PA amputee, cancer survivor to compete.
Dana Lawson doesn’t care what her time will be in the upcoming North Olympic Discovery Marathon on June 6.
She does want to finish, but even finishing isn’t her biggest goal.
Simply the journey of being able to compete and train is in itself her goal.
Competing in a marathon “is a lifelong dream of mine,” Lawson said.
And why not? The Port Angeles resident has already overcome monumental obstacles just to be able to dream about competing in the NODM.
Lawson is a survivor of domestic violence and several serious bouts of cancer. In fact, she still has a tumor in her hip that she will be competing with.
That tumor isn’t even her biggest challenge. She’ll be competing with one leg. And no prosthetic limb.
Lawson had her right leg amputated above the knee in 2008 due to her cancer.
Instead of using some kind of high-tech prosthetic to run the marathon, she will instead be relaying on her specially made forearm crutches called SideStix. SideStix were specifically developed beginning 20 years ago to aid the mobility of amputees.
“My hands are my feet; my wrists are my ankles,” she said.
Lawson said when she first received her forearm crutches, “the whole landscape of what I have access to changed. Running a marathon became a bigger possibility.”
Lawson said the high-tech crutches are very comfortable and don’t cause her blisters or pain in her arms. The one thing she is concerned about is using them for miles can make her wrists hurt because wrists have the least amount of muscle.
The longest race Lawson has ever done so far with her SideStix is a 5K. In fact, she recently finished a 5K race in Seattle called the St. Paddy’s Day Run.
Her training regimen involves going a certain distance on her crutches and then adding a mile to her distance every Saturday until she is able to build up to 20 miles in a day. As of last week, she had gotten up to a 4-mile out and back along the Olympic Discovery Trail for a total of 8 miles.
“I certainly hope I can make the finish line without a helicopter coming out to find me,” she said.
Lawson said she just completed two years of chemo for her hip and pelvic cancer, which reduced the size of the tumor by 30 percent, giving her the mobility to allow her to be able to train and compete in the marathon.
“I made a decision with the cancer that we’re going to ride this out together,” she said. She’s taking a break from the chemo to “go on this crazy marathon adventure.” Even with the tumor shrunken down, she expects it will still cause her some mobility issues.
Lawson is not setting a goal to finish the marathon in a certain amount of time.
“What I am committed to is doing the best I can. Whatever happens is whatever happens,” Lawson said. “It’s not important whether I cross the finish line or not. I’ve already crossed the finish line so many times already.”
Lawson has a background in marine biology and environmental education and founded a group called Nature’s Academy, which helps Kindergarten through 12th-grade students learn about the natural world.
She’s using that background and her marathon quest to raise awareness and support for a new group she has founded called Unbounded Horizons, which takes a similar outdoors and nature-driven concept to help survivors of domestic violence heal. In addition to her long-running battle with cancer, she is a personal survivor of domestic violence.
“Olympic National Park is a massive therapeutic agent,” she said.
“This work is so incredibly important to me,” Lawson said. “As a survivor, an educator and a devotee of the outdoors, I truly believe that, by spending time in nature, we can rediscover the vastness of our potential. I started Unbounded Horizons to help other women do just that.”
“Life has thrown many obstacles into my path; my legacy will be that I’ve turned those obstacles into opportunities. My work now is empowering other survivors to see what life can look like on the other side of the pain, to trust in themselves once again, to strive to reach their own unbounded horizons.”
Donations to support Lawson’s run can be made via the Unbounded Horizons website — www.unboundedhorizons.org — and are fully tax-deductible. Unbounded Horizons is a program of Nature’s Academy, which is a 501(c) 3 nonprofit organization.
The North Olympic Discovery Marathon between Blyn and Port Angeles is expected to return this June after going virtual last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, though registrations for virtual races are also being taken. People can register for the race at www.runsignup.com/Race/WA/ PortAngeles/nodm.