Recently I stepped up my involvement with Gilda’s Club as a member of the Board of Directors and I chair the associate board, Club Red, as well. My passion for endurance sports and for serving Gilda’s Club stem from the same thing – losing one of my best friend’s to cancer at the age of 25. She was there the day I earned my black belt in karate, one of the most empowering days of my life, even when she didn’t feel well. Just a few weeks later she would learn that cancer was taking over her body. I started running when she was sick. She was with me the day I bought my first pair of running shoes at the outlet mall. Even though she was going through treatments she wanted to pick up a friend’s birthday gift. This was also the first day I heard her say the word “cancer” and the first time she opened up to me about her fears. She never missed a birthday or a chance to celebrate any of life’s accomplishments with you.

Running was something I was never able to do because of exercise and allergen induced asthma but I needed a means to cope and a new physical challenge so I set out to run a block and walk a block until I could build up to my first 5K. 13 years later I’ve done dozens of endurance races and raised thousands of dollars for cancer charities in Jessica’s honor. I may no longer have my friend here with me but I’d like to think that she gave me the ability to pursue sports that make me feel strong and that she brought the incredible community of inspiring, supportive athletes to my life as well.

My primary goal race this year was to join my big sister at Ironman Wisconsin on September 13th, 13 years to the day of Jessica’s passing. It has taken me 10 years to sign up for a full Ironman and it is thanks to my support network for encouraging me to chase after my ultimate dream race. Due to COVID-19, that dream will have to wait another year and it will be on another date. It takes a village to make an Ironman and words can’t express how thankful I am for mine, especially over the last several months as we have all grieved the loss of so many people and things we were looking forward to.

Gilda’s Club is a cancer support resource that cares for the human side of cancer and tries to bring joy throughout life’s hardships. My uncle spent a decade fighting cancer and all he wanted was to be able to travel and to attend family events and to have an ounce of a normal life when his body was breaking down. My grandmother accepted her terminal diagnosis with peace. She had lived a full life and her big heart and her spunk shined through until the end. My grandfather was diagnosed recently, mid-pandemic. Our phone calls every few weeks have become something I so look forward to.

Numerous other friend’s lives have been rocked by cancer and it does not discriminate based on your age or your demographics. Gilda’s Club is an organization that knows that people are not defined by a diagnosis and there is life beyond a hospital. It is a welcoming place to call home and come as you are. Thank you for reading my story and for considering a donation to further support this wonderful community!

-Angie Rieves