Since the day last year that she learned she had cancer, Kristen Adelman has been in training, keeping her muscles healthy, maintaining her faith in God, watching her diet, putting one foot in front of the other.
As a triathlete, it is her winning formula, her reservoir of strength. As a patient, the regimen has sustained her through rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatments and a stem cell transplant. It is what she believes will get her through a bone marrow transplant two weeks from now.
But tomorrow the sixth-grade teacher from Elkridge will participate in a highly visible, deeply unorthodox treatment. Along a stretch of Fulton Avenue in Baltimore, with the cheers of her students and friends filling her ears, Adelman will carry the Olympic flame.
"When I'm on my bike or running, that's my medicine," says the 30-year-old with the shining dark brown eyes. "I am thankful I am able to do this."
Adelman is one of 11,500 people helping to carry the flame across the United States to Salt Lake City, where it will light the caldron Feb. 8 to mark the start of the 2002 Winter Games.
The flame, lighted in Greece last month and flown to Atlanta three weeks ago, is traveling 13,500 miles through 46 states, carried by walkers, runners, kayakers, a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and volunteers on horseback.
Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong already has pedaled it along the streets of Austin, Texas, his hometown. In Lake Placid, N.Y., the site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, the torch will light up the sky as it speeds down a ski jump. Here in Baltimore, it will be skated around the ice rink at the Inner Harbor.
Other than the obligatory celebrities-- retired football stars, network TV anchors, former Olympic greats -- most of the torchbearers are regular folks, nominated by friends and relatives, selected by Olympic organizers and the sponsors of the relay. Locally, the roster is filled with people who have made acts of kindness and courage part of their daily lives: a blind cross-country runner, an AIDS activist, a retired Navy officer.
When Adelman got the word this fall that she had been selected, it was only runner-up in the good news department. Hours earlier she had learned that Jeff, her only brother, was a perfect match for a bone marrow transplant.
"After all the bad news ... it just blew me away," she says. "And to have two pieces of good news in the same day just proves that you have to get up and keep going because you never know what tomorrow might bring."
The tidal wave of bad news started at the end of the school year last year. Adelman felt horrible and didn't know why. Doctors thought she had allergies.
Then her torso ballooned.
"From the waist up, I looked like Jabba the Hutt," she says, laughing.
Rushed to the emergency room and X-rayed, Adelman learned she had non-Hodgkins lymphoma. A tumor nearly the size of her fist was growing in her chest, squeezing everything in its way.
Doctors started the first of six rounds of chemotherapy, "but before they could finish, the tumor started growing again," she says.
They infused her with her own stem cells and pounded her with a month of radiation treatment.
Still, Adelman wasn't idle. During that time she did the Marine Corps Marathon, a half-marathon and a 150-mile bicycling fund-raiser for multiple sclerosis.
"I was starting to feel great," she recalls. "Then July 16, I had my six-month checkup. I thought going was a waste of time."
But instead of good news, she was told the cancer was back -- in her kidney, her lung, her chest.
"I couldn't believe it. Stem cell is a pretty major treatment and it didn't work," she says. "They were talking high-dose radiation right away. I was thinking, `I can't do this twice. I put in my time, I was a good sport, I stayed positive.' It took me two weeks to get myself together."
Equally devastating was the fact that Adelman would be unable to return to her students at St. Augustine's School in Elkridge.
"They are my joy and my life," she says. "They give me energy."
Adelman turned to her faith and took strength from a poem, "A Bend in the Road," that ends:
So rest and relax and grow stronger, Let go and let God share your load. Your work is not finished or ended, You've just come to a bend in the road.
"I told myself, `If this is from God, I can deal with it,' " she says. "It didn't make it any easier, but I've never quit anything."
She began training for a bone marrow transplant the way she would a marathon. Her doctors began looking for a donor match.
When her insurance company told her it wouldn't pay for the procedure, Adelman thought she was finished before she started.
Then her church rallied behind her, and suddenly Adelman could see beyond the bend in the road.
"We told her, `You just worry about getting well. If there's a bill to pay, we'll pay it,'" says the Rev. Gerry Bowen of St. Augustine's Catholic Church. "This was a situation where it's not only a parishioner and a human being but a young and vibrant teacher."