by Erin Fergus
I’ve always been the type of person whose motivation and energy to reach a goal seems endless. Now that the holiday season has just ended, I want to let everyone peek into what is currently motivating my dream chasing.
I’m 30 years old, and I’m the baby in my family. My dad is 68, and the picture above is us on Christmas day after he had gone through several rounds of chemotherapy for B cell lymphoma. My eyes have watered on multiple occasions over what he’s fighting against, but I have never actually let myself cry. Sounds callous of me, I know. The reason is that one of the things I want more than anything in my life is for my parents to be proud of me and be a significant part of my life. They have been married 44 years and are my number one fans, and I realize I am lucky for both of these things. When my dad tells me something, he says what he means and I know I should listen and trust in him. So when he said, “I’ll let you know when it’s time to worry. Until then, there’s nothing to worry about,” I believed it.
My current mantra is simple: “Be strong.” That’s all he wants me to do. He doesn’t want me waste any time worrying about or feeling sad about something that’s out of my hands. He wants me to reach my goals and achieve what I want, so every time I hit the weights I tell myself to be strong. He’s trying to keep our lives as normal as possible, and it doesn’t hurt that he looks pretty good with a bald head.
This isn’t the first time that he’s had cancer, but I didn’t have the same strength the first time around. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2005 when I was fresh out of college and just starting to establish myself. I immediately whipped out my journal after receiving the call from my mom, and I scribbled in an entry through my tears. My handwriting has always been terrible, but that is the only journal entry since age 11 that I didn’t keep any of the words between the lines. I worried my dad would leave us and that the perfectly nuclear, secure family I had grown up in would disintegrate. It wasn’t until I visited my parents’ house one summer day and saw him bobbing along on the riding mower with his bald head that I realized everything would be just fine. The world kept spinning and the grass kept growing whether he had cancer or not. I could choose to be a defeatist, or I could choose to be an optimist.
I completed the Nation’s Tri Olympic distance triathlon in Washington, DC, in October 2008 in honor of my dad’s remission. I raised $5,500 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and I was able to really embrace the concept of “using my able body as a vessel to complete feats that others could only dream of doing.” I could train for hours, and I would do everything from visually carrying people I knew on my back to visually hovering over myself and imagining pedaling the bike through someone else’s body. It kept me going and fighting, because I was fighting so that girls like me would never have to worry about losing a dad like mine to cancer. The most goosebump-inducing moment of the three-hour race was passing a girl during the bike portion who wore a jersey with the words, “This one is for your dad.” I looked at her, flashed a thumbs up, and said, “This one really IS for my dad!”
I couldn’t know at that point if my dad’s cancer would ever return, but I hoped that it was a chapter my family had closed. When I first began training for figure competitions in March, I realized the training was harder than anything I had done for endurance events. I had to dig deep, and I quickly found that imagining the cruelty that animals experience lit a fire under me to complete challenging workouts. In particular, I thought of the poor dog that had to chew off its own back leg to escape a life of neglect living on a chain.
My first show was June 15, and my parents drove up from Enterprise, AL, to Spartanburg, SC, to see me on stage. I had a show down in FL the next weekend that they would also come to, and it was a flurry of a week in between to make sure I stayed in the shape I needed and had everything gathered for the trip. The LAST thing I thought I’d hear that week was that dad’s cancer had returned, and this time it was a more aggressive version. That’s when I was told the quote from my dad in the beginning of this article. I couldn’t let the news shake me or break me, because I trained for 16 weeks to step on that stage. Being able to share the experience of both of those shows with my parents was far more important than the trophies I received.
Applying for Team Plantbuilt was on my mind all through competition season this summer, and my parents cheered on my decision to apply. My favorite response to finally being able to announce my acceptance on Facebook was when my dad commented that he was as excited as I was.
Training and competing will always be driven by my support of the animals and my mission to spread the good plant-based word, but my unwavering strength will come from my desire to do exactly what my dad needs for me to do to support him through his battle.