Photo by Daniel Reichert (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Musher and Ironman athlete Katherine Keith has known pain and suffering: her daughter died as an infant and first her husband was killed in a plane crash while ferrying a neighbor for emergency medical attention in Alaska. Not one to allow grief and adversity to defeat her, Keith won the Yukon Quest’s Rookie of the Year award, placing seventh in the 1,000-mile dog sled race. Read Matt Crossman’s profile at ESPNW.

She knew if she was going to survive her grief, she had to do something about it. Healing would not just happen on its own — she had to pursue it.

She told herself: “Yes, I want to live. Yes, I want to be really proactive about this. Yes, I’m going to not be defeated. Yes. I just had to make a really big conscious effort that, yes, I’m doing this. I’m not going to let this drag me down because that disrespects their memory.”

And it was more than just saying yes in a reactive way. Katherine sought out new experiences. She trained for and competed in triathlons and Iron Man competitions as a way to refill her reservoir of willpower, strength and grit that emptied when Madi and Dave died. The first Iron Man she entered was on the sixth anniversary of Dave’s death. She saw it as a way to honor him and to mark another turning point in her life. She cried and yelled as she ran across the tough, hilly course near Las Vegas.

“It’s a self-test to see if I’m resilient enough,” she says. “You have to train your body to be able to run a marathon. But you also have to train your mind to be able to withstand the difficulties in life. By putting myself through the Iron Mans, I think in my twisted way, I was tuning up my mind to make it a more resilient place.”

She sees her dog-mushing career the same way. If she could finish the Yukon Quest — all 946.7 hand-freezing, energy-sapping, hallucination-inducing miles of it — she would have more proof that she can survive whatever life throws at her.

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