthy competitor let alone someone who is injured or sick.
The former Chicago Ridge redident said she finished the raced in 14 hours, 20 minutes and 19 seconds. She was happy she could finish the race but it was not an easy competition.
“I was surprisingly calm,” she said. “The swim occurs in the Ohio River and my goal was to finish in 120 minutes. But there was a current pushing me in the opposite direction and water kept getting in my goggles. I must have swam harder than I realized because I finished the swim in 108 minutes.
“When I got on the bike, I felt great. I smiled so much my face hurt. I was just happy to be there.”
Happiness soon turned to pain as she ran the marathon-distance third leg of the competition.
“The run was the most difficult and visually terrifying,” she said. “It was hot — 90 degrees. My feet throbbed every step. I saw people passing out from a full standing position, face first. Some vomited. Some cramped and screamed out in agony. I saw a few people who appeared delirious from fatigue. It was scary.’’
But she finished to the cheering of more than 20 friends and family members.
Five years ago, she received the news about her cancer but it did not progress during the pregnancy and her daughter, Eva, was born healthy.
Six weeks following Eva’s birth, Javorski, underwent a full hysterectomy. She was in remission for two years but it returned necessitating 33 radiation treatments and six weeks of chemotherapy. Javorski felt the best way for her to get through her fight was to continue on with life.
She did so by not telling anyone of her disease except her husband Todd, his parents and her parents.
“Life needed to move forward,” she said. “When I was fatigued from chemotherapy, I took a nap.”
She didn’t want her son, Shane, who was 15 at the time, to be concerned about her illness.
“He should be worried about his football season, not me,” she said.
Her efforts to keep things under wraps went undetected initially. She continued to work as a fitness instructor at X Sport Fitness, as an Esthetician promoting healthy skin and as a massage therapist.
As a lover of all things fitness, she kept competing in multiple triathlons and other races.
However, after running First Midwest Bank’s Half Marathon in Palos Heights in 2011, she finally opened up about her plight.
“I finished that race slower than normal. A friend I was running with probed and I lost it. I told her everything.”
Javorski may have felt weak but her therapy team at Accelerated Rehabilitation in Orland Park saw strength.
Team members volunteered to sponsor her for the pinnacle of endurance sports, The Ironman.
Javorski also suffers from Lymphedema, a condition that causes localized fluid retention and tissue swelling. It’s frequently seen in patients who had radiation treatment. For Javorski, the swelling and severe pain is localized to the right leg. Another source of her discomfort is Plantar Fasciitis, it’s the connective tissue or ligament on the bottom surface of the foot.
Most people complain it causes stabbing pain with every step. Javorski realized competing in The Ironman would defy all odds but she wasn’t going to allow anything to hold her back. With the help of trainer, Jennifer Harrison, Javorski trained four times a week for eight months. When she wasn’t running, swimming or biking, she was spinning or doing yoga. She remained under a doctor’s supervision the entire time. She was provided with a custom compression sleeve for her leg and custom orthotics’ to lessen the pain in her feet.
A race of this magnitude also requires hydration and nutrition. Javorski drank an estimate of two-gallons of water and 60 ounces of electrolytes. She ate 2,100 calories, snacking on waffles and peanut butter bars during the bike portion of the race. When she started the run, she took in another eight ounces of water per mile.
Javorski recalled visualizing herself finishing and imagined running alongside other cancer survivors. She wanted to feel as though she had support from people who could relate to her experience.
She said she is not a role model but she does have a message to anyone who thinks they can’t accomplish big things because they are sick.
“If you don’t feel, you’re not living. Don’t lie on the couch, numbing your situation. Get moving. Keep going.”