An Interview with Life Time Tri Soma Triathlete Steve Cooper
Triathletes are known for pushing their bodies to the limit, but Steve Cooper is taking that challenge to a new level. Despite being diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer last December — and told he had six mere months to live — he accomplished his first triathlon in more than 20 years.
Now Steve is taking his “never quit” attitude to Ironman Arizona, where he plans to be the first male to complete an Ironman while undergoing radiation.
We heard that you are currently undergoing radiation treatment for pancreatic cancer. When were you diagnosed, and what’s the prognosis?
I was diagnosed with prostate cancer on Dec. 21, 2012. I have a very aggressive, stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer that has spread to my lymph nodes. My prostate was removed Jan. 23, 2013 and I am in week three of eight weeks of radiation.
A main thing I think everybody should know is that prostate cancer is often more aggressive when a younger man has it, so I highly recommend all men start getting checked at age of 40, and younger with any risk factors. I was 41 when diagnosed. There is also a lot of concern in the medical community about supplements and low-testosterone medications and that they may increase prostate cancer.
How does that diagnosis and the treatment affect your training? What are some of the considerations you have to be aware of, and what are some of the specific things that you struggle with as you work to achieve your triathlon goals?
I am on medications that literally turned off my testosterone production because my testosterone was naturally incredibly high — above 900 — and testosterone fuels cancer. My last check had my testosterone at 13. I am susceptible to infection so need to be careful of cuts, and radiation creates bowel problems and other issues. There are a lot of reasons why I could make an excuse to not train, but I live by my creed to “Never quit” and find a way to get it done — When my bowels get worse I will use a diaper if needed for Ironman. It just doesn’t matter.
What’s your background in triathlon — Have you competed a lot previously?
Soma was my first time! Other than a Sprint when I was 20. I was in the Army for 18 years and was very active as a long distance runner for the Army and during college.
Why Soma and why Ironman AZ at this particular time in your life?
When I got diagnosed I was told I had 6 months to live, and that was 11 months ago. Sure, I was dealt a bad hand, but it’s how you play that hand that matters. I can live or I can die. I also feel that exercise is key to almost all health problems — the healthier I am, the better chance I have to beat death and live. But most important is that I want to inspire others to “never quit” and exercise when dealing with adversity.
Also, I ride my bicycle to and from radiation every day with friends and the community. I didn’t want to build a life around radiation; rather, I simply make radiation a 10-minute appointment each day in my life.
How did you feel during the race on Sunday? Did things go according to plan?
I felt ok, I wanted to finish in seven hours but took eight. As Coach Diane Alkins helped me understand, I can’t be making phone calls during transition.
Who or what motivates you in training and out on the course? What keeps you pushing toward your goal?
My mom and sister — they are everything to me and I live for them, as well as my dog Lexi. And I have an insane threshold for pain. I was in some of the most elite infantry units in the Army before going into law enforcement. I truly believe that once a quitter, always a quitter, so you will never see me quit.
The coaches at Life Time have been INCREDIBLE — Steve Elwell, Diane, Chuck, and all the members have provided me more support than you can ever imagine. I won’t let them down.
What will your focus be as you work toward Ironman AZ? Is there anything you’re worried about? What are you most looking forward to?
Cutoffs — they are key. I have a chance to make history and be perhaps first male to finish Ironman during radiation or chemo for cancer and in doing so I feel I can inspire people to “never quit.” This is an honor that I take very seriously. Oh, and don’t trip when I cross the finish line before midnight!