Illinois Ironman Gary Geiger will test his spirit at the Hy-Vee Triathlon
It was a small lump on the side of his face, just under the ear. Gary Geiger didn’t think much about it. He was 48 years old, an accomplished triathlete who had competed in France, Spain and other spots around the globe. He had an appointment to meet a friend in San Diego for a week’s worth of training in preparation for an important qualifying race, so there was no time to deal with the lump. Probably an ear infection from swimming, he reasoned. Nothing to worry about.
He returned from San Diego “in the best shape of my life,” but the lump returned with him. So he “finally broke down” and had it checked out. That’s when things started moving quickly. A checkup led to tests. Tests led to a biopsy. All along, Geiger told himself it was just a lump. His doctor said it should be removed, just to be safe. Surgery was scheduled. Minor, he was told.
“When I woke up it had been 3 ½ hours,” he recalls. “There were some very stern faces.” Geiger was sent home; the lump was sent to a lab. “I came back for a follow up, and my doctor said: ‘Gary, we have a problem.’” And that’s when things slowed down.
“That was the first time in my life that I just had to sit down,” the Roscoe, Ill., photographer says. “The first thing I thought was: ‘I’m going to die.’” The surgeon started at the top of Geiger’s ear and cut all the way down to the neck to remove the cancer. Geiger, a swimmer in college, stopped training for six months and waited to see if the lump would return. There were frequent, nervous, checkups over the next two years, but he was eventually deemed cancer free. He resumed training. And, despite knee surgery, he worked harder than ever. The more Geiger trained, and the more races he entered, the more Ironman triathletes he met who had faced similar cancer scares. Each story strengthened him. “It’s their battling spirit that made them what they are,” he says. Alive.
Geiger, a professional photographer who competes for Midwest Team Elite, was near peak condition — and had a date with the best triathletes in his age group at the 2001 world long-course championships in Denmark — when he took a training ride in a rural part of Wisconsin not far from his home. He saw the car, but the driver didn’t see him. “I remember thinking: ‘There goes Denmark,’” he says.
Geiger, the son of an All-American halfback (“I didn’t get my dad’s speed”) took a hard fall. The driver wanted to drive him to a nearby farmhouse for help, he says, “but in true triathlete fashion, I told him I needed to finish the workout.” He suffered bumps, bruises and “road rash,” but that battling spirit was intact.
A second, more serious car-bike accident, this time in Florida in 2005, sidelined Geiger again. He has since fought through nearly five years of painful rehabilitation and has struggled to regain his old form. He credits a little-known physical therapy called the Graston Technique, which employs metal tools to clear adhesions in the muscles and tendons, with getting his now 58-year-old body back on the bike seat, and pointed toward the 2010 Hy-Vee Triathlon.
“I typically compete in longer distances, but I want to do a sprint event to jumpstart my training and work on my speed,” he says. “I have always heard so much about the Hy-Vee race. I’ve been in the sport for 30 years, and what the company has done with that event is amazing. Everyone I’ve talked to raves about it.”
Profession: Photographer - www.geigerphoto.com
- Named USAT All-American 4 times
- Qualified for spots on four USA teams in the ITU Long Distance World Championships.
- Two trips to the Ironman World Championships in Kona.
- Started a local triathlon club with 100 members and organized two races.
- Volunteer for U.S. Special Olympics.
- Volunteer youth triathlon coach.