After a terrifying diagnosis, Andrew Kalley kept up his exercise routine during chemo—and came back stronger than ever.
Andrew Kalley was killing it in the fitness realm. As a personal trainer and triathlon coach, he’d made it his career—but he was also an athlete himself, placing in his age group in races like the ITU World Championships in Edmonton, Canada, the most competitive amateur triathlon in the world. It was there, in December 2014, however, that he realized something was off—there was blood in his stool but he felt normal otherwise. “I took the typical guy approach and I decided to ignore it and assume it would go away on its own,” says Kalley. Two months later he finally decided to go to the doctor. It’s a good thing he did. After being referred to a specialist, 32-year-old Kalley got the prognosis: colon cancer. “I sat in the doctor’s office and I swore I was hearing things or dreaming. My mouth became dry and I could barely swallow. I felt the walls closing in,” he remembers.
Luckily, the tumor was successfully removed and less than a year later, Kalley beat the disease and was back in action. He went to Age Group Nations (the qualifying race for Worlds for the following year) only a month and a half after chemo and qualified for Worlds again this year in Mexico.
And now, he’s giving back. “I’m sure charitable hearts helped get me through cancer—It’s important for me to do the same,” says Kalley. Last year, he raised over $20,000 for cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering. This summer, starting on June 18th, he’ll be biking Race Across America as part of an eight-man relay team to raise money for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
MF: What was it like for you—as a guy used to being very active and fit—to go through cancer treatment and recovery? How did you keep your spirits up during that touch time?
Kalley: Being diagnosed with cancer at the age of 32 was a massive shock and devastating at first. I had no idea what my future would hold and how I would recover. All my doctors were very positive and confident that my cancer could be treated. After a very successful surgery, I knew I would beat cancer. As soon as I was cleared to go back to work I did. A few weeks later I was able to exercise again. Both restored my sense of purpose instantly. Working with my clients, building my KalleyFitness brand and coaching my triathlon team Full Throttle Endurance kept me motivated and happy. Exercising helped me get stronger, cope with chemo, and boosted my energy levels. Training, coaching, and working with my clients kept my spirits up the entire time I was going through a health crisis I never thought I’d have to face. Ask any one of my clients or athletes: I never missed a day of training or coaching during the 6 months I had chemo.
MF: What did it take physically and mentally to be able to do that?
Kalley: I trained as hard as my body would let me considering the strain it was under with chemotherapy. Some days were a lot harder than others, but I managed to exercise 5-6 days a week. The goal of racing and training distracted me from the idea of being sick. I was determined to come back stronger than I was before cancer.
MF: How did you feel once you completed that fitness feat—and had beat cancer?
Kalley : It wasn't until this year, 2016, that I truly felt VICTORIOUS. Even though I trained and raced through treatment in 2015 and even managed to qualify for Worlds in September 2016, I knew I wasn't even close to being back or fully recovered from treatment. When I WON The South Beach Classic Distance Triathlon on April 3, 2016 after running 5:38's off the bike I knew I was back. After a year of battling cancer, I was back on the podium. Now I set my sights on Race Across America June 18th and Ironman Lake Placid July 24th.
MF: June is Men’s Health Month. What advice do you have for men related to getting regular checkups and in terms of early detection?
Kalley: My advice is to pay attention to symptoms. Don’t ignore them. My regular physical exam didn’t lead to a diagnosis. Actually all my tests and blood work came back excellent. However, when I told the doctor that I was consistently seeing blood in my stool he referred me to a gastroenterologist. It wasn't until I had a colonoscopy that I discovered I had cancer. I am forever grateful I had the courage to speak up and not ignore what my body was telling me.
Listen to your body. I have heard of other cases where men have ignored chronic stomach pain or other symptoms which lead to fatal stages of colon cancer.
MF: This summer, you plan to bike across America raising money for cancer research. Tell us more about it.
Kalley : Giving back and raising awareness has been such a key part of my journey. Throughout my diagnosis, treatment, and recovery I became heavily involved in fundraising for Memorial Sloan Kettering. The valuable and caring work they do put me on the road to recovery and has put us in a position where people living with cancer or who’ve been treated for cancer are seeing better outcomes than ever. Linking with charitable causes through MSK and St. Jude adds incredible meaning to any form of competition I take part in.
MF: Can you a tell me a little more about the ride and your training leading up to it?
Kalley: I am part of an eight-man relay team. Our team name is "DMS" Digital Media Solutions after the company sponsoring the team. The company belongs to my friend Joe who is also competing. The race begins in Oceanside, CA and ends in Annapolis, MD. There is only one rider on the road at any given time and we rotate every 20-30 minutes. The efforts are all out for 20 -30 minutes. Our goal is to break the course record (just over 5 days) and be the first team across the line. I have been riding 4-5 days a week since January. My training consists of a mix of long endurance training and high-end threshold training. Both are critical for this kind of event. My weekend rides are typically 4-6 hours with threshold efforts mixed in.
MF: As a triathlon coach, what’s your number one piece of advice for readers who may be considering a triathlon?
Kalley: Find the right coach or download a training plan. It will improve your chances of showing up to the start line injury-free, performing well, and having more fun.