Molli Serrano, a pancreatic survivor and Ironman athlete, will be racing in Kona this October as part of the Kona Inspired program. The program was instituted for the first time this year, and it awards eight slots for the Ironman World Championship to inspiring triathletes. Each person submitted a 90-second video showcasing how they embodied the Ironman mantra “Anything is possible,” and the endurance community voted on the videos the last few months. Click here to watch Molli Serrano’s Kona Inspired video.
Serrano was one of the two wild-card picks, selected by Ironman representatives, and she’ll be racing in Kona for the first time. The 39-year-old mother of twins, who lives near Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., has been racing triathlon for 15 years and has completed three iron-distance races, including Ironman Austria and Ironman Arizona. She was diagnosed with cancer just three weeks before her second racing of Ironman Austria last summer, endured an extremely invasive surgery and six months of chemotherapy and radiation, throughout which she kept up her training, especially her cycling. Triathlete.com caught up with Serrano after she found out she was a Kona Inspired winner to hear more about her journey.
Triathlete.com: How did you hear about the Kona Inspired program?
Serrano: It was through a friend of ours that went to Kona last year. He went through the Executive Challenge, and the coordinator of the Executive Challenge told him because he told him about my story. He said, “Oh your friend should get into the Kona Inspired contest.” So he e-mailed me.
Triathlete.com: In the voting process, did you really feel like people rallied around you?
Serrano: I can’t even tell you the amount of support and people that were voting. I would meet people on a bike ride—people that I didn’t even know—and they’re like, “I voted for you! I voted for you!” It was unbelievable. It was surreal. I was blown away by the amount of people that rallied around me.
Triathlete.com: How were you notified?
Serrano: I was e-mailed—they e-mailed me and told me they had chosen me—I was one of the wild-card winners. I was actually in my car, picking up my kids from camp, and I started screaming, and my kids are like, ‘What?’ And I’m like, ‘We’re going to Hawaii!’ Because of course my kids are in on the voting—they really want to go to Hawaii. They were really excited.
Triathlete.com: How do you think being a triathlete helped you get through all the cancer treatments?
Serrano: I was training for the Ironman—I was three weeks away, so I had done almost all of the training. When I found out I had cancer, I was like, “Wow.” I had lived such a healthy lifestyle for so many years. And one day, I was like, “Why did I even bother doing this?” And now, when I look back, I was probably in the best shape of my life. And I think—I’ve talked with my doctors and things—I think it really helped me. I was able to continue training throughout my treatment, and I didn’t experience half of the side-effects that most people that go through chemotherapy and radiation experience. I’ve spoken to my doctor, and we firmly believe that it was because I was training and probably filtering the stuff out of my system faster than most people do—I honestly think it saved my life, to be honest with you. I was in really good shape. I continue to be able to exercise and do my riding and running as much as I could. I do believe that training for that Ironman—being in that shape—probably helped to save my life.
Triathlete.com: Do you think it helped your mentality, too?
Serrano: It saved me mentally. That’s an understatement. My husband always says that the doctor saved my body, and me being able to swim, ride and run, it saved my soul. It did. It kept me—it was the only time that, when I was training, when I was on a bike in a group of 30 people, and you’re going fast and you’re concentrating on staying on a wheel, I was not thinking about cancer. It was the only time. I was suffering and thinking about something else, that cancer wasn’t entering my mind. It was an escape for me, and it saved me. It really did. It saved me mentally, and it really helped me physically as well.
Triathlete.com: How long have you been cancer-free?
Serrano: I finished my chemo and radiation in January, and now I go every three months. And I have not had anything. They surgically removed it last June. I had a huge surgery. It was positive in one of the lymph nodes they took out, so technically, it metastasized, but it has not shown up anywhere, so I am cancer-free at this moment.
Triathlete.com: What does it mean for you to get to race Kona this year?
Serrano: I could start crying at any second—to warn you. But, you know, I was telling somebody last night that I’ve done three Ironmans; the last two that I did came within one spot of qualifying for Kona, and it’s always been my goal for so long. And when I crossed the finish line in Arizona, the announcer, Mike Reilly, he said, “Molly Serrano, you are an Ironman.” And it’s always great to hear, but it was my third time to hear that, and it’s like, “OK, I’m an Ironman again. Great.” But this time is going to be completely, completely different. It means so much more to me know than it did before. It’s always a special moment, but to cross that finish line now—as a pancreatic cancer survivor, when the statistics are so bad for this disease—I can’t even explain what it’s going to mean to me. I can’t wait. A lot of my friends and family are going, so it’s going to be very emotional.
Triathlete.com: Anything else you’d like to add?
Serrano: I’m just so appreciative of Kona Inspired, and I think it’s a wonderful program, and I’m sure it’s something they’re going to have every year. And the stories were absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to meet the other people that are going because there were so many inspiring, good stories.