Thirty-four-year-old Allyson Martin fell in with love with the sport of triathlon and its community back in 2016, and her love has only intensified over the years as that same community support helped pull her through 15 months of exhaustive breast cancer treatment.
Six years ago, Allyson joined a local triathlon club in Canberra after encouragement from her older sister. She embarked on journey through its novice programme and soon had a goal of completing an IRONMAN 70.3. By 2020, she’d completed three events and had signed up for her first IRONMAN Australia.
“I'd signed up for the 2020 IRONMAN Australia in Port Macquarie and decided I needed a bit of help swimming, I was coaching myself by that stage. I found a local club and a local coach in JT Multisport and went to get some swim technique lessons from them. I got along really well with them, so I joined their team and got proper coaching,” said Allyson.
“My coach suggested doing IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong in the lead up to IRONMAN Australia in 2020. I'd never done it before, so checked it out and I thought ok yep, seems like a pretty cool course. I went down and did the race in Feb 2020, which was exciting, that was sort of right at the beginning of COVID and before what would become the rest of my year.”
Riding a high after successfully completing her third IRONMAN 70.3, Allyson’s day came to a sombre conclusion after discovering a lump in her breast that evening. Conscientious but by no means expecting the worst, Allyson went to the doctors to get the lump checked out.
“I just happened to feel a lump in my breast, I didn't do regular breast exams so it was just an accident, and I thought I better get that checked out, I didn't ever suspect it would be cancer,” said Allyson.
“I thought it might be a cyst or something pretty benign. I was feeling pretty self-congratulatory that I went to the doctor after I got back from Geelong and she said oh yeah I can feel that, probably nothing but we'll get some imaging, which was very lucky because I know that's not always the story for people who are in their early thirties.”
Over the next couple of weeks she had an ultrasound, multiple scans, and a biopsy, which ultimately confirmed that she had an aggressive type of stage two breast cancer. After that, Allyson says things snowballed pretty quickly.
“I found out that it was cancer on the Thursday, met with the surgeon on the Friday, and then the following Friday I went into surgery and had a mastectomy,” said Allyson. “The week I was diagnosed was also when COVID started becoming a really big thing and we all started going into lockdown, so trying to deal with all of that was a lot.”
Following her mastectomy, Allyson spent a week in hospital by herself before rolling onto the next stage of her treatment, six months of chemotherapy, at the beginning of May. Allyson described the chemotherapy as horrible but throughout everything, she was determined to maintain an active lifestyle and so continued training with her triathlon club. As she was now immunocompromised, she was unable to swim, and running eventually become too difficult, but nonetheless, she continued to show up and walk alongside others in her club that were going through rehab for different reasons.
“I very much wanted to stay active and one of the things my oncologist told me was that being active really helps you manage side-effects, which are pretty horrible, so I kept going to training,” said Allyson.
“I kept going to run squad and I kept riding where I could. As treatment progressed, I got more and more tired and fatigued. But I kept going to training and I'd do a lot of run-walking. My club was really supportive. They thought it was great and at training there were a lot of people in return to run programmes coming back from injury, so we did a lot of walking together, that was quite nice. Otherwise, they were really supportive.”
After chemotherapy came radiotherapy, followed by immunotherapy and eventually hormone therapy.
With so much going in her life, including living through a global pandemic, Allyson went about controlling the controllables in her life to help get her through.
“I found it quite challenging but in any sort of situation like this there's a lot of things that are out of your control, obviously it's very upsetting and I'm not trying to downplay it, it was pretty horrible, but at the end of the day, I wanted to hold on to my sense of self and part of that is triathlon and being active,” said Allyson. “I couldn't control things around COVID, and I couldn't really control much around my treatment but some of the things I could control were getting out of bed and going to training, even if that meant walking.”
“Continuing to be a part of that community and leaning on those people who were willing to provide support and were happy to do that, doing the things I could do, these were positive things that I enjoyed, it helped me get through the hard times, because I had these things to look forward to.”
Allyson never lost her desire to race again and once given clearance from her oncologist to properly start training again after finishing radiotherapy, she signed up for a return to IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong, taking place on 20 February.
As she had planned back in 2020, Allyson has also signed up for IRONMAN Australia, which she’ll aim to complete in May this year. Allyson will continue hormone therapy for the next five years but is now in remission and says she will keep exercising to help manage the ongoing side-effects of her medication. But continuing to train for and race in triathlons is about more than just exercise, it’s about being part of something bigger, being part of a community that supports each other through thick and thin.
“I think triathlon was probably the first community I’d experienced where it's sort of an individual sport but also a team sport, and there's a really supportive environment. I've never found anyone who has ever been anything but encouraging and in a really genuine way,” said Allyson.
Completing IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong on Sunday 20 February will be a reflection of the obstacles Allyson has overcome over the past two years.
“Despite all those setbacks and the things that have happened, I can still work toward 70.3's and especially Geelong,” said Allyson. “I’m really just grateful to be a survivor and come out the other end of something like that and still be able to continue training and racing, despite the setbacks and some of the ongoing challenges.”
For more information about IRONMAN 70.3 Geelong visit: https://www.ironman.com/im703-geelong