Alaska cyclists take on 100-mile Clean Air Challenge
Nearly five years after an Anchorage man's loss to lung cancer, his legacy lives on through a long-distance Alaska cycling event in which he once participated -- one this reporter is joining this year.
The 2018 Clean Air Challenge, a benefit for the American Lung Association, is on track to raise $265,000. The Saturday event starts and ends in Talkeetna, offering cyclists distances ranging from 10 to 100 miles.
When Dara Glass met Sam Glass in eighth grade, she knew she had found “the one.” All it took was a glance his way at the swimming pool, although she didn’t even know who he was. In ninth grade, they were both class officers -- and although their bond lasted through high school, the two didn’t go on a date until their freshman year in college.
“And we go back to his dorm room and a girl walks by and she’s like, 'Hi, Sam!'" Dara said, remembering their courtship at the time. "And I’m like, 'Oh, no no no no no -- I’m not gonna do this!'”
But Dara couldn’t get Sam out of her mind, and 25 years later a Christmas card from Sam’s sister brought news that Sam was single again. After six weeks of trying to forget the news, Dara finally called Sam on the phone.
Four hours later, Dara had agreed to move thousands of miles to live with Sam in Arizona and marry him. They ended up in Alaska, and were never going to leave.
But exactly one year later, everything changed.
“It took about five months until a CAT scan was finally done, and that's when we discovered it was actually lung cancer,” Dara said.
Dara and Sam first spoke with KTVA in 2012, when Dara was riding in the Clean Air Challenge to raise money for lung disease research. On race day, she was chipper as she strapped on her riding gear and joked about how she wasn’t quite in shape to ride 100 miles.
Although Dara looked happy, inside her anger was boiling.
“Lung cancer has such a stigma attached to it," Dara said. "You tell people he has lung cancer and they would be like, 'Was he a smoker?' And it’s like, 'No; he was a world-class athlete.'”
Sam was a gifted swimmer, who competed in college for the University of Oregon.
In Alaska, Sam and Dara hiked all over the state. From Flattop to Johnson Pass and Nancy Lake, every weekend was an adventure. On a whim, Sam would give Dara a flirtatious look and say, “Let’s go!”
Dara, the planner, had to take a deep breath before hesitantly saying yes.
“He’s like, 'You have to trust me! I won’t put you in any situation you can’t get out of,'" Dara said. "I was like, 'Uh huh...'”
However, that changed as Sam’s cancer progressed. Tarceva, the clinical trial drug he was taking, worked for a while until he was in a lot of pain. Then there were more tumors and three years after he was diagnosed, Sam was going downhill fast.
On one of the last times he made it out of the house Dara, determined to bring the old Sam back, drove him to Bird Point and wheeled him around. They took a selfie. Dara knew the end was near.
Sam, a Navy veteran, would never tell Dara how much pain he was in -- but she knew, from the way he winced when he went down the stairs and when he dialed 911 rather than ask her to drive him to the hospital.
On Aug. 26, 2013, Sam died at home from complications of lung cancer. To this day, Dara still harbors a little anger.
“He’s not here and we were supposed to retire here and I’m having to readjust my whole life," Dara said. "I still feel lost and I probably will for the rest of my life.”
Dara says she was feeling sorry for herself earlier this year when she was invited to an annual advocacy day for the American Lung Association in Washington, D.C. -- where she learned that Sam’s life has helped others, thanks to the clinical trial he participated in. Other lung cancer patients on Tarceva, now FDA-approved, are living longer, pain-free lives.
So Dara will keep riding. That’s because if a little pain now means less pain for lung cancer patients later, Dara will put up “with that crap” for the rest of her life -- even if she has to live it without her husband.
Editor's note: KTVA is a sponsor of the Clean Air Challenge.
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