As Wendy Sturges sat by the bedside of her close friend who was suffering from breast cancer, a strange thought came to her mind. How can I not gather the strength to run through the so-called wall during marathons while my friend works to overcome surgeries, chemotherapy, hair loss and fatigue, she wondered.
That’s when she decided to dedicate her third Ironman competition to a charity of Michelle Schoenfeld’s choosing. The two Rockville women have been friends since their children were young. They have shared vacations, Shabbat dinners, cheering at school sporting events and, during the past year, Schoenfeld’s battle with Stage III breast cancer.
On Sunday, Sturges will be swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and then running 26.2 miles in the Houston-area competition to honor her friend and to raise money for Lolly’s Locks, a nonprofit that connects high quality wigs with cancer
patients who cannot afford them.
“I am moved beyond belief. I am so honored, and I did cry,” said Schoenfeld, who during the past year has tackled five months of chemotherapy and 32 radiation treatments. “It was the hardest thing I ever went through,” she said, adding that she has been cancer-free for three months.
Schoenfeld, a 44-year-old mother of two Wootton High School students, isn’t one to feel sorry for herself. Cancer, she declared, “definitely gave me perspective on what’s important in life.”
Friendship is definitely something she places a high value on, after seeing how many people were there for her. “She [Sturges] sat on my bed, gave me energy drinks and got me outside,” she said.
She struggled with both the medical effects and her loss of femininity. Schoenfeld is involved in raising money for various charities, including Fashion for Paws and Knock Out Abuse. She describes herself as “a girly girl” who takes a lot of pride in her long, thick blonde hair.
Traveling to Brooklyn to purchase a well-made wig from a business that caters to Orthodox women helped her recovery. It instantly made her feel better about her, Schoenfeld said. That is why she asked Sturges to donate any money raised from this weekend’s Ironman competition toward getting wigs for those who can’t afford them, she said.
Sturges, 47, is training hard for her 140-mile day she hopes to finish well within the 16-hour time limit. She loves to run, especially with her husband, Bob. Because she works full time as the assistant director of admissions at Bullis School, her workouts begins early.
“My training day typically begins at 4:30 in the morning,” she said. “I sometimes train in the afternoon, too. The big training happens on the weekend.”
She did her first Ironman in 2010, calling it one of the things she had on her bucket list.
She did it again the following year. “I did it once, and it wasn’t exactly what you want it to be, so you try again.”
Sturges had no intention of going for her third until she decided to make the day “about paying it forward” in honor of not just Schoenfeld but also three other friends who were diagnosed with breast cancer during the past year.
“They are all from this area. They are people I know separately. It was a very strange time. They are all quite honestly of different ages, religion and races.” For them, she said, “You do what you can do, and this is the little thing I can do.
“This all grew out of just being a runner. I love to run. I like to be physically active,” said the mother of three, all of whom play lacrosse in school. “They are all athletic, although nobody is a runner per se. Not yet.”
Running is great, she stressed, because “you can go anywhere with a pair of shoes.”