As a running coach, I’ve taught many runners many things – about running and life. I’m incredibly proud of the work that I’ve done and extremely proud of each and every one of the athletes I’ve coached.

However, at any given moment, I’m not the only one doing the teaching – my athletes have also taught me many things – about running and life. When I stop to really take inventory of what I’ve learned from my athletes, one person in particular stands out as my most significant student/teacher – Isaedmarie (Isa) Febo.

Isa’s Story11180624_10203152208446366_2814751061228932882_n

When I first started working with Isa, she seemed timid and gentle but I wasn’t fooled – there’s something I can sense in people, a hidden strength that they already possess but don’t quite “own” yet. I wondered how long before Isa would embrace and own the strength she had inside her. Turns out, it didn’t take long.

The very first group workout of mine that Isa attended, I watched her across the parking lot as she repeatedly hit a tractor tire with a sledge hammer as if she was scared the tire was gonna jump up and bite her. I walked over to her and – in no uncertain terms – told her to “HIT THE TIRE”. She looked me in the eyes and, in that moment, I saw something inside her shift. She turned away and hit that tire like she really meant it, over and over and over. That day, she changed – she flipped the switch and began to truly own her strength…and she never looked back.

In the year that followed, I was at Isa’s side for many miles. I’ve witnessed firsthand her perseverance despite all obstacles – real or perceived – in her way. I’ve watched her face discomfort and doubt, sporting her signature smile as she relentlessly trudged on. Whenever she had a job to do, she always managed to find the strength inside herself to get it done.

This quality she possesses is what caused me to nickname her “Unstoppable Isa” – a title she has proved time and time again to be extremely deserving of. And that continued to be the case when, earlier this year, her life unexpectedly and abruptly took a sharp and dramatic turn.

A New Challenge Ahead

Seconds after receiving the news of Isa’s Stage III Breast Cancer diagnosis earlier this year (just a few weeks shy of her 29th birthday), I immediately drove to her house to see her. When I got there, she looked me squarely in the eyes – with the same look I’d seen in the parking lot a year earlier – and said words that’ll echo in my ears for as long as I live:

“I am not afraid. I will beat this. I will live my life.”

And to this day, she hasn’t waivered. Through 6 grueling rounds of chemo, a double radical mastectomy, several additional rounds of chemo, and the prospect of future radiation treatment still lingering on the horizon, she has been the very definition of a warrior.

She has shown tremendous courage in the face of this cold, uncaring disease and the associated long, hard treatment process that followed.

By all accounts, she has also made good on her promise to continue to live her life – she turned down a “get out of work free” card and shows up to her job every day that her body will allow. She socializes with friends. She’s stayed active and exercises within her comfort level (read all about that HERE).

Seriously, other than her beautifully bald head, it’s business as usual in her life. You wouldn’t know what’s happening otherwise. She’s glowing, radiant, and happy. We’re all in absolute awe of her. 

The Student Becomes The Teacher

I’ve learned so much from Isa in the past 7 months and – until I showed her this post just prior to its publication – I don’t think she had any idea what she was teaching me.

Even if you’ve never met this woman and even if you never face something as daunting as cancer, it’s my hope that in truly understanding what Isa did so differently, we can all learn something from this brave warrior about how to be better at life no matter what cards we’ve been dealt.

The Lesson

If you have the honor of knowing this young woman, you’re one of the lucky ones. But whether you know her personally or not, know this: the qualities that make her so special live inside us all – she is us – the difference is that she flipped the switch and now owns the strength and courage that have always been a part of her.

It’s true that not all of us are naturally courageous enough to do what she has done (which is what makes her so incredibly unique) but we are all capable of this type of courage and we all have lurking within us a remarkable strength.

Let us find that courage in ourselves.

Let us tap into our own strength.

And let us own them.

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