Tammy’s Story – The Beginning
Never take anything for granted, don’t live selfishly and be passionate about what you do. These are my guiding ethea for life — takeaways from a long career in competitive cycling and my simultaneous 17-year battle with chronic pancreatitis.
Hi everyone. I’m Tammy, and I have two chronic problems: pancreatitis and racing bikes. Seemingly incompatible, I know, but somehow they work together and motivate me to get better in both.
Since this is my first contribution (and thanks for having me!), I thought I’d provide a little bit of my background. I began road bike racing in 1989 and quickly made my way on to the United States Road Cycling Team in 1990, holding a dual position on the US Mountain Team for three years. In 1994, I began to race full-time as a professional on the Mountain Bike World Cup circuit and was named to the Olympic Mountain Bike Team in 1996 and the 2000 Olympic Long Team.
Through most of the 90′s and the bulk of my early racing career, I suffered from severe abdominal pains and dozens of bouts of hypernatremia (low sodium in the blood). I knew something was wrong, but I kept on racing, driven by my love of the sport and the spirit of competition. I raced all over the world and had my fair share of success. With 15 World Cup podium visits and an impressive stamp collection in my passport, I kept my illness at bay. But over the years my condition worsened and the pain finally forced me into retirement in 1999.
Dubbed a hypochondriac by many friends and doctors (my husband was the only one that truly believed that something was wrong), my condition worsened and went undiagnosed for 15 years. Those were dark days and I found myself feeling sick, hopeless and deflated.
With racing behind me, I switched gears. I went back to school, became a CPA and a mother of two. My two kids, Dimitri and Sophia, soon became the center of my universe, and my primary reasons to get healthy again, so I got serious about my therapy.
But it wasn’t until 2008, after I moved to Steamboat Springs, CO, when Dr. Brian Harrington discovered several large stones that had formed over time in the dorsal pancreatic duct causing a stricture (and my retirement from cycling). The kink in the duct was inhibiting the flow of pancreatic enzymes out of the pancreas. It is now believed that it was caused by a terrible crash I had in 1993 when I was testing a new bike at the Fruita Fat Tire Festival in Colorado. The fall left me with a lacerated left kidney and likely caused the pinch the pancreatic duct that went undetected. I finally had some answers and a diagnosis…chronic pancreatitis.
After years of suffering and hundreds of tests and procedures, I wondered if I would ever return to racing, but I made it through and even found a couple of new passions: coaching and cross-country ski racing. Looking back on it all, I feel compelled to share my story and help others along the way. As I make my comeback to racing, I remind myself to live for each day, embrace the sweet moments in life, and continually look for the next challenge.