Desma Degraw putting in the miles at the Stagecoach 100 Mile.
Sometimes you meet a person that makes finishing a 100-mile foot race look easy. Not because they finish the race in course record time or win the event outright, but because of the journey they endured to get to the starting line. Flagstaff resident Desma Degraw is one of these individuals. Desma finished the 2015 Stagecoach, her first 100 mile, in 27:42:18. I saw, firsthand, how determined she was to make her way to the finish. However, her battle with cancer is the more inspiring story. She shares:
"I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2008 when I was 29 years old. I underwent neoadjuvant chemo, a double mastectomy with reconstruction and seven weeks of radiation. I had been a runner before my diagnosis (5K-1/2 marathon distance) but during my treatment I started marathon training. With Art's (her husband) help, running allowed me to take back my life and regain control. Even though, in the beginning, all I could do was jog/walk between light poles, every run I went on was a step toward health, a way of giving cancer the finger and kicking it out of my life. Besides, being bald meant I was more aerodynamic.
I'm now the front office manager for Arizona Oncology here in Flagstaff. It's a career that enables me to help others and pass along the kindness that I have experienced."
You can read, in detail, about Desma's Stagecoach adventures on her blog, here. She's also registered for the 2016 Stagecoach event. We look forward to seeing her out there again as, perhaps, our first two-time finisher! We asked Desma to answer our five questions and this is what she said.
Art helps Desma get organized at Kelly Tank aid station.
1. Why did you choose Stagecoach?
"A few years ago, the Grand Canyon was the first stop on a trip to the West that my husband and I took to celebrate the culmination of my cancer treatments. Being able to run from our new home in Flagstaff to the Canyon was a way for me to reaffirm my continued good health and the commitment I've made to my running life as a way to show those who are currently facing cancer that things can be so much better when treatment is done. And, on a lighter note, it's so close to home that I didn't have to get up early."
Sunset on Babbitt Ranch.
2. What was your favorite part of the course?
"My favorite part of the course was the wide open area between Tub Ranch (mile 38) and Oil Line (mile 45). I hit it just about sunset. Looking to the East, I could see the Peaks. Looking to the West, the world seemed to stretch away into the sunset. I was alone in that beautiful expanse. It was incredible."
Typical Kaibab National Forest double track.
3. What was the biggest challenge Stagecoach presented?
"The biggest challenge was the race itself. It was my first 100 miler, and I was more than a little nervous in general. The part that gave me the hardest time was the stretch between Watson Tank (mile 88) and Reed Tank (mile 98). Fatigue and crankiness had set in along with some stomach issues. My sister sang to me and demonstrated her dance moves; both were very helpful. Then the kind young man at Reed gave us M&Ms which made everything better!"
Desma and Dara (Desma's sister and pacer) sharing quality trail time between dances.
4. What was your favorite aid station?
"My favorite aid station was Russell Tank (mile 68). There was some awesome thumping music and strobes lights guiding me in through the dark cold of the night. It was fantastic! And it helped that I got to pick up my pacer there, too!"
100 feet to go!
5. Three tips you can offer a Stagecoach first timer.
"Three tips I can offer are simple. Do your night runs. It became a little disconcerting in the wee hours of the morning. Put in the miles ahead of time. I was not as well-prepared as I though I was. Lastly, go into it planning to have fun! It is an incredible course, with phenomenal volunteers, cheerful fellow runners and a race director like no other."
Savoring a job well done!
Bonus Question: Mt Humphreys or the Grand Canyon and why?
"I would have to choose the Grand Canyon. There is such a variety of trails. I love that I can run to the river, downhill, uphill and across the plateau. And I can get ice cream at the top!"
From here to there, as Desma's story shows us, "It's much more than just one foot in front of the other."