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Andrea Lytle Peet

An athlete diagnosed with ALS helps the fight to find a cure

The Race Not Chosen

By Heather Cate

If you’ve ever crossed the finish line of a race you trained long and hard for, you know the feeling. Now that you’ve overcome personal hurdles on your journey to the finish line—and probably pushed through a few injuries—you can conquer whatever is ahead.

This natural high, the rush of adrenaline, is a feeling that Andrea Lytle Peet knows well. In 2013, Andrea ran five triathlons, only two years after she started training for long-distance and endurance races. However, after her last race in September 2013, Andrea felt an unusual tightness in her hamstring. She started tripping over her toes. Her physical therapist referred her to a neurologist, who referred her to another neurologist, and finally, after eleven months and five referrals, Andrea was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. She was thirty-three years old.

Andrea knew that if she was going to run another race before the disease took full effect, it would have to be soon. Just two months after her diagnosis, Andrea raised $10,000 for the Blazeman Foundation—an ALS research foundation started by Jon Blais, the first man with ALS to start and finish an Ironman triathlon—to run her final triathlon in October 2014.

As Andrea crossed the finish line with the help of her husband and a friend, she was greeted by the cheers and applause of a hundred strangers. Andrea says this was “unexpected, because I just went out to enjoy something that is very important to me but is taken away with the effects of ALS.”

Since that race, Andrea has been approached by people who told her that her story inspired them to run a race they never thought possible. After this overwhelming response, Andrea started the Team Drea Challenge to further support the Blazeman Foundation. Andrea encourages people to sign up for a race they never dreamed they could run, use that race as a fundraiser, and then, in Andrea’s words, “enjoy the journey.”

Andrea says the hardest thing about her disease is being “patient with myself and my body, which is not keeping up with my mind and what I want to accomplish.” But while Andrea is an inspiration to runners and athletes new and old, Andrea says they are an inspiration to her: “I know how important running and physical activity and working towards a goal can make you feel and it’s just enough to crack open your self-imposed limitations. I have friends who say they are not runners and to see them working toward their goals keeps me going.”

As Andrea supports her runners in the Team Drea challenge, she hopes that her work and others’ can contribute to the fight against ALS, specifically through the Blazeman Foundation.

Andrea says, “I didn’t set out on this journey. It was handed to me, but you only have one life and I realized early on I could get depressed about the cards I was handed or I could use and enjoy them to make a difference.”