Tim Norton had an uphill battle just to get to the start of Saturday’s Pikes Peak Cycling Hill Climb.
Four years ago, a serious accident during a triathlon required an arduous recovery. It turns out that was a false summit of sorts.
“I spent two years recovering from the injuries from that accident,” Norton said. “And basically, within months of that two-year period, I was diagnosed with cancer.”
It was Stage 3 breast cancer. Treatment included a double mastectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. He finished treatment roughly four months ago.
“I’m a male, breast cancer survivor,” Norton said. “But I prefer to say the world's male breast cancer ass-kicker.”
He got on a stationary bike a month ago, but Saturday’s 12.42-mile course with 4,725 feet of elevation gain was just his second outdoor ride in four years.
The first was last weekend.
“Grit and determination I guess,” Norton said after making it to the 14,115-foot summit in 2 hours, 5 minutes and 54.51 seconds. “I just wanted to beat cancer and come back and prove to myself and prove to others that cancer is not a death sentence, and it’s not (debilitating).”
Norton said he drew inspiration from family and friends who have battled cancer. He wrote “Jennie,” down one of his calves and “Kick cancer’s ass,” on the other.
“I thought of every cancer patient as I took every stroke on the pedals today. I thought about my family members I’ve lost to cancer. I thought about my sister who had cancer. I thought about all the patients I sat with. I thought about my dear friend Jennie that I just learned has cancer,” he said. “That’s what got me up the hill.”
Though “Ride for a cure,” was embroidered on his socks, it wasn’t the only cause he cycled for Saturday. Norton, a Marine Corps veteran, was one of a few riders wearing a Mission 2 Alpha racing suit. The organization lends varying degrees of support to veterans and first responders.
“We fill gaps that other charities can’t fill, the VA can’t fill,” said John Greenway, the founder of Mission 2 Alpha. “Lots of times there are special needs that no one is going to give funding for, and we’ll do that.”
Greenway says the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based charity has donated over $7 million. Mission 2 Alpha (www.mission2alpha.org) helped get one of the first exoskeletons in the United States and aided a Navy doctor who had to travel 100 miles to get chemotherapy in a car that had 160,000 miles on it and would sometimes break down mid-trip, forcing his wife to come get him.
“Just miserable, right? So we bought him a car,” Greenway said. “We just do whatever we have to do to make it better.”
Norton contributed long before he had his health scare and continued to do so Saturday.
“I just wanted to represent my team in the best way I possibly could today,” he said.
Mission accomplished, according to the founder.
“Four months ago, he had radiation burns so bad on him, he had second-degree burns,” Greenway said after also completing the race.
“I mean, this guy, he is a machine and passionate about the cause. When he was sick, his thoughts were constantly ‘I have to get well so I can get back and help.’ That’s the way his mind works.”
Despite his short time back on the bike, Norton was aiming for a podium finish Saturday. He immediately noticed the lack of available oxygen compared to Scottsdale and eventually recalibrated his ambitions to getting up the mountain without stopping.
“Most importantly I didn’t want to stop,” he said. “There’s a lot of moments where you wanted to put a foot down and I didn’t put a foot down.”
He ended up fifth in his age group, and if his success was in question, it shouldn’t have been once he got back down to the start line and shared long, emotional embraces with Mission 2 Alpha teammates.
“As I was telling my dear friends, the last four years I have not been emotional or cried about this at all. Frankly, I was raised by a Marine colonel, and one of the things he always said was ‘It’s OK for a man to show his emotions,’ but I never really had that, but when I got back to my dear friends who have been through this journey with me, It’s overwhelming,” Norton said, lips quivering.
“It’s good emotions.”
As intimidating as Pikes Peak might be, the road there was daunting in its own right.
“I just got on a bike 30 days ago, and my team was signing up for this event, which was one of the biggest hills to climb,” Norton said. “I thought ‘Well, you know what, I’ve already climbed some of the biggest mountains, so why not go climb this one.’”
Coloradans sweep pro races
Boulder’s Margot Cline couldn’t quite break her own record, but she was the top woman, finishing in 1:31:56.77. In 2017, she set the course record in 1:25:11.99.
On the men’s side, Kip Taylor, of Fort Collins, finished in 1:10:46.67. Taylor finished two minutes ahead of second place and just over two minutes behind the men’s course record, set by LeRoy Popowski of Colorado Springs.