Champion triathlete in the midst of the battle of his life

Triathlete Tony Chimento
Several years ago, Tony Chimento of Huntington Beach, Calif., had a lot to be happy about. Besides having taken first at the Hemet century and Grand Tour double century, he turned in a respectable 3:10 at the Huntington Beach Shoreline marathon.

In addition, he traveled to Germany and Switzerland to represent the United States in the amateur long-course duathlon. He felt he was beginning to make a presence for himself in the sport.

But in the spring of 2000, something changed. Chimento, then 43, recalls he hadnt been feeling well since the beginning of the year. Having signed up for the inaugural California Ironman race to take place in May, the former U.S. Marine Corps captain and combat helicopter pilot began to feel frustrated that he couldnt keep up with his training schedule. He began to worry that what he was experiencing was more than burnout.

Chimento had been feeling pain in his chest for several weeks from what he thought was a pulled muscle while lifting luggage at the airport. As a marketing executive for an Orange County medical device company, he traveled frequently. He attributed the muscle pull and a burning stomach to job stress.

Having heard of triathletes that had suffered heart attacks, he decided to have his physician check out the chest pain. After a series of CAT scans and blood tests, Chimento returned to work to find a voice message from his doctor with the order to go directly to the emergency room.

When Chimento arrived with his wife Lorie of 19 years, the doctor delivered the devastating news — he had stage-four colon cancer — the worst stage — and it had spread to his bones, lungs and liver.

He remembers his initial reaction to the news as being very scared, not realizing what he was up against. While his doctor recommended quality of life and comfort, he wanted to be pushed and cured. He decided that he would have to tackle this cancer, immediately taking charge of his case by rescheduling 2 1/2 weeks of tests into a week.

But the hardest part, he says, "was that I couldnt find it in my heart to tell my friends.

Gradually, however, the word spread throughout the Southern California racing community. Friends responded overwhelmingly with calls, flowers and visits. A co-worker sent him a cookie bouquet, each the shape of a bike. He received a card of support from Lance Armstrong.

In the weeks following, life drastically changed from his former 30-hour-a-week training regimen of cycling the coast and running the trails of Orange County, to daily radiation and chemotherapy treatments at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach.

The Powerbars he used to carry in his fanny pack have been replaced by a powerful chemotherapy pouch, which is fed intravenously into his body 24 hours a day. The aches from his leg and shoulder muscles are relentless — not from the 300 miles a week cycling he used to log, but from the cancer attacking his bones.

July 2001 marked the first anniversary of his cancer diagnosis. Monthly cycling club board meetings have been replaced with weekly cancer support meetings, but he remains a member of Orange Coast Velo cycling cub in Huntington Beach.

Tonys enthusiasm and attention to detail not only attracted new members, says club President Jerry Wiencek, but earned him the nickname 'Stat man.'

Chimento had created an internal club race, Mad Dogs and Bad Dogs." He devised a system where all competitors earned points during the multi-day race, which included hills, sprints and time trials. After countless hours calculating the results, he awarded homemade trophies for stage winners, with the overall winner receiving a homemade trophy of a Great Dane, the top sprinter receiving a greyhound and the top climber receiving a St. Bernard.

Whatever Tony does, he gives 100 percent, triathlete Dan Willamson says. He remembers Chimento showing up at rides with detailed route slips, planned down to the tenth of a mile.

Williamson also has been a constant arm of support for Chimento, driving him to daytime medical appointments and outfitting him with a back brace from his medical supply company.

I couldnt do enough for a friend who was always looking out for others, Williamson says. "Hes a genuine person who loves to be around people and live life.

Chimento says the fight to beat this cancer is hard, but with the support and encouragement of his family and teammates, he prays one day he can win the battle. He says he dreams of the day when he can once again be at the starting line, ready to take on the competition.

If you'd like to send Chimento a word of support, you can contact him via mail at c/o Tony Chimento, PO Box 5794, Newport Beach, CA 92662

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