Pulling together through good, bad

The Baltimore Sun

As she pressed the fingertips of her left hand to the small valley of flesh above her right collarbone, Donna Ebaugh recalled "the lump."

A physician discovered a small mass there during a routine precamp checkup when the 16-year-old was a rising high school senior but said it wasn't anything to worry about.

She attended cheerleading camp as planned, but the lump grew quickly during her stay and Ebaugh -- then Donna Davis of Babson Park, Fla. -- became frightened. A friend had recently been diagnosed with brain cancer; could she have cancer, too?

Shortly after camp ended, an oncologist performed a biopsy and ordered other tests. The diagnosis was Hodgkin's disease, "the big C," everyone's worst nightmare realized, she said.

But that was then. Now, Ebaugh, 34, said she has been "cured" of cancer for years. Along the way, the Columbia resident said she released "the anger that my body was doing something I couldn't control."

Now, good news is rearranging her life just as bad news did in 1990, when she missed the first half of her senior year of high school to undergo two five-week courses of radiation therapy.

"My husband, Mike, and I just found out on our second wedding anniversary, April 8, that we're expecting," she said with a very broad smile. "One of my first thoughts was, 'What about the Columbia Triathlon?' I frantically got them to stop the presses on my application."

Ebaugh had signed on long ago with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training for her second consecutive year as a triathlete in the swim-bike-run event set for May 18 at Centennial Park in Ellicott City.

Her obstetrician said she could still participate, "if she really had her heart set on it," recalled Ebaugh. But wanting to be cautious, she quickly hatched a plan to switch her application from a solo entry to a relay team -- a classification endorsed by the Columbia Triathlon Association but not an option frequently pursued by Team in Training.

"They quickly agreed to the idea, though," Ebaugh said. "My main feeling was that I'd gone more than halfway through training and didn't want to drop out altogether. I also wanted to honor the funds I'd raised."

New plans call for Ebaugh to handle the 1.5-kilometer swimming portion of the 2008 Silver Anniversary Columbia Triathlon, which is marking its 25th year. Her husband will take the 41-kilometer bicycling portion and friend Alexi Kousouris of Baltimore will finish with the 10-kilometer run. All three are attorneys with degrees from the University of Baltimore.

The biking and running segments traverse the kind of grueling hilly terrain that make the triathlon nationally renowned, said Kevin Dolan of Owings Mills, who is coaching Team in Training for the second time.

Swimming in Centennial Lake, which averages between 66 and 71 degrees in mid-May, is not an easy task, either. But that leg of the triathlon requires only about 35-45 minutes of concerted effort and swimmers are protected from the chilly waters by wetsuits, said Ebaugh, making it the best choice for her while pregnant.

The mom-to-be still practices with her team, which consists of 22 members who live in Howard and Carroll counties and Annapolis and who have committed to raising a minimum of $2,700 apiece. Each person has a link to a Web site with a photo, personal story, fundraising total and donation option.

Dolan praised Ebaugh's commitment to continue training and fundraising while she is expecting her first child.

"Running this race requires a lot of time and focus," said the coach, who is one of the managers at Race Pace Bicycles on Oakland Mills Road in Columbia and a longtime triathlon and marathon participant. "On a rainy practice night recently, only three people showed up, and Donna was one of them. She never gives up, and she always has a smile."

Over 20 years, Team in Training has trained 860,000 people nationwide for marathons, triathlons and cycle rides, raising $850 million for research, education and patient aid, said Liz Olsen, national spokeswoman.

The organization's newest event is the Nation's Triathlon, scheduled for Sept. 14 in Washington. The LLS will be the sole benefactor of the funds that race raises, Olsen said.

Locally, Julie LaFee, campaign manager at Team in Training's Hunt Valley office, said the 60 members enrolled with three state teams in this year's Columbia Triathlon had so far raised $121,000, of which 75 percent will go toward curing blood-related cancers and improving quality of life for cancer patients. All of the money raised over the expected minimum tally of $162,000 will go directly to those missions, she said.

"The people I know who have had a scare -- they know something the rest of us don't," said Dolan, referring to cancer survivors like Ebaugh. "They realize, on another level, that life is very precious and decide they're going to enjoy every moment."

Said Ebaugh: "You feel a deep sense of accomplishment doing this as a personal challenge, but it is that much more gratifying to be doing it for people who are dealing, like I once did, with some form of cancer."

For more information or to make a donation, contact the LLS at 800-482-TEAM, or www. teamintraining.org.


Is someone in your neighborhood worth writing about? Is there an event that everyone in Howard County should be aware of? Neighbors columnist Janene Holzberg wants to know about it. E-mail Janene at jholzberg76@ msn.com, or call 410-461-4150.

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