Speed skater Talbot enters a bigger race

January 10, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE -- Olympic speed skater Kristen Talbot's sprint for glory is not as important as her brother's race for life.

It's no contest.

"No, no, it wasn't a tough decision," Talbot said. "I've said it over and over again. To me, his life is much more important than skating in the Olympics."

Talbot, 23, was competing in the U.S. Long Track Speedskating Team Trials this weekend, barely earning a third berth on the Olympic team and a right to compete in the 500-meter sprint race at the Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway, next month.

This morning, Talbot is on a plane to Baltimore, preparing for a nearly two-hour operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital that may help save her younger brother's life.

Jason Talbot, 19, has aplastic anemia, a rare and potentially fatal condition that attacks the bone marrow and slows production of red and white blood cells. Kristen Talbot will donate bone marrow to her brother tomorrow, increasing his chances of being cured to 80 percent. But also at risk is Kristen's chance to perform well in the Winter Games.

"The recovery depends a lot on individual variation," said Richard Ambinder, Jason's doctor at Johns Hopkins. "There will be some soreness, but blood loss is different from person to person.

"Any other normal kid, there would be no question that the recovery rate would be 80 to 90 percent by the date of the Winter Olympics," Ambinder said. "I would say, though, this surgery will have an effect on Kristen's training, and with her being on the cutting edge, it will definitely affect her, but I don't know how much."

Kristen Talbot finished 17th in the 500 meters in the 1992 Games in Albertville, France, and 25th at the 1988 Games in Calgary, Alberta.

But she says she is skating better than ever, except for recent distractions with Jason. Marrow testing caused her to miss 12 practice days before the trials.

"I'm still hoping to pull it off. I might be a little tired, but my goal is to break the top 10," Kristen Talbot said. "I'm not Bonnie Blair, and I don't have any gold-medal aspirations. It would take a miracle to medal, but that's OK. I just want to be among the best in the world."

Talbot expects to start training again next Monday in Milwaukee, but she does not know how much her practices will be curtailed.

The 500 sprint is scheduled for Feb. 19.

"Most bone marrow donors go back to desk jobs, and I'll be trying to go back to hard, physical training," Talbot said. "If I miss a week of training, it will be terrible. But if I'm not 100 percent before the Olympics, I'm going anyway."

Jason's condition was diagnosed Dec. 14 in his hometown of Schuylerville, N.Y. He had complained of headaches, but painkillers had only short-term effect.

On Dec. 13, Michele Talbot, his mother and a registered nurse, advised him to enter a hospital.

"One of the signs of this is shortness of breath, and Jason never exhibited that, maybe because he was an athlete and his body compensated for that," Michele said. "He did have some heart palpitations, and his heart was working overtime. He worked as a clerk at a beverage store, and by lifting those crates of soda, he could have had a heart attack with his chest pounding like that."

Ambinder said: "I think I would put his case in the severe classification."

Talbot's other brothers, Andrew, 3, and Matthew, 7, were considered suitable donors, but Kristen was judged the best because her good health makes her likely to recover quickly from the procedure.

According to Ambinder, there is a one-in-four chance that every sibling will be a matched donor, but only one-in-20,000 outside the family.

"The news hit all of us pretty hard. It changed our lives in a matter of seconds," Kristen said. "As soon as I heard the news, I left training in Milwaukee and went home. Even if I couldn't do anything for Jason, I just wanted to be with the family."

The Talbot clan always has been a family on ice, ever since grandfather Vern Green would flood his back yard in Saratoga, N.Y., with water and let it freeze for an ice rink.

Kristen Talbot started skating as soon as she could walk. Michele and husband Gary, a carpenter, were skaters, and so are their sons. Kristen says Jason, also a speed skater, would have been selected for the Olympic team if he had been healthy. That's one of the reasons Kristen wants to keep skating after the transplant. She is skating for both of them.

"It might make him feel good to see me on TV," Kristen said of Jason, who had his fourth day of chemotherapy yesterday. "We both love speed skating. It's something we share."

It also another reason why she was distracted this weekend at the trials, barely making the team with a time of 41.74 seconds.

"It was a so-so performance, but it's been a tough couple of weeks and I'm relieved to get this weekend over," Kristen said.

"When we were little, we had our little sibling rivalry. He would always take clothes out of my closet, or stuff like that, and I picked on him a lot. But from that you learn life is more important than anything else -- anything, including the Olympics."

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