Update on Dr. Ruth!
10/2/99

Cancer was tough enough to beat for Ruth Heidrich, but a big truck was tougher.

Ruth had entered 63 races in 1997 -- triathlons, runs, bike races, swims -- when she was 63. She was aiming for 64 the next year. And by April 22, 1998, Ruth had already done 20 -- including two on the previous weekend.

"I wanted to show that you can do more as you grow older," she says. "I was proof that you could."

And then she went on a training ride on her bike. She was coming down Harding Avenue in Kaimuki, not too far from her home in Honolulu. A truck drive was looking for 7th avenue and turned into her. The driver would say later, "I never saw you."

"You know how they say that your life flashes before just before you die?" Ruth asks. "As I was flying through the air, the future flashed before my eyes. I knew that my goal of competing in all these races was about to be gone. And at that point I was in the best physical condition of my life. It turned out to be worse than I thought. I fractured my left leg and right hip."

She began physical therapy as soon as she could. But progress came slowly. "The worst day," she says, "was last August when the doctor said I would never run again, much less race." So she did double physical therapy -- some that her health plan covered, some on her own.

Today, as Ruth says with a laugh: "I've got all these doctors shaking their heads." Ruth is back, competing again. She recently completed the Hickam Triathlon.

This wasn't the first time she had to bounce back. In 1982, while training for the Iron Triathlon, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "It was a shock -- I was the healthiest person I knew," Ruth says. "But I kept training. One of the doctors warnted me to stop: 'Lady, forget it, you're a cancer patient.'"

Ruth didn't listen. Instead, she turned to the diet espoused by Dr. John McDougall. "I changed my diet, became a strict vegetarian," she says. "My cholesterol when from 236 to 160 in 21 days. Eventually it got down to 127. And there were all these other benefits. I was running faster and enjoying it more." And she beat cancer: "It led to my philosophy: You can do anything you want."

She has become an internationally acclaimed author and lecturer, including a date at Cornell University this month.

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