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Deanna Blegg is no stranger to the World’s Toughest Mudder. At the second WTM in 2012, Deanna placed second female (third overall). The following year, at WTM 2013, she placed first, boasting 85 miles, or 17 laps of the 5-mile loop course. Then again in 2015 she was on the podium with another third place win to her name. Those who have met Deanna recognize her for her bright smile, determination, and kindness, and while many are aware of her accomplishments on course, few know her story off the course and out of the mud.
Despite her numerous wins and placements at adventure, endurance and obstacle races, Deanna didn’t immerse herself in fitness until the age of 36. 13 years before, at the age of 23, Deanna contracted HIV, then, shortly after, AIDS. In 1996, medication became available to in Australia, where she lives. “It was then I could start focusing on living again and not just waiting to die,” she says. Her first goal was to start a family; to gain back the fitness she lost came second.
After having two children, one at the age of 28 and the second at 33, Deanna started to workout out again. Soon she was studying to become a personal trainer, which gave her flexible hours to train once her kinds began school. To start, Deanna tried adventure racing; she then entered the Tough Bloke Challenge, a 5K obstacle course race. Deanna was hooked and quickly learned of the World’s Toughest Mudder. Luckily, Tough Mudder Melbourne was debuting as Australia’s first Tough Mudder event. Deanne signed up and made it her goal to be within the top 5% so she could qualify for WTM. She was successful.
As Deanna’s experience grew, so did her training. Adventure racing was traded entirely for obstacle racing, mainly due to the volume required. “In my build up to the adventure racing season, I was putting in 20-30 hours of action into my week,” Deanna says. “Obstacle racing was a lot less demanding on the body. It kind of felt like I’d slackened off somewhat.” Additionally, the community support in OCR was a joyful surprise. “Elitism,” she says, “ is very hard to find in the sport,” just part of the reason why she keeps returning to WTM.
In June, while running an adventure race in China, Deanna noticed a lump on her ribs. At the time, Deanna was immersed in the race, and forced herself to brush it off until the finish. The first day she returned home, she had it checked out by her doctor. “He didn’t like the look of it so he referred me to get a mammogram and ultrasound,” she says. While the results came back as “most likely benign,” Deanna decided to pursue it further. This time, Deanna was diagnosed with grade 3 triple-negative invasive aggressive breast cancer. WTM, of course, was immediately off the table. “Life got a bit out of control at that time,” she says. Deanna wanted the lump immediately removed, but felt the doctors seemed to be in no hurry. “That, for me, was very frustrating.”
At first, she did as much research as she could on her condition. “I then stopped,” she says, “as prognosis didn’t look good. I didn’t need to read that, and instead thought that if Lance Armstrong can have a 2% chance of survival and make it through, so can I.”
Rather than fret over what she couldn’t control, Deanna took a different approach. “I look at most things in life as “adapt and overcome,” she says. “I have accepted the cancer and accepted the process I need to go through to have it treated. I am not at war with it. I am really at peace. I do what I can in my days–often I feel really well and can train; other days I spend time in bed resting.”
Deanna’s goals for the year have changed, but her tenacity and strength have not. “My goals are to recover from chemotherapy and hysterectomy (performed earlier in the year) as well as do all the healing I need to become vital again.” When asked how she feels about WTM, even though she will be unable to attend this year’s event, she says, “there is no event like it on the planet. The American support for each and every individual out there on course was very new to me. All through the night at every obstacle, every person passed or being passed would offers words (and sometimes grunts) of encouragement.” While Deanna often struggles to explain the magic of WTM to Australian friends and family, she’s learned to succinctly describe the experience: “I just say you have to do it–then you will understand.”