It was eight hundred words, a short feature on a remarkable woman who was training for the Ironman World Championship while undergoing treatment for stage IV colon cancer. The article was wedged between a write-up for the JCC Labor Day 5K/10K Run and a reminder to replace your sports bras every year.
Little did I know those eight hundred words would dispose me to crash a Hawaiian vacation and quit my job to spend the next two and a half years writing a book.
It’s a funny thing, writing. You can plan projects and brainstorm ideas and dream about writing this or that, but more often than not, the best works are unexpected. They arrive unannounced, leaving you completely unaware that something great is about to happen. In those rare, beautiful cases, you don’t choose the story at all.
The story chooses you.
It was 2011. I was interviewing Teri Griege for an article in the FLEET FEET Flyer. We had planned on a simple, twenty-minute phone interview.
“You know, I was thinking…” she said when I called her. “Why don’t you come with me to my last chemo treatment before Kona? You can see what this cancer business is all about.”
Several days later, I was at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital. As I followed Teri through a labyrinth of hallways, down an assembly line of weigh-in stations where nurses checked her vitals; as I watched nurses prick her forearms and strap monitors to her chest while she asked them how their families were, if they were still exercising, if they had spent the weekend outside; as I witnessed her passion to inspire others to persevere despite setbacks—whether physical, mental, or emotional—knowing she herself had suffered from two decades of alcoholism and multiple stints in rehab; as I listened to her self-effacing references to eighty-mile bike rides and twenty-mile runs even as chemo pumped through her veins; as I watched the graceful reconciliation of two bodies—an elite athlete and a cancer patient—in a single, exceptional person, I began to sense I was stepping into something special.
“I wish I could cover your race in Hawaii,” I said as we walked through the parking lot at Siteman.
“Oh, that would be awesome. You should!” Teri said. She meant it. I could see her mind churning with possibilities.
It was a pipe dream. But somehow, two weeks later, I was on a plane to Kona.
I spent nine days on the Big Island, bunking with Teri’s mom, two sisters, and sisters-in-law, none of whom I had ever met. For nine days, I followed Teri around as she prepared for the race and fulfilled her duties as an NBC Ironman featured athlete. No, eight hundred words was not going to be enough to tell her story. A magazine article wouldn’t be enough. Heck, a whole magazine wouldn’t be enough.
I would need a book.
After we returned to St. Louis, I proposed the idea to Teri and her husband, Dave. I contacted my agent. A few months later, we signed a contract. It was official. I began work on book number two. My first book hadn’t even launched yet.
The great stories sneak up on you like that.
Writing Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story has been one of the greatest honors I have ever been given. I will never be able to adequately express how thrilled I am to announce that it has finally—finally!—launched. It is like the final steps of an ultramarathon: having poured out your heart and body along the course, you are overwhelmed by the finish line. You can do nothing but shed quiet tears of joy and contentment. And I am so excited to share this moment with you.
Recently, while searching my email for some random information I needed for a book signing, I happened upon a conversation I had with a friend the afternoon of that fateful visit to Siteman Cancer Center way back in 2011.
Little did I know then.
Me: Did I tell you anything about the article I'm writing on the woman who is doing the Ironman with stage 4 cancer?
T: Yes, you did.
Me: Okay. So I'm working on a big feature article I want to submit to some major publications. I've done some follow-up interviews with Teri. I went with her to her last chemo treatment before her race in Kona. It's amazing. We want to go big with this. I promised her I'd help share her story… We want to write an article and hit mainstream somehow. So I'm just gonna go for it. See what happens.
T: What's the strategy for gettin' it mainstream?
Me: Groveling. :) And I'll be submitting the article to triathlon publications as well as mainstream magazines. We have no idea what will happen. But she is dynamic and engaging and amazing.
T: That's cool.
Me: It's crazy.
T: Someone will pick it up. That story is amazing.
Me: It is. And it's a long shot, but I may be planning a last minute trip to Hawaii to cover the race. I'd leave in 2 weeks.
T: Wow, that would be awesome. Which island?
Me: Kona—the Big Island. So... I don't know. I'm just trying to figure out if it's practical. I've got a super-tight budget. I will probably be sleeping on the floor of a stranger's hotel room. For real!
T: Don’t do that!
Me: Not a total stranger. Teri is checking to see if any of the people she knows going down wouldn't mind a nomadic traveler sleeping on a cot in their room… Realistically, I would say the chances of me going… are slim. Unless I finagle a crazy cheap deal. We'll see, I guess.
T: Well, I hope it works out.
Me: Me, too.
Meet Teri Griege and author Amy L. Marxkors as they launch Powered By Hope: The Teri Griege Story! Be inspired—and get your book signed—at three FLEET FEET Powered By Hope launch parties!