Fitz Koehler is one of the world’s most prominent and compelling race announcers. She boldly fought breast cancer in 2019-2020 without missing any of the dozens of events on her calendar. The following is an excerpt from her new memoir available wherever books are sold. Signed copies available at Fitzness.com come with a bonus gift.
March 24, 2019. Sunday.
This was one of the most emotionally taxing days of my life. My alarm went off at 4:30 a.m., so I could get ready and head directly to the finish line of the Los Angeles Marathon. Since this race is a point-to-point course that takes our runners from Dodger Stadium to the Sea in Santa Monica, Rudy and I are separated at the beginning of the day. He works the start line alone and I wait for our initial athletes at the finish line. That’s because some athletes can complete the course before a car can get from start to finish. Our first finishers, by the way, are our speedster wheelchair athletes. The hand cyclists can crush 26.2 miles in a little over an hour, so we divide and conquer to ensure everyone gets a warm welcome. Putting on make- up and fixing my hair in the morning was harrowing. Hundreds of hairs were falling to the bathroom floor and I was falling apart. My insides were twisting while my heart was breaking. I was trying desperately to control my emotions because I didn’t want to have an ugly puffy face all day on my stage. But those efforts verged on futility. I was alone and I was melting down, all while telling myself I had to be a big girl and get myself to work. On a whim, I decided to document this experience on video, describing what it was like to have my hair fall out. Remember: I don’t like sadness. But for some reason, I chose to put some key moments on camera in case I wanted to share them down the road. The video I captured as I choked back the tears is still gut-wrenching to watch. You can find it on my social media channels @Fitzness.
I arrived at the finish line with a fake smile on my face, greeting fellow staff members and volunteers cheerfully. I’m sure they would have allowed me to cry on their shoulders had they known what was going on, but that wouldn’t have accomplished anything, and I had a job to do. A really fabulous job.
As the day went on, we had a really fun time welcoming in our athletes. We also had a really hard time because our windy beachfront stage, located about 10 feet up in the air, was soon covered with long blonde hair. It was coming out nonstop, and when I wasn’t being cheery on the microphone, I was sobbing on Rudy’s shoulder. It was devastating. Poor Rudy was working overtime to try and support me. When I was focused on our finish line, he was frantically sweeping piles of my hair off the stage so I wouldn’t see them. He was also trying to deflect my attention by dancing silly and telling lots of jokes. It was the most schizophrenic day ever. I was genuinely joyful when distracted by runners and genuinely heartbroken when I was off of the mic for even a few minutes. Fortunately, my sunglasses ensured nobody saw my tears or had any clue I was struggling.
At some point, my hair loss got so frustrating that I wanted to call a local stylist to just come and shave my head right there on the stage. It would have been wacky, but I was desperate to get it over with. The only thing that stopped me was the promise I made to Ginger that I wouldn’t cut it without her. Losing my hair was a real sore spot for her, because she really liked having our long blonde hair in common. Unlike most teen- age daughters who’d try to distance themselves from their mom, she was proud to be connected and that melted my heart. So I suffered through the experience and planned to deal with it when I returned home. At 3 p.m., our sound system was cut off and we were cut loose. I was certain that all 25,000 of our athletes went home with a beautiful medal and a single strand of Fitz hair.
Edited excerpt from My Noisy Cancer Comeback: Running at the Mouth, While Running for My Life. To follow Fitz on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook, please see @Fitzness. Her website is Fitzness.com .