Training for triathlons helps Kristin McQueen forget about the cancer she's been battling now for almost 10 years.
When she runs those 26.2 miles, the 34-year-old Naperville resident's thoughts drift away from the 10 brain surgeries and five neck surgeries she's had during that time.
As she bikes 112 miles, she doesn't think about the radiation, the debilitating pain, the medicines and complications.
As she swims 2.4 miles -- well, it's not her favorite part of an Ironman competition -- but it's still cathartic.
"I love to race, and when I run or when I cycle -- not so much when I swim -- but when I do those things, I'm able to kind of escape cancer for a while," she says in a 90-second video on Kona Inspired -- a website where voters can send seven inspiring athletes, including McQueen, to the elite Kona Ironman as a competitor in October.
"It's my time, and cancer has no part of it."
McQueen, a 1997 Downers Grove South graduate, was training for her second marathon when, at age 24, she was diagnosed with metastatic thyroid cancer.
Since then, she's competed in 17 total marathons and nine Ironman competitions -- all the while recovering from numerous surgeries and the many complications from those that include vertigo, nerve damage, vision and hearing loss, damage to her airway and more.
"She'll be absolutely wiped out, she won't be able to train and the vertigo will take over and then several weeks later she'll be at the start line," said her friend Tracy Jensen, 37, of Lombard. "She finishes it in times that other people who are actively training are striving for."
She also runs for the American Cancer Society and has raised more than $122,000 for that cause.
"She never wanted to be the poster child for cancer or the American Cancer Society," Jensen said. "She has no idea that she's inspiring. She's the most humble person I've ever met. For her, she's just getting up and doing what she does."
That means on days when she's recovering from surgery -- like her most recent April 30 brain surgery -- training isn't running, it's walking. And it's time spent on her stationary bike when she's not feeling stable enough to hit the streets.
"I've had to adjust my expectations and my goals," McQueen said. "But it's allowed me to continue doing what I enjoy even if it's not quite as easy as I would like it to be."
Her Kona Inspired video, entitled "Suck it cancer," shows her determination and a bit of her feisty side -- a bit of both that have gotten her this far.
"The main reason I compete is for personal reasons but also to show people that you can go through some pretty (crappy) stuff, but you don't have to give up just because life gets tough or because life kicks you around a little bit," McQueen said. "You just have to find a different way to do it."
That's exactly how she hopes to get to the Kona Ironman -- in a different way -- as a finalist in the Kona Inspired competition. She's grouped with 15 other athletes, and the two in her group who get the most votes will be among the seven picked to head to Hawaii for the competition in October.
"You can ask pretty much any triathlete, it's the Super Bowl of triathlons," McQueen said. "You have to place in the very top of your age group to qualify. Physically there's no way that I could ever do that."
Between now and June 15, people can visit the site konainspired.thismoment.com and vote for McQueen once per day per device without any sort of registration.
For friends who have witnessed McQueen's strength and endurance as an athlete and a cancer survivor over the years, they say rallying to send her to compete in the Kona Ironman is the least they can do.
"I look at where I was 10 years ago and how much I've done and how different my life is, and then I think about that entire decade for her has been focused around cancer and treatment and surgeries," Jensen said. "There's not a lot I can do about all that, but this is the one thing that I can work really hard to give her. This is how she copes and how she gets through the day-to-day, and I know this is her dream."