Health & Fitness

Neither chemo nor head injury stops these triathletes

Cancer survivor: Fernanda Golod of Coral Spring, who had six rounds of chemo for leukemia, plans to compete in the Escape to Miami Triathlon Sunday.
Cancer survivor: Fernanda Golod of Coral Spring, who had six rounds of chemo for leukemia, plans to compete in the Escape to Miami Triathlon Sunday. FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

Fernanda Golod stands on the banks of Biscayne Bay, watching a white boat about a quarter mile offshore. Her mission: Swim to it and back.

Slowly, she works her way to the water’s edge with her trainer, Diane Callaway.

“I am a little scared of the water,” she acknowledges. “I’m not a good swimmer. I’m a good runner and a good cyclist, but I’m not a good swimmer.”

About 12 minutes later, the 49-year-old returns to shore.

“This means life for me,” says Golod, of Coral Springs. “This means I’m cured and I can do it. It feels amazing.”

Golod registered for the Mack Cycle Escape to Miami Triathlon on June 25 — the day after she finished six rounds of chemo for leukemia. Her first treatment was in February.

Golod is one of several triathletes overcoming difficult medical conditions to compete in the swim-bike-run event, to be held Sunday from Margaret Pace Park near 17th Street and Biscayne Bay in Miami. The event, which will include more than 2,000 athletes, will feature two triathlon distances — the Sprint (0.25-mile swim, 13-mile bike course and 3.1-mile run) and the Olympic (0.9-mile swim, 24.8-mile bike course and 6.2-mile run.)

“This event is filled with countless inspiring stories as taking on the challenge of completing a triathlon comes easy to no one,” said Javier Sanchez, race director.

Isis Gonzalez knows.

She fell from a fourth-story balcony in 2000 while in Cancun, Mexico. She landed on her head; the doctors gave her a 10-percent chance of survival.

She proved them wrong.

“I want to prove to myself that I can do it,” said Gonzalez, 44, from Kendall, who has been training for the past 12 weeks, with the aid of a training book and a friend.

Both women are competing in the shorter Sprint distance.

Gonzalez says she’s not trying to best the competition.

“I want to finish it, I don’t want to win it,” she says. “I want to know I can do it. If we think positive, if we have goals in life, we can do anything.”

The positive nature that both these women embody is contagious to those around them.

Golod’s trainer says she is “so darn determined” and often harder on herself than anyone else.

“And that’s not because I am not hard on my athletes — it’s because she’s driven internally. She’s very self- motivated,” said Calloway, who runs TriDi, Multisport Training. “She wants this really, really bad, and when you want something so bad, you just keep going and going.”

While undergoing treatment, Golod, who had run three triathlons, four full marathons, and 30 half-marathons prior to chemo, would think back to her racing days. She remembered a training shirt worn by marathoners and half marathoners training with Leukemia & Lymphoma’s Team In Training.

The shirt said: “Think running a marathon is tough? Try chemotherapy.”

“I remember being in bed when I was feeling horrible, thinking of that shirt,” said Golod, a running coach for the leukemia training group.

She also thought to herself: “I would give anything to run a marathon.”

Now, Golod is slated to run a mix of half and full marathons from October to April — races throughout Florida, along with New York and North Carolina.

“For me running means being healthy, it means going back to normal,” Golod said. “If I don’t run, I don’t feel like I’m living.”

For Gonzalez, recovering from her accident took years, as her eyesight and hearing were affected by the multi-story fall. She had to learn how to walk with a normal gait again.

Gonzalez’s accident occurred when she and her then-boyfriend Horst Rebing — who had been dating about six month — were taking a photo on a balcony in Cancun. The balcony collapsed from under them.

The physical and emotional recovery was very difficult.

“I saw myself without hair on my head, and it looked like a map of South America,” Gonzalez says now. “I couldn’t recognize myself, but I kept thinking, ‘I’m going to be make it, I’m going to be fine.’ 

By 2003, she and Rebing got married. They moved to Germany together before settling in South Florida in 2007.

“She’s more beautiful now than ever,” said Rebing, 44. “I always tell her she’s my hero. She inspires me every day to be happy and do things I don’t think I can do. She loves life and has been able to live in different parts of the world. She learns new languages. I’m very proud of her.”

When Gonzalez crosses the finish line, Rebing will be waiting for her, along with family members and friends. Same goes for Golod, who will have her brother in the race with her.

“I am doing this because of her,” said Sebastian Golod, 41, before hugging his older sister. “We have been together our whole lives and we have a very close relationship, she’s like my mother.”

He added that the pair will celebrate together once the race is over.

“If I can finish the water,” she jokes, before glancing out at Biscayne Bay again.

If you go

What: 2015 Mack Cycle Escape to Miami Triathlon

When: 7 a.m. Sept. 20

Where: Margaret Pace Park, 1745 N. Bayshore Dr., Miami

Cost: $120 for the Sprint distance; $170 for the Olympic distance

To register, go to