To paraphrase a sports adage, “It’s not about whether you win or lose, but how you run the race.”
Early in the morning of Aug. 17, Cascade resident Linda Fischer was one of 88 participants in the Cascade Hometown Days 5K. At 50 years of age, Fischer clocked 41:28 in the event and finished 73rd overall.
There was no cheering throng to greet her at the finish line, nor was a medal placed around her neck or a trophy placed in her hands. Yet while her form may not have been textbook and her time may not have turned heads, it was still a victory of gigantic proportions for Fischer. She had not only completed a race she was never expected to be able to run, but also a race she was not expected to live to see.
In 2013, Fischer was living and working in Manchester, and making frequent trips to Waterloo so her 17-year-old daughter, Cierra, could take lessons in Taekwondo. “I was working at Kwik Star and would work overnights, sometimes staying later in the morning to cover. I’d go home and sleep for two hours and I’d get up and go open (Breadeaux Pizza).”
Linda eventually began working out at the same gym as her daughter too lessons to pass the time. “I would work out and Cierra would do her Taekwondo. We’d get home, I’d shower and go to work. That’s how we lived our lives — It was go, go, go.”
Linda was getting precious little sleep, and trying to get any pick-me-up she could from energy drinks. It was a choice she looks back on with regret. “I know I had high blood pressure, but I had the energy drinks too.”
Her life changed Nov. 13, 2013. “Why I remember (the date) I don’t know,” Linda said. It was the last memory she would be clear on for quite some time.
After feeling “weird” while working out with a group, Linda excused herself. The gym owners told her she needed to go to the hospital, so they drove her to the hospital in Waterloo. “I don’t know what all happened there. I went in the bathroom and don’t remember anything after that.”
Linda suffered a massive stroke and was flown to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics.
“I was in intensive care for a month-and-a-half,” Linda said. While that time is mostly gray to her, she does recall one chilling detail. “I do know they told my kids that I wasn’t going to make it.”
Piecing together her time in Iowa City from what her children told her, at one point she began trying to pull out her IV’s and various tubes. It may have been the first instance of seeing her incredible determination to recover.
Linda was transferred from Iowa City to St. Luke’s in Cedar Rapids to begin her extensive rehabilitation. “I know I looked horrible,” Linda said. “It was pretty bad.”
She still has indentations in her skull where they drilled holes to relieve the pressure on her brain, and she had a feeding tube inserted until she could learn again how to swallow. “You start over. It’s a whole new thing,” Linda explained. “You have to learn how to walk, you have to learn how to talk.”
She said her family was at her side constantly in Iowa City, and that good friends visited her often during her extended stays in health care institutions. Of all her challenges in rehab, Linda said talking again has been the most difficult. “The speech was the hardest. Even now I don’t get stuff right.” She will sometimes struggle to come up with just the right word, and the pace of her speech is measured.
Linda once again displayed her grit during the six-days-a-week rehab schedule. “If they wanted five, I gave them 10. I wanted to get it,” she said. She knew that up until recently she could do certain things. “Having that just gone, it’s so hard.”
“Hard” was a word that would continue barging its way into Linda’s life. She felt something was wrong when she was in Cedar Rapids, but she focused on completing her rehab. Then in 2014, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was not a good candidate for chemotherapy because of the severity of her stroke, so after having cancer and some lymph nodes removed, she began radiation treatments.
“I walked a lot,” said Linda of her activity level. “In the summer I walked and in the dead of winter I walked — every day.” That came after doctors told her she should no longer participate in fitness classes. “But I could still walk,” Linda said.
She lived in Cascade and then back in Manchester during that time. It was after experiencing some difficulties working with food at Camp Courageous that she was transported to the hospital in Anamosa and then, to St. Luke’s, where it was determined she was having seizures.
Later, when coming home from Cedar Rapids, Linda’s car was struck broad-side by a truck and totaled. Luckily, says Linda, the truck hit the front fender of her vehicle and not her driver’s side door.
She was still determined to reach her goal of running in the annual Hometown Days 5K. “I had been running,” she said. “They said it was fine. I wanted to do the 5K because this is home.” She had previously completed a couple of breast cancer 5K races in Cedar Rapids, alternating running and walking. “I wanted to see if I could do it again,” she said.
Despite what she’s been through, Linda remains upbeat. She chuckled about beating Phil Kauder to where the race was scheduled to begin. Again, she was cognizant of her limitations and alternated running and walking. But her competitiveness was in championship form. “There were two girls ahead of me and I was trying to catch up or pass them. I almost had them down by Cascade Lumber,” she said.
“I finished it. There were times it was hard,” Linda said. “I don’t ever want to look at, ‘Oh, that’s too hard to do.’ I don’t want that. If I want to do it, I want to do it.”