A Few Bumps in the Road Hit by a truck, flying glass and cancer, triathlete Karen Smyers rides on

April 30, 2000

If Karen Smyers weren't a compulsive optimist, she might have
noticed a dark cloud reflected in the storm window that she tried
to change in her house in Lincoln, Mass., in June 1997. The
window fell and shattered, slashing her left thigh open and
severing her hamstring. So that's what the inside of my leg looks
like, thought Smyers, the country's most decorated female
triathlete. Until that moment she had seemed a lock to make the
U.S. Olympic team in 2000, when she would be 39 and triathlon
would make its Olympic debut as a medal sport. She could not have
known that her terrible luck would stick like gum on a running
shoe.

Smyers--a six-time national champ who in 1995 had become the only
woman to win the Hawaii Ironman (a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike
ride and 26.2-mile run) and the world championship (Olympic
distances of .9, 24.8 and 6.2 miles respectively) in the same
year--took time during her rehab to have her first child, with
husband Michael King, a film producer and amateur triathlete. In
May '98 their daughter, Jenna, was delivered by C-section after
48 hours of labor. Three months later Smyers was riding with
training partner Glenn Cunha on a two-lane road when an 18-wheel
truck hit her bike, sending her to the pavement and leaving her
with six broken ribs, a separated shoulder and a lung contusion.
Cunha, calling on a cell phone from the scene of the accident,
left a horrifying message on the couple's answering machine,
which King, at home with Jenna and unable to answer in time,
heard. "Michael, pick up the phone," Cunha implored. "Karen,
don't move! Michael, are you there?"

Smyers resumed training four months after the accident. Then,
last September, she was told by doctors that swollen glands in
her throat indicated she probably had thyroid cancer. Undeterred,
she finished second at the Hawaii Ironman in October and, with
doctors' blessings, postponed her biopsies until after a race in
Ixtapa, Mexico, in November. (Thyroid cancer spreads slowly.) In
Ixtapa, a cyclist fell in front of Smyers, causing Smyers to flip
head over wheels. The fall broke her collarbone and prevented her
from finishing for the first time in a nearly 300-race career.

Her thyroid was cancerous, and after having it removed in
December, Smyers is training and competing again. She placed
22nd--fourth among American women--at last week's first Olympic
trial, held in Sydney, in which only one member of the U.S.
women's team was selected. The other two members will be picked
at a trial on May 27-28 in Dallas. Make or miss the team, Smyers
will start radioactive iodine treatment immediately afterward.

In a column entitled "Laughter Is the Best Medicine," which she
writes for a triathlon magazine, Smyers joked, "After the
radioactive iodine treatment, I will be able to read in bed
without a night light...and go for a run without reflective
clothing." She says she has been overwhelmed by support from the
triathlon community, from the 5,300 residents of Lincoln and
from Jenna, who after Smyers's surgery wore Band-Aids on her
neck so that she could look like Mommy. No matter what happens,
Smyers seems likely to take it in stride. After all, this is a
woman who says, with a straight face, "The last two years were
pretty good--except for broken bones and cancer."

--B.C.

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID BINDER

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)