MRF Blog

Stronger than Iron

June 19, 2012 | Categories: Prevention

Being a triathlete is something of a movement these days.  It follows in the wake of several years’ fascination with running marathons, but takes it a step further. The MRF recently formed a new partnership with the company most closely associated with the sport—Ironman.

If you think about it, the connection makes sense.  Tens of thousands of people compete in half-Ironman events every year.  And it takes a special type of dedication to engage in the intense training required to complete a triathlon event.  Athletes who compete in the Ironman – whether half or full – spend inordinate amounts of time in the sun over months of outdoor training and full days in the sun. 

Most of these athletes will admit that they aren’t exactly good role-models for sun safety.  In a recent event in Orlando (won by Lance Armstrong, by the way) the participants sported, almost without exception, tans that were a deep nut brown.  Moles abounded on arms, legs, faces. 

At that event, a dedicated physician volunteer spent hours offering free skin checks.  The doctor told me that, during the screening, he saw 62 people in 2.5 hours.  He found two spots that were almost certainly melanoma and another half dozen that were squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas.  Of course, these people were counseled to seek immediate care.

I heard about a man who plans to participate in several Ironman events this year.  He is a firefighter, and he competes in honor of firefighters who have lost their life in the line of duty.  To drive home his commitment he participates in each event wearing full firefighter gear.  In a recent event he finished the course, but he forgot to put sunscreen on one small spot. When he was done, that one small spot was very burned.  Here is a man who is engaging in one of the most grueling athletic events conceivable, over and over,  wearing  50 pounds of gear the other participants aren’t carrying.  Yet all his strength, all his stamina, all his courage, he is leaving himself vulnerable to the unmatchable power of the sun.

This is the core of our message to the people who come to Ironman, and to everyone else.  Your youth, your strength, your commitment, your training, your love of the outdoors, your sense of being pretty—none of this can match the searing energy of UV radiation.  Unless you protect yourself, UV rays always win.  Yes, we know wearing sunscreen or UV protective gear can be a pain.  But UV radiation, even when it doesn’t result in a burn, will  damage your skin, wear down your defenses, and  cause wrinkles.  And sometimes - in fact far too often – it will cause melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. 

In these cases, a beam of light invisible to the naked eye is stronger than iron. 


- (6/19/2012 - 9:38pm)

The reality of melanoma hit me just 2 days before starting my 2nd Ironman. Ironically, I was sitting in the shade of a tree on the shores of Te beautiful Mirror Lake, relaxing and watching all the people and festivities, reflecting on my race ahead. My kids just finished the Ironman Kids Fun Run; a former contestant from Biggest Loser TV Series was talking to a crowd of onlookers about keeping children healthy, and the general mood of the entire event was exciting, healthy, and fun. That was all changed in an instant, when I received a call from my dermatologist, informing me that I was diagnosed with Melanoma In Situ. Not understanding what Melanoma was exactly, it became clear quickly when she told me that I was lucky and that it was caught early, before it was fatal! I finished the race, covering up with sun screen repeatedly, and posted a personal record. Three days later I had the Melanoma successfully removed.. The greatest thing about Ironman, is they do a great job at finding amazing volunteers who, without question, will lather up athletes with sunscreen at any point of the race.

Tim--MRF - (6/20/2012 - 10:03am)

Thank you for sharing your story.  Triathletes like you are amazing, with incredible strength and determination.  I know a man who finished the last 20 miles of an ultramarathon on a broken ankle!  He does triathlons on the side.  But your story is a good reminder that strength and endurance cannot push you through a diagnosis of melanoma.  I am thrilled to be working with Ironman to communicate the message of sun safety and, as in your case, of early detection.


MamaMeg - (6/20/2012 - 11:23am)

This article really hits home for me.  In the summer of 2010 I began trianing for my first triathlon.  One month before the race I was diagnosed with Melanoma In Situ after a suspicious mole was biopsied at my annual dermatology check-up.  The necessary surgery would prevent me from participating in the race.  But I was SO fortunate to have it caught so early!  Just three days after having my stitches removed, I found a small race to particiapate in and fell in love with triathlons.  I am nearly 2 years cancer free now and have completed 9 tri's.  Of all the gear it takes to race, sunscreen is always at the top of my list and I am constantly reminding my training partners to slather it on!

- (6/18/2013 - 9:27am)

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