UPDATE: 3/6/15: Cindy’s Back Again Competing in the Iditarod!
By Stacey Gualandi/March 20,2013
On March 3rd, 54-year-old Cindy Abbott set out to be the first woman to complete the over 1,000-mile Iditarod after having already reached the summit of Mt. Everest, all while living with vasculitis, a rare incurable disease. I interviewed Cindy recently about her determination to take on this difficult challenge. Checking back with Cindy to find out how she did, I just learned that twenty miles after the start, she fractured her groin but managed to stay in the race for ten days.
“If it weren’t for me losing my ability to function at a level that I was thought was safe, I would have kept going…” Cindy Abbott
While this wife and mom didn’t make it to the finish, she did finish what she set out to do: raise awareness about her disorder, and show what you can accomplish when you set your mind to something…
EYE: How are you doing after that exhausting race?
CINDY: Physically I don’t know yet. I’m going to the orthopedic surgeon and am waiting to find out if I need surgery. I’ve seen the x-ray of my pelvis and I have a fracture. I kept mashing the bones together because I kept racing. I injured it about 20 miles after the start!! I was using my body as an anchor to get my team on course.
I knew I had hurt myself. I couldn’t move my right leg. The pain was really really intense. I thought I might have to scratch at the first checkpoint! But I managed to go another 30 miles to stop for a longer checkpoint break to assess the damage.
EYE: How far did you get?
CINDY: On my own, I got roughly 630 miles in ten days. Everyone was taking longer because it was really rough trail conditions this year. So I would have probably finished in 14 days if my pace had continued.
EYE: When did you realize you might not be able to continue?
CINDY: Near my last checkpoint, I had to take my team into the deep powder and that took a long time. I think that was the beginning of the end. It twisted my leg and pelvis so bad. When I got to my last checkpoint, I could not stand up the pain was so severe, so I ended up doing all my dog chores on my knees.
I was literally trembling from the pain. The last run I did was harder than normal; the wind was blowing these hard crusty drifts onto the trail. My team was really tired. I never would have stopped just for me, but I stopped for my dog team. They, I think, also picked up on the fact that I was in pain and so they never rallied.
“I was hypothermic but still wanted to run my dogs.”
I was out for 28 hours and only had gone 50 miles, and I was shutting down. It should only have taken 10-11 hours. By then, two snow machines and a medical worker came to check on me because they realized that something was not right. I was hypothermic but still wanted to run my dogs. But by accepting the medical help, I essentially scratched from the race. I didn’t think I was safe to be taking a dog team out.
EYE: Was it everything you imagined?
CINDY: The trail conditions were worse than I imagined. The Race Marshall told me it was an extremely difficult year because of the weather and that he was proud of all the decisions I made. I took every leg one at a time and dealt with everything that I had to at that time.
If it weren’t for me losing my ability to function at a level that I was thought was safe, I would have kept going because the dogs were fine and just needed a rest.
“I had a fantastic time and a great experience that almost no one in the world gets to do.”
EYE: How are you feeling about that? Does this make you more determined to try again next year?
CINDY: I can’t do it. This was my one and only shot. My husband was beyond frantic. For a while, he didn’t know what was going on. It’s extremely expensive, and professionally I had to take a semester off from teaching.
Yes, this was my only chance and I have no regrets at all. I had a fantastic time and a great experience that almost no one in the world gets to do. And the fact that I didn’t finish; well, I did. I finished to the point of my finish line. I was 630 miles into the race considering I was injured 20 miles from the starting line!!
EYE: How about your vasculitis? Did it become a hindrance?
CINDY: I have some nerve damage to my fingers and toes. My boots were wet for three days! And I had some weight loss. I wouldn’t say I’m pleased that I didn’t get to the end in Nome, but to make it ten days in the race after thinking I would have to scratch at the first checkpoint, I’m pleased with that.
EYE: Is there one memory that will stick with you from this experience?
CINDY: My Baby Drool, who was a puppy last year and has been with me on all my races. It’s funny because the rest of the team were all laying down sleeping when I shut them down for the last time, but while I was laying on my sled, Baby Drool was sitting there for hours and hours looking at me wondering “what’s wrong Mom?”
He obviously knew something was wrong, and I thought that was so sweet. My Baby was worrying about me and instead of going to sleep he was watching over me. One of the last pictures I took on the race was Baby Drool looking at me from the front of the pack.
EYE: Well, you’ve made a friend for life and inspired so many! Congrats on your unbelievable accomplishment. Now get some rest!