Sweet 15: Cape Elizabeth cancer survivor keeps Beach to Beacon streak alive
CAPE ELIZABETH — It was August 1998 and Michele Flynn had never run a race in her life.
The weather was gorgeous as the sound of 2,500 pairs of feet beat against the pavement along Shore Road, leading to Fort Williams Park and Portland Head Light. Her six months of training helped push her through the fatigue of the inaugural People's Beach to Beacon 10k road race.
She finished in an hour, and was hooked.
In fact, Flynn, 63, has now run dozens of races, including every Beach to Beacon since its inception. She is now training for the 15th annual TD Beach to Beacon on Saturday, Aug. 4.
"My best time was 53 minutes, but I was younger then," Flynn said at her home in Cape Elizabeth. "My goal this year is to finish in about an hour."
Flynn takes a two-pronged approach to training for the race: running about 35 miles per week with a group, and lifting weights with a personal trainer.
"Running alone is not enough, I learned," she said. "I find lifting weights is as important as running."
Over the last 15 years, Flynn has run all kinds of races, but one Beach to Beacon stands out above the rest as unforgettable.
In February 2004, Flynn was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a devastating blow to her, her husband and two daughters. She underwent surgery that March and began chemotherapy treatments in April. Through all of it, she remained determined to run the Beach to Beacon.
Over the next few months, Flynn sat through rounds of draining and sickening chemotherapy – but she kept training, although on a slightly less regular basis.
"Running was my reward," she said.
A day before the race, Flynn was scheduled to go in for her last chemotherapy appointment, but knew if she went, she would be too sick to run the race.
"The doctor was not in favor of letting her run the race," said Flynn's husband, Bob, who also runs the Beach to Beacon. "But running was so important to her."
Flynn, determined to race, convinced the doctor to postpone the final treatment.
"I wasn't going to let cancer or chemo prevent me from doing it," she said.
The following day, Flynn made it to the starting line, and so did her friends – all wearing T-shirts with her name on them to show their support.
"It was a very emotional day," she said, holding back tears even today.
As she crossed the finish line with her husband, running friend, and one of her two daughters in one hour and nine minutes after a gruelling race, she was embraced by Olympic gold medalist and Beach to Beacon co-founder Joan Benoit Samuelson.
"Crossing the finish line was an amazing moment," Flynn said. "It was an emotional day for everyone."
Since finishing that race and eventually becoming cancer-free, Flynn said she has learned the importance of eating correctly and taking care of her body.
It has also allowed her to continue running and building up a substantial collection of medals, race bibs, and of course, running shoes.
"It's what I like to spend my money on," she said.
"She has enough rubber in the closet to build a basketball court," her husband added.
Although she is involved in a number of cancer charities and fundraising activities, Flynn said she doesn't want cancer to define her.
"I still have to go to doctor's visits and mammograms; it's all still part of my life" she said. "One of changes I've realized is that you really can't take things for granted."