How I (Swim, Bike &) Run: Living the Sweet Life with Ruth Rickey

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When I initially set out to do this interview series, I thought it’d be interesting to see what kind of gear people prefer, what their training routines were like and that it’d be fun to hear about racing from all different kinds of perspectives. What I didn’t expect was to get absolutely blown away by the incredible back stories in these athletes’ lives.

Case in point: Ruth Rickey, a former attorney and administrative law judge who, put simply, fell in love with cakes. Ruth worked her way up as Bakery Manager for IGA’s 3200 stores in 31 countries before opening her own shop, Ruth’s Sweete Justice Bakery, and operating it for more than a decade.

Since then, she’s been teaching all over the world as a ICES Certified Master Sugar Artist. Ruth has also been seen on WE TV’s Wedding Cake Wars (her team won), twice on TLC’s Ultimate Cake Off (assistant to Pat Jacoby on two wins) and on three specials on The Food Network about The Oklahoma State Sugar Art Show.

In the midst of all this success, however, Ruth was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, which was incurable and untreatable at the time, and she was given 2-5 years to live. Miraculously, six weeks after her diagnosis the FDA approved Gleevec, a drug that revolutionized cancer treatment and saved Ruth’s life.

After switching medicines a few times, Ruth is happy to report that she’s now back in genetic remission. And to pay her miracle forward, she spends her free time doing marathons, half marathons, century rides, triathlons and various charity events to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and the Go Mitch Go Foundation.

I can’t even imagine what it’s been like for Ruth as she wages a fight for her life all while balancing a successful career, endurance events and philanthropy. But I can imagine that every one of her victories — whether in the kitchen, at her doctor’s office or out on the race course — probably tastes pretty sweet.

1. What’s your favorite route or workout? I love riding our new River Trails route. It starts in downtown Oklahoma City in our Boathouse District. It is a cool new area where the Olympic rowers train. The route winds past the boathouses on both sides of the river. There are some gentle inclines/descents and turns to keep the ride interesting. It then connects into the West River Trails, which take me by two different lakes. The route doesn’t have a lot of pedestrian traffic and is closed to vehicles. It is newly paved and simply makes me happy to ride! Besides the normal geese, ducks and other birds, I can even see a buffalo on this route. Only in Oklahoma!

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2. What shoes do you wear — both on the bike and on the roads? I run in Brooks Ravenna and I cycle in Pearl Izumi tri shoes.

3. What other training gear can’t you live without? I love my Garmin 920! I like being able to use the bluetooth to get the data onto my phone immediately. I love the live tracking part of it for my hubby…due to my medical issues, he worries if I’m out training without him. Now he can see where I am whether I’m training or racing!

My Coeur tri shorts turned out to be a game changer! After my 70.3 in September, I was in so much pain from chafing. I never realized how much the seams could rub. Since changing to Coeur, I’ve been so much more comfortable! I’m not sure why all chamois aren’t done this way. My hubby wants guys’ shorts to be made like them.

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I also love my Bontrager Windshell Pants. Oklahoma has crazy wind. It is normal to ride in 15-25 mph winds with 40 mph gusts. These shell pants keep me warm through everything and because they don’t have the chamois in them, I wear them when I run in the cold, too. They were pricey, but I think they were worth every penny!

I know it isn’t really gear, but I cannot live without Base Salt. I’ve always needed salt, but once I started using Base, I found that my active recovery during races and training improved dramatically. It seems like such a minor thing, but a hit of Base salt every hour or so keeps me going.

My other recent find is Infinit Nutrition. When I did Redman 70.3, I struggled on the bike, which was supposed to be my strongest area. I had no energy and could not make myself eat enough while riding in the heat. I knew I needed to make a change. Once of my coaches highly recommended Infinit, so I went to their site and created my own custom formula. So far, I’ve used it on several three-hour rides and have maintained my energy the entire time and have not been hungry at all. I know that the nutrition issue is going to be big for my upcoming races, so I’m truly happy that it looks like I have a workable solution now!

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4. What’s your best time-saver or “workout-hack?” I used to lose so much time every day packing the bag for the next workout. I finally went and bought three Nike bags in three colors: Red for run; Black for bike; and Blue for swim. The bags are ready for me to grab at a moment’s notice and have everything I need in each one of them.

5. What part of each discipline (swim/bike/run) are you better at than anyone else? Actually, I came into triathlon without excelling in any of the disciplines. I had done more than 20 endurance events with Team in Training for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, but I was a walker, a slow biker and a non-swimmer.

I actually think my strength is my mental game and my heart. I figure that if I’m out there training or racing while taking chemo twice a day, there isn’t much I’m going to encounter that will stop me. I’m not athletically gifted, but I enjoy doing what I can and seeing my body get stronger. I am the girl who can finish a race 10 hours later and still be smiling.

6. What do you listen to while training? My water iPod has classic rock on it. I’ve changed the music I use while swimming. Originally, I had very relaxing music as I was getting past my panic attacks. Now, it is time to work on speed, so I need my 70’s rock to get me going! On my bike trainer or while running, I have a playlist of all of the “Now That’s What I Call Music” cds. They are generally high-cadence, fun pop hits that keep me going.

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7. What are you currently training for? I may have overshot this year, but I’m registered to do Galveston 70.3 in April, the Legends 100 Tri in June, The World Championship Long Course Triathlon at Redman in September (97 miles) and Arizona 70.3 in October. I really want to do a full Ironman, but know that I’m not physically ready for it. I figure if I can do Legends and World’s, it will show me if I’m ready for IMAZ 2017. If so, I will be volunteering at IMAZ this November to grab an early spot.

8. What are your recovery and sleep routines like? On top of my leukemia issues, I also have Addison’s disease. My adrenal glands don’t function properly, so I can end up nearly bed ridden when my levels get low. I hurt to the bone when this happens. I have to take steroids twice a day to make my body function like normal.

I’ve learned a lot over the last year or so to look for the signs of when I need to increase my dose. My coach schedules a day off weekly for me, and I try to honor it and respect his plan. I used to be an insomniac, but I sleep really well these days! I think all the activity is good for me in that respect.

9. What’s the best athletic advice you’ve ever received? Stop saying “I can’t.” I at least make myself try everything. Even if I know that I don’t have the physical capability, I have to try. Because most of the time, I discover that I CAN.

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10. What’s your favorite racing-related memory? I attempted New Orleans 70.3 and ended up with an asthma attack in the water and a DNF. It haunted me…I was so disappointed. So a few weeks later, I stepped up for a local sprint tri. It was the first time my husband wasn’t racing at my side as my “protector.”

The day before the race, I did a practice swim at the site and felt like I was ready…the water was calm and the weather was perfect. But that is never how races go! On race day, a front blew in. Temperatures plummeted, and the winds picked up. The race director later said it was the roughest he had seen it at that lake and that he nearly called the swim.

I was a nervous wreck, but got into the water and started in the last wave. I was still mostly using side stroke to swim. I got to the first buoy and was about to call for a kayak to go in, but I looked around and saw numerous people hanging onto all the kayaks. I realized I was actually ahead of all those people. It kicked something into gear for me, and I was determined to finish that swim.

I did the entire 750-meter swim using side kick drills…I didn’t even use my arms. I got out of the water and was actually not the last person. I headed out on the bike, almost in disbelief that I had survived that cold, choppy swim. And my bike time actually matched my normal speed when I was just doing a bike training.

I started the run just happy to be out on the course. I set a 5k PR that day. It wouldn’t be fast to anyone else, but it was EVERYTHING to me! When I ran across the finish line and they put that medal around my neck, I knew that it would only be a matter of time until I became an Ironman. I found a strength that day that I never realized I had. I found a joy in the experience.

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11. Fill in the blank: I’d love to grab a workout with _________. I’m sure everyone picks someone famous for this, but I just want to work out with my husband and my brothers, Verne and Robb. The four of us have started racing together and it makes my heart smile. How lucky am I to get to share the love of this sport with my family?!!

12. Anything else you’d like to add? A lot of my friends think you have to be super fit to do triathlons. They think only elite folks attempt this. I think I’m proof that there is a place for the person at the “back of the pack.”

Since I started on this journey, so many of my cake decorator friends have become more active. My industry is full of overweight people…it can be really hard not to taste the amazing things we create. I love that so many of them have messaged me that they are starting to move, to walk, to run, to do ANYTHING because of my posts.

I share the ups and downs of my training. I share my fears. I share my victories. If you’ve ever thought about trying triathlons, I can genuinely say that this is the best group of people. They have never made me feel bad for being slow. They celebrate the “final finisher” with as much joy as the winner. What a great group to be a part of!

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Thanks, Ruth! I’m honored to be able to share your story, and I’m excited to watch you crush your goals this year as you prepare for all the adventures ahead. 

Friends, if you’re interested in being featured here (all levels & abilities welcome!), please drop me a line at info(at)kineticfix(dot)com.

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