Triathlon Magazine Canada
AGE GROUP PROFILE
AS THE FIRST pandemic shutdowns began in March 2020, triathlete Jennifer Hyde carried the additional burden of finding out she had breast cancer. Like the coronavirus, Hyde’s treatments continued into 2021 and she keeps strong with a deep love of sport, a commitment to staying positive and a cheeky sense of humour.
It has been a very difficult experience that sometimes felt similar to enduring the less enjoyable parts of her triathlon addiction. “I really don’t like cycling, but I tell myself I have to do it if I want to do an Ironman,” she explains. “During my cancer I have used the same approach, making hard choices to complete the journey.”
Hyde’s introduction to triathlon came accidentally in 1991 when she became a last-minute runner substitute for a relay team. Although she was an enthusiastic runner growing up in Barrie, Ont., during the 1970s, Hyde had stopped after high school.
In 1999, Hyde casually joined a friend for a run and easily managed a distance of 20 km. She was encouraged to try an official race, and a few months later, did the half marathon at Toronto’s Scotia Bank Waterfront Marathon.
She recalls a determination that day to keep up with twin sisters who were ahead of her. When one lost her last gel pack, Hyde kindly gave one away. It was received with much gratitude and surprise, but as Hyde explained, “I want the best for you too and I don’t like seeing people struggle.”
That first race was followed by many more, and Hyde formed a lot of friendships that she still has today. Ever a helpful person, Hyde would often assist the Sportstats crew at the end of races and the owners liked her so much that they offered her a job.
While working at Ironman Lake Placid in 2000, the race’s powerful energy made Hyde feel quite emotional and inspired. “I realized that an Ironman was attainable for me and, soon after, I began to train for it,” she says. Hyde speculates that seeing Julie Moss’s 1982 Kona finish on television as a kid may have contributed to her own triathlon addiction.
Hyde knew that many people drop out of Ironman when they’ve only had a year to prepare for their first, so she planned for several years of training, which included her first triathlon in 2001 at Winterlude in Ottawa. “It was so much fun and so cold, it was freezing,” she recalls.
As she continued to prepare, Hyde mixed things up with more triathlons, running races and a half distance at both Montreal and Peterborough. Dragon boat racing was also in the mix, and Hyde is proud to be in a crew that has twice gone to the world championship.
By the fall of 2003, she was ready to commit. After working at Ironman Florida, Hyde watched triathletes lining up to register for the following year and casually said to her mates, “Well, I guess it’s my turn to sign up.” After a brief silence of complete surprise, everyone cheered as she stepped up to the desk.
Hyde loved her first Ironman in 2004, the second in Tremblant in 2012, and she looks forward to doing more. But – if working at an Ironman counts, with a 4:00 a.m. start and a 1:00 a.m. finish, she has already done a lot more than two.
Sometimes Hyde both worked and competed at races. Those were such busy days that a few times her own transition set ups were forgotten. During one triathlon, Hyde remembers wondering, “Why am I cycling so slow?” before realizing she had not pumped her bike tires.
In 2005, Hyde started to work at Sovereign Lake Alpine Club in British Columbia, alternating the seasons with working for Sportstats in Ontario during the summer. With a passion for cross-country skiing, Vernon, B.C., was a huge draw. It was out west in March 2020 that Hyde was diagnosed with breast cancer.
The cancer was identified as stage four and an aggressive type that doubled in size before her chemo began in April. Although Hyde is very independent and doesn’t like to ask for help, she’s learned that it’s more than okay, especially during the dark moments.
“The start of chemo was emotionally the hardest part, walking into an unknown,” she explains. Hyde felt extremely fortunate to avoid nausea, but her hunger signals disappeared and that was challenging. When her energy would lag, she’d wonder, “What did I eat today?” and relied on force-feeding herself nutrientdense smoothies. She was also grateful for food boxes delivered by her dragon boat team for more than six months.
Hyde’s support network is strong and she is already paying that forward by helping others and being open about her experience. “The more I share, the more I can encourage even one more person to be more healthy and to be their own advocate,” she says.
During the chemo, Hyde was able to run and paddle and jokes that the steroids enhanced her performance. “I would feel lots of energy afterward and wanted lots of activity,” she recalls, however, there was a lot of joint pain from the treatments. In August, with chemo behind her, Hyde really enjoyed being an ambassador for a 5 km fundraising event in support of cancer patients.
Despite losing her hair, Hyde looked pretty healthy. “Chemo does wonders for the skin,” she quips. But with no facial hair and
often wearing a ball cap, she resembled a teenager and found it funny when asked for ID to buy a lottery ticket. She was also amused by accidentally surprising a group of people when pulling off her wig at the front door of a restaurant on a very hot day.
In October, things were more serious when it came time for a mastectomy, and Hyde had an emotional breakdown in the hospital. “It was just such a devastating thing,” she says, “the chemo, then surgery and it was like adding insult to injury to have the breast removed.”
Having a therapist’s guidance is helpful, and Hyde has tried to deal with emotions as they arise. “Sometimes you have to sit with that emotion until it passes,” she says, “rather than trying to ignore it.” She works at being calm every day in part, with meditation and also by teaching her body how to completely relax.
Her dark sense of humour is also helpful, but her doctor isn’t always comfortable with the jokes. A case in point: the mastectomy procedure used tissue sourced from cadavers.
While her doctor prefers to call this product by its trade name, Hyde likes to think that her tissue came from a truck driver named Bob.
And, because a portion of her breast now has no feeling, she wonders about accidentally repeating the scene from Mrs. Doubtfire where Robin Williams’ fake chest is set on fire while leaning over the stove.
For weeks after the surgery, Hyde could not run or lift her arms or raise her heart rate. But she “walked and walked and walked” and managed to cross country ski with one pole at a pace that kept her from sweating or chafing. “That was for mental health,” she says, “I needed to be active.”
Radiation treatments began late in 2020 and finished in January. More treatments, including chemo, took place through the winter and up to May and another operation is needed after that. While July is the soonest possible surgery date, Hyde is able to wait until fall and she’s looking forward to racing this summer and building up her strength.
“I will start with some short distances,” she says. “As much as I’d like to get back to a full Ironman as soon as possible, I will set my sights on a 70.3 first. Honestly, I’m going to be happy just doing a super sprint at first.”
Hyde really misses being active. “I’m trying not to compare my condition now and before the cancer but I still do it sometimes,” she says. “I’m hitting a reset on all my personal bests to see them in a different context.”
When her pace for a 5 km improves, she sees that as a win. “It’s like coming off of an injury,” she explains, “and I’m taking more time for healing because I want to do it right the first time. If I push too quick, too soon, then there are repercussions.”
Hyde knows it will be challenging to return to a normal life because the cancer has turned so many things around. But a return to racing, with its defined discipline, control and familiarity, is something she happily looks forward to.