"I realized then and there that I had to get better," said Parisi, 48, a mother of four from Wantagh, NY. "I wasn't going to let my little son grow up without knowing me. When people say that cancer is a battle, they mean it. I drew on every ounce of strength - physical, emotional and spiritual - to overcome my blood cancer."
The cancer eventually went into remission. But Parisi was left with a body broken by chemo, radiation and several surgeries. Previously an active and energetic person, the former physical trainer longed to "get back into my life, to live normally again. My body was too tired to do anything, even climb stairs."
In 2002, her daughter brought home a flyer for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team In Training (TNT) cycle program. Parisi didn't participate that year, but she supported and inspired her daughter, Nikole McCrory, as she trained and completed The CycleFestTM Century in Florida, with the Society's Long Island Chapter.
"The end of the event was just the beginning," said Parisi, who recalled the excitement of watching Nikole and her TNT teammates ride past the finish line. "I decided I, too, wanted to be part of that team and train for an endurance event."
Team In Training's professional coaches prepare people for 100-mile century bike rides, as well as marathons, half marathons and triathlons, whether they're seasoned athletes or beginners like Parisi. So in 2003, she joined the Long Island Chapter's TNT cycle team to prepare for the annual Montauk Century. Within a few months, Parisi was cycling 50 miles a week with her teammates.
Just days before the Montauk ride, her determination took a new turn when she learned that her 70-year-old father had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. "Dad was my strength," said Parisi. "I took on the century with even more drive to cross the finish line and with a renewed conviction that cancer had to be beaten."
Since completing that first century, Parisi has gone on to ride four more, raising $10,000 to help the Society's mission: Cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. She's already in training with TNT for the 2006 season.
"I didn't choose to have cancer," said Parisi, "but I choose to ride with this remarkable team. TNT brought back the best of my physical abilities. It's a thrilling, team-focused accomplishment. If I can do it, anybody can."
For more information about Team In Training, please visit www.teamintraining.org or call your local Society chapter.