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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Bonnie’s Win: New Beginnings at Ironwoman Finish Line

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Cheshire resident Bonnie Fachini won the Josh Billings RunAground Ironwoman-kayak event on Sept. 18.
Cheshire – During the final third of the race, Bonnie Fachini wasn’t feeling all that terrific.

"Bonnie, You're Doing Good"

A first-time “Ironwoman-Kayak” competitor during Sunday’s Josh Billings RunAground Triathlon, the 40-year-old Cheshire resident said that the painful leg cramps that besieged her following a 27-mile bicycle race and a 5-mile kayaking event didn’t let up as she ran the final 6.2 miles of the competition.

But Fachini refused to give in to the pain and with a time of 3:25:42, she bested eight other women competing in the open-age category and earned the event’s prestigious “Ironwoman-Kayak” title for 2005.

“I felt good coming off the bike,” Fachini said. “But in the kayak – it was rough out there. My legs started to cramp and when I got out [of the kayak], my legs started to shake.”

Fachini said that her assistants Colleen Murphy and Carrie Murphy worked quickly to dry her wet legs, massage her calves, and apply Ben-Gay ointment. Her son Robert J. Fachini was with the Murphy sisters, offering encouraging words.

But there were six more miles to go.

“All the way, my legs cramped,” Fachini said.

The finish line was approaching when Fachini said she heard the wet, squishy sounds of water shoes getting closer. She said she knew without looking that her husband, Robert C. Fachini Jr., was approaching.

“He came running up on the side of me,” she said. “I knew it was him; I could hear those water shoes. He asked me if I felt ok, and I shook my head ‘no.’ He said ‘Come on, Bonnie, you’re doing good.’ And I looked up and saw my sister, my mother, my son, my friends, Colleen, all waiting for me, and I finished that race. I didn’t care about the times. I was just happy I’d completed it.”

And if this were a typical sports story, the prose might end here; another happy athlete claiming victory and living to run another day.

But this isn’t a typical sports story and Bonnie Fachini didn’t simply win a race.

Fachini prevailed.

The Road to Racing

She isn’t a life-long athlete; in fact, Fachini smoked for 15 years before quitting at her son’s request when she was 30 years old. She said that she feared the weight gain that often accompanies smoking cessation, so she started walking to keep the pounds away.

Walking was soon peppered by little bursts of running, and by 1999, she was running regularly and teaching tae bo classes.

Fachini remembered her first competitive race, a 3.2-mile run held in Pittsfield on July 4, 1999.

“I thought I was going to die that day,” she said, referring to the rigors of the race.

Her son accompanied her when she ran during the 2002 Jocelyn Leclair Memorial Road Race.

“It’s the only running race he’s ever done,” she said.

She did not own a bicycle until three weeks before her first Pedal and Plod competition in Adams. The next year, she and her sister Diane Wright placed third in their category. She competed in her first Josh Billings race four years ago and in 2004, decided that 2005 would be the year she would compete in the ironwoman-kayak event.

Upping the Ante

As a mother, Fachini’s emotions were already being tested. She and her son are very close, and as the Hoosac Valley High School 2005 graduation grew nearer, so did the time when Fachini and her husband would deliver Robert to the University of Hartford campus in Connecticut.

“My son is an only child and we’ve always been close,” she said. “So I was already kind of, you know, kind of emotional about his leaving home. We did things together; how many teen-age boys do you know that don’t mind working out with their mom? And we always had a family dinner together, even if it was 7 o’clock at night.”

Fachini started training hard for the Josh Billings in mid-May. She frequently cycled 20 to 27 miles a day, five days a week, and then incorporated running into the training. She continued to teach tae bo, and kept up a full-time office job schedule. She kept up with the busy pace of graduation activities.

And then life decided to up the ante.

Fachini’s older sister Robin Wallace traveled from North Carolina to watch her nephew graduate from high school and during the visit, told Fachini that she’d found a lump in her breast.

“I wasn’t expecting anything like that,” Fachini said. “There’s no history of breast cancer in our family, and besides that, she’d just had a mammogram about two months before. And she said that the lump hurt, which I’d always heard that breast cancer lumps don’t hurt.”

Wallace returned to North Carolina and doctors prescribed treatment for a breast infection. Doctors also ordered a biopsy and when Fachini returned from a rainy, dreary Maine vacation, she learned that her sister did have breast cancer.

“She sounded so good that I said ‘don’t play like this,’ and she said ‘Bonnie, really, I have breast cancer,’ and I got all welled up,” Fachini said. “She said ‘don’t you cry. I bawled when I found out, don’t you cry now.’ And we said ‘we’ll fight this together.’”

Fachini said that her sister discouraged her from traveling to North Carolina to help out after Wallace underwent a lumpectomy. Her sister knew that she was training for the Josh Billings and wanted Fachini to keep to her schedule.

“I was like, ‘ok, I want to do this race but this is my sister, my family,’” Fachini said. “Of course I went to North Carolina.”

Fachini’s mother Gena Poulton and her sister-in-law Betty Jo Poulton made the trip as well. While in North Carolina, Fachini was able to continue with running training, and found the hot, humid weather a real challenge.

“One day, I swear, it was 105 [degrees Fahrenheit] out there,” she said.

But Fachini stayed with it, and ultimately convinced Wallace and Gena Poulton to walk the training route, while Betty Jo Poulton rode along on a mountain bike.

“I told them, ‘come on, it will help you,’” she said.

Fachini was still in North Carolina when Wallace learned that the lumpectomy wasn’t going to be enough. She would need a mastectomy, which meant the removal of one breast. The surgery was scheduled for the third week of August.

Why, Why, Why

Fachini said the news came as an emotional blow. And emotional stress was taxing her. Her training wasn't going as planned, her son was preparing to leave for college, and her sister was seriously ill.

“I just kept saying ‘why is all this happening like this?’” she said.

But Fachini grew more and more determined to tackle the ironwoman event to honor her sister. So during August, just weeks before the event was scheduled, Fachini began a rigorous bout of kayak training.

“And I’m out there on Cheshire Lake, all by myself, and I’m talking to the geese and the ducks, and I’m crying and I’m going ‘why my sister, why?’ I’m thinking ‘why her?’ She’s had some other health issues and I’m just asking over and over again, “why, why, why? She’s such a wonderful person.’”

Then, just a few days before the Fachini family was scheduled to bring Robert to college, a close family friend and neighbor died.

“I just felt so bad,” Fachini said.

On Aug. 27, the Fachini family drove to the college and spent the day moving Robert’s belongings into his new quarters.

“Everything was fine until it was time to leave," Fachini said. “And then I just cried and cried. After we got home, I spent that whole night looking at pictures and feeling lost. I was calling him a lot on the cell phone because classes didn’t start until the next week, and he knew nobody. It was hard.”

"I Am Going To Do This"

Fachini could have decided that the preceding weeks had simply been too much and she could have decided to put off competing in the Josh Billings until 2006. She’d already been forced to forgo the 2005 Pedal and Plod because of a flu-like illness that struck her hours before the race; that event would have served as a training tool and provided a measure of readiness.

But quitting made Fachini think about her sister, and the pain and fear that she faced. And Wallace wasn’t quitting.

“I trained even harder,” Fachini said.

She made her intentions known in e-mails sent to her son and Wallace: “Put your mind to something and you can do it. I am going to do this for you and for Robin, for all the women with breast cancer, for all the troops in Iraq.”

Training grew very intense; Fachini rode her bicycle to work most mornings and then rode home at night. The trip was about 11 miles one way “and I took a harder route home at night,” she said.

Her husband, who works 12-hour shifts and was among those who lost his job when the Curtis Fine Papers mill in Adams closed, joined her during kayak training sessions.

As race day approached, nerves tried to creep in.

“I couldn’t sleep, I kept thinking about the bike crashes that happen,” she said. “I’ve seen them. On the day of the race I said, ‘I just want to be safe.’”

And as the triathlon progressed from biking to kayaking to running, the voices of her husband and coaches Fred Thompson and Michael Lahey played back in her mind. Their words kept her focused, she said.

Fairy-Tale Finish

At the finish line, Robin Wallace watched as Fachini headed towards her.

“You could see it; this race was as hard for her as cancer was for me,” Wallace said. “I kept saying ‘please, let her finish. And please, let her be first.’ She’s always been there for me, always. She's my guardian angel. Watching her cross that line, it was like a fairy tale. We hugged and we cried and we were thankful. To see what she did for me, and to know what she had to go through to do it, that’s the miracle of this.”

Wallace said that she is scheduled to undergo reconstructive breast surgery and her prognosis is excellent. Shortly before the race, her husband Art suffered a heart attack but was able to accompany his wife to Massachusetts and watch Fachini race.

And as a surprise for Robin Wallace, Art Wallace and Fachini arranged for the couple to renew their wedding vows during a post-race cookout at the Fachini home.

Fred Thompson, who is well-respected as an attorney and athlete, conducted the vow renewal ceremony.

“Bonnie’s winning this race is like a fresh start for everyone,” Robin Wallace said. “It was a finish line but it was a starting line. She won the race. And we all share a victory. We get to start new.”

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net or at 802-823-9367.



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