Updated: May 16, 2020
By Nicole Mancini
Originally published in Crabbies, Jellies, and Iron by Susan DiPlacido.
Nicole Mancini has always loved running. She has found memories of her dad taking her to the track where she would ride her bike as he would run. Then, as she took it up, it always helped her clear her head. In 2015 she did her first 5K, and while there she noticed Athletes Serving Athletes, which is a non-profit that empowers those with disabilities to compete in mainstream running, and, at the time, triathlon events (ASA has since limited their scope to running events.) Nicole was impressed and intrigued.
Thus, began her athletic and helping hot streak. She signed up to become a running wingman and began with 5K events. Meanwhile, she watched as some of her teammates trained for wingman positions in triathlons. Nicole didn’t even know how to swim. But something that silly wouldn’t stop her. She started swimming at the Y and attended ASA’s triathlon camp while competing on the run portion in a sprint tri in 2016.
She watched as the founder of the group trained for Ironman Boulder with an athlete, and Nicole thought it was a great gift. She did her first Olympic and half distance in 2017 and was ready to sign up for her first 140.6.
On December 21, 2017, Nicole was officially diagnosed with invasive early stage breast cancer. She had already endured numerous scans, tests, and mammograms to get to the diagnosis. Hormone therapy began the next day and she underwent surgery on February 28, 2018. She had a double mastectomy and her hormone therapy is still ongoing. In May of 2018 she raced Chattanooga, 70.3.
In 2019, she also raced Eagleman and Atlantic City 70.3 just two weeks prior to IMMD. Though she has a small circle of supportive training friends, the long demanding training hours made her husband and 11-year-old son think she was a little nuts, and the schedule was a bit frustrating for the family at times.
But she needed to do this race. Cancer is chaotic, and she wanted the structure and routine of training, . She had been drained of her spark and passion, and she was looking to reignite that!
She wanted to find herself again.
Training was particularly hard on Nicole’s body. She also battled a possible Lyme disease scare and enlarged heart. She was often sick, her hair fell out, her joints ached, she suffered night sweats, and insomnia, heart palpitations, and drastic mood swings that further exasperated tensions in her home.
But she persevered and kept on going. She had to take some days off, but she didn’t quit.
The jellyfish were a concern for her, because she’s been stung before and reacted very badly. In fact, she cried on the morning of the race. But if everything else didn’t stop her, jellyfish weren’t going to either.
She suffered multiple stings, had to reapply cortisone several times along the way and her feet got swollen and purple. All through the run, painful blisters continued to worsen. She promised herself should would never do another Ironman again.
Team 360 which is an organization similar to ASA was manning the aid station at the bypass. Nicole knew several people there and their hugs and cheers, along with pictures of their athletes, were just the inspiration Nicole needed.
Quitting wasn’t an option. She had to do this to show others that it is possible. She wanted to inspire someone else, to give her friends who are struggling in chemo something to look forward to. To prove to others that they’re capable of so much more than they think.
It was her 1 year and 7-months cancer free anniversary. She made it through that. She had been looking to reignite her spark. Something must have sparked in her that day because she set that race on fir and successfully crossed the finish line. She didn’t just find herself at the end, she found an Ironman. And plenty of others have found something else through her: Inspiration.