Hageman rides on despite cancer
June 25, 2010
Despite 20 years of competitive cycling, Todd Hageman is encountering many basic firsts for the second time. This year he’s already taken part in his first training, racing and recovery as a cancer survivor, that is.
Now 39, the Cole Sport Racing Team manager was diagnosed with thyroid cancer last winter and underwent surgery to remove four lymph nodes in March. He is currently aiming for a goal that once seemed a cinch: completing his fourth ride in the taxing Tour of Utah stage race in August.
"He’s kind of breaking new ground," said Cole Sport teammate and Olympic nordic combined medalist Billy Demong. "We’re talking about elite-level racing. It’s going to be trial and error. There’s not a lot of guys at this level (who are) in that situation."
Hageman competes in cross-country ski races and found himself about 10 pounds lighter in the middle of the competitive season. He felt fit otherwise, but he continued to lose weight no matter how much he ate. On a visit to get his blood tested by his primary care provider, his doctor found a bump on his neck and sent for an X-ray. The radiologist then ordered a biopsy, and Hageman was on his way to compete in the Boulder Mountain Tour cross-country race in Idaho when the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute told him results indicated thyroid cancer.
Hageman said he was somewhat alarmed, but not overly daunted. "Nobody’s immune to cancer," Hageman said. "It can attack anybody. Being healthy has been able to help in my recovery."
Following the initial diagnosis, Hageman surprised even himself when he scored a best-ever finish of 25th among 700 racers on the tour, won by former Cole Sport teammate Zack Simons.
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"That was the most relaxed I’ve ever been at a start line before," Hageman said. His cancer was confirmed when he got back – a 1.7 centimeter lump – but he postponed surgery to fly to Vancouver and watch Demong capture the first-ever U.S. nordic combined gold medal. Demong said the trip was beneficial from both of their perspectives a welcome respite for Hageman and needed support for the part-time cycling enthusiast.
"It was pretty incredible," Demong said. "Todd has been a bit of a sounding board for me as I enter the sport of competitive cycling. We’ve grown to be good friends."
Although thyroid cancer has an excellent prognosis and Hageman trusted his doctors’ care, the surgery and hormone replacement therapy took their toll on his body when he returned to Utah. Since the thyroid handles metabolism of the body’s chemicals and alters a person’s energy level, any change in its function has a major effect on a competitive road cyclist.
After three strong days to begin the vaunted stage race, Hageman felt extremely sluggish riding in the second half in Mt. Hood Cycling Classic earlier this month. When he came back to Utah, his doctor told him that most people with his hormone levels would have been bedridden. Hageman was put on a higher dose of medications, but he resumed his training push.
He understands that some will view him as an inspirational figure, but he’s been reluctant to invite much attention to his efforts.
"It’s just something I’m doing for myself at this point," Hageman said. "I’ve kind of made myself talk about it."
Hageman will begin radiation after he finishes the Tour of Utah therapy to ensure the cancer doesn’t return. He won’t lose his hair or experience the extreme nausea often associated with radiation treatments, but the dangers of his own radioactivity to others will mandate complete isolation. His idea: to head south for a lone camping mission out in the desert. After that, he’ll have to spend about a month inactive – or, at least, relatively inactive.
As team manager of the Cole Sport team, Hageman handles all of the club’s fundraising, and he also owns and operates his own business, Park City Crash Pads. When he’s not toiling as CEO or elite racer, he’s usually playing dad to his 3- and 5-year-old kids, Demong said.
"It seems like every day I talk to him, he’s on his way to the zoo or to do something with his kids after work or training," Demong said. "Of course, he makes it look like no sweat."
Looks can be deceiving, after all.