Whenever Lori Montgomery-Noblitt feels like she can't go any farther during an endurance event, she looks at the palms of her hands to read the inscription she's written with a permanent marker: "For Shawn."
It reminds her of the two years her husband suffered from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
"If he could go through all those treatments, I can do this," she tells herself.
Shawn Noblitt had been a police officer when he was diagnosed in 2002 with the disease, shortly after the birth of their son. A bodybuilder, he'd always been into fitness, Montgomery-Noblitt said. But not her.
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Now Montgomery-Noblitt is training for her 12th endurance event in four years. And the most rewarding thing for her, she says, is that by competing, she's helped raise about $60,000 for research on the disease that killed her husband at age 39.
Montgomery-Noblitt is one of the hundreds of Wichitans who participates in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training program, which takes average people "from the couch to the finish line" in marathons, triathlons and 100-mile bike races each year, according to Mary Hindle, the Kansas society's TNT campaign manager.
The Kansas chapter started its Team in Training, commonly called TNT, in 1992, four years after the program started nationally. In return for training individuals and making their arrangements to participate in events in places such as Florida, California and elsewhere, the society requires the participants to raise between $1,000 and $4,000 each, depending on their event's location.
This year, LLS expects to hit the $1 billion mark in funds raised for research nationally.
Seventy-five cents of every dollar raised through TNT goes toward research and patient services, Hindle said. Money raised in Kansas goes toward research and patient services within the state.
According to the local TNT website, the program is "like having a personal trainer plus the companionship and support of a team." Participants get personalized fitness training by certified coaches for four to five months before their event, sport-specific training clinics and support, and a personalized training schedule.
"It's so rewarding to take true beginners and 14 weeks later they are so excited to have done something they never thought they would do," said TNT triathlon coach Sharyn Carder, a registered nurse who's been involved in the fitness industry for the past 29 years and owns a personal fitness training company. Olympic-distance triathlons comprise a 1.5K swim, a 40K bike ride and a 10K run.
Montgomery-Noblitt, who's completed three marathons, three triathlons and is working on her third 100-mile bike race, recalled being a novice at the events she's trained for through TNT.
"I hadn't been on a bike since I was 12, and I'd never swam or ran like that ever," said the 48-year-old.
TNT participants meet at least once a week, at 6 a.m. Saturday, to train for their events. Some, like Montgomery-Noblitt and Julie Ecker, get together to work out throughout the week.
The team camaraderie, customized training and coaching are perks that participants such as Montgomery-Noblitt, Hindle and Ecker cite when asked about TNT, which calls itself the world's largest charity endurance training program.
Competing for a cause
While the training and competition satisfy personal goals of staying fit and reaching personal milestones, the greater benefit, participants say, is that they are competing for a cause. Participants often use the word "addictive" to describe why they continue to train through TNT and raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
"You leave with something more than being in good shape," Hindle said. "You've got a connection to a life-saving cause."
According to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, every 4 minutes someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer and every 10 minutes someone dies from the disease.
For some participants, that cause is very personal. Participants compete in honor of a friend, a family member or the local society's "honor hero" who has had blood cancer.
Montgomery-Noblitt does it because she's helping fight the disease that killed her husband. Dawne Lowden, a local obstetrician and gynecologist, became a participant in 2005 when her daughter Ally was the society's designated honor patient as a non-Hodgkins lymphoma survivor. Now she's the TNT long distance coach.
Earlier this year, Leslie Van Dyke took up running to get in better shape. She ran her first half-marathon in April, and then decided to train for her first marathon through TNT.
But in July, her reason for participating in TNT became more meaningful. That's when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.
In June, a hoarse voice and extreme fatigue sent Van Dyke, a nurse practitioner for Via Christi Hospitals and Outreach Centers, to the doctor. She got her diagnosis in July. It hasn't stopped her from trying to reach a goal of running the Walt Disney Marathon in Florida in early January.
"Everybody has encouraged me to keep active and keep moving and it really has helped me feel better," Van Dyke said about her workouts. She walks with a co-worker in the off-week that she's not getting treatment, and participates in the TNT group workouts.
"With TNT it's given me a goal, and now, of course, it's very personal. I could either just curl up on the couch and have a pity party, or I can get out there and move. It helps me not to think about my illness and concentrate on doing something for others," Van Dyke said.
For her, raising money to continue research into a treatment and a cure for blood cancer is significant.
"The treatment for Hodgkin's used to be awful and now it's relatively tolerable," she said, "and that's thanks to research."
While she shares her story with people when she asks for their financial support, she's not competing in her honor. Her honor hero is Douglas Milfeld, a thoracic surgeon whom she consulted during her early diagnosis. Milfeld was diagnosed with the same illness as Van Dyke shortly before.
"I encouraged her to go for it," Milfeld said. "She's really my heroine, too."