The 56 year-old retired U.S. Coast Guard officer wanted to experience one of the country's most beautiful wonders and, even more importantly, help The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society cure the kind of blood cancer that took the life of his wife, Linda. So he joined the Society's Team in Training (TNT), the world's largest endurance sports training program. In just four months, he was ready for the 100-mile annual event.
"TNT gave me the support and encouragement I needed to achieve a personal milestone and raise funds for blood cancer research," said Wojtanik, who is remarried and now lives in Fayetteville, NC. "I was not an athlete or a fundraiser when I began, but I become one after I started, thanks to Team In Training."
Wojtanik's quest to do something to help cure leukemia began shortly after his wife's death in 2005. Linda, who had been suffering for several years from another blood disorder called myelofibrosis, checked into the hospital complaining of severe flu-like symptoms on a Friday. She was dead by Saturday. The cause: acute leukemia, probably resulting from the myelofibrosis, said Wojtanik.
"We were shocked," he added. "Doctors couldn't control the disease. It was so fast."
Devastated by their loss, Wojtanik's youngest daughter, Robin, and her future husband, Mark Bunch, joined Team In Training. Their goal was to run in a major marathon and raise critically needed funds for blood cancer research and patient services. The couple completed the popular P.F. Chang's Rock 'n' Roll ArizonaTM Marathon in flying colors and raised a total of $10,000! Soon, Wojtanik wanted to join.
Team In Training participants come from all walks of life -- from novice to seasoned athlete. Many begin their athletic journey as "couch potatoes" who want to get in shape, triumph over a challenge and meet other motivated people. Some, like Wojtanik, dedicate their time and energy in honor of a friend or loved one who has battled blood cancer. Still others are cancer survivors who want to prove that they have the physical and mental stamina to run or walk a marathon or half marathon, pedal a 100-mile bike ride or compete in a triathlon.
For four to five months, the athletes train with certified coaches who prepare them for their specific event. They attend local clinics on nutrition, technique, injury prevention, event-day strategy and fundraising skills, and they build friendships with others on their team. Cheering them along, from training to competition, is a group of special motivators known as honored teammates, local blood cancer patients.
In return for the training, TNT racers agree to raise money to help the Society meet its mission: cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families. The Society provides participants the various tools, strategies and support needed to attain their fundraising goals.
"I amazed myself," Wojtanik said. "I started out slow, but I built up. By the end of training, I was riding 150 to 200 miles a week. I was also ahead of my fundraising goals."
Event day was glorious: the sun shimmered, the water sparkled and Wojtanik could see snow-capped mountains. As he approached the finish line and the crowd of cheering bystanders, Wojtanik said he could think of only one thing: "This one's for you, honey."
For more information about Team In Training or to register, please call (800) 482-TEAM or visit www.teamintraining.org