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Woodbury cancer survivor tackles next challenge: triathlon

Racing alongside Kathy Leslie (far right) will be Team in Training members Bridgette Leslie, Matt Panaro, Jennifer Panaro, Allyson Leslie and Megan Leslie. Submitted photo

Kathy Leslie knows her future is uncertain.

Though the Woodbury resident's cancer went into remission less than six months after being diagnosed, it could come back at any time.

"I'm a ticking time bomb," she said. "I've got to know each day is a blessing."

Taking a new outlook following the June 2010 diagnosis of B-cell lymphoma - a type of blood cancer - Leslie said she's on a mission to wring out every last drop from life.

She plans to prove it in July when she competes in a triathlon with members of her family. The triathlon - a grueling event where participants run, cycle and swim - comes about 13 months after Leslie was first diagnosed.

"I feel very passionate about being physically able to do this," said Leslie, whose cancer has been in remission since October 2010.

Joining Leslie in the event will be her four oldest daughters and her son-in-law.

But she'll have more than just family in her court.

Leslie is participating in the race through the Team in Training initiative for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. As part of the deal, Leslie has committed to raising $12,500 for the organization.

So far, she's more than $10,000 toward that goal, which faces a June deadline. Since committing to raising the money, Leslie has sent out more than 500 letters requesting donations.

The response, she said, has been generous - and, at times, surprising.

"The notes I've gotten are just heartwarming," she said.

Competing as a survivor

The event will mark the second time she has competed in a triathlon. The first time was five years ago when one of her daughters asked her to join Team in Training.

Leslie raised $4,500 that first time and finished the triathlon with her daughter.

"I loved it," she said of the 2006 triathlon.

But she's never competed as a cancer survivor.

Leslie said the event represents an opportunity to restore something she's lost through the cancer battle. Once a regular blood donor, Leslie is now prohibited from donating since she has had cancer.

"I need to find something else that will fill that void," she said.

Raising money for a good cause helps accomplish that, Leslie said.

So do family-centered activities like the triathlon.

"It's special for me that the kids want to do it," she said.

Leslie has been training for the event by running and swimming - and now, with warmer temperatures finally emerging, will add cycling to the regimen. She's looking to shave several minutes off her 2006 time, and is confident she'll achieve it.

"I'm in way better shape than I was five years ago," Leslie said.

The Leslies will compete in what's considered a "short" triathlon. It involves a .4-mile swim, a 15-mile bike ride and a 5K run. The more strenuous version calls for a .9-mile swim, a 26-mile bike ride and a 10K run.

"To me, that's enough," Leslie said of the shorter version.

Besides, she said, just competing in the event with family will be enough of a celebration.

"It's fun to be able to keep up with them at my age - and after having been what I've been through," Leslie said.

Anyone interested in learning more about the fundraiser may email Leslie at

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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