In our Spartan Spirit Awards, we celebrate the people who truly embody the key Spartan values: grit, determination, and perseverance. This week's Spirit Awards winner Lisabeth Cuppoletti shares how her strength to thrive through her breast cancer diagnosis came from the tools and values she found in Spartan racing. Read her incredible story of strength and recovery.
“Until something catastrophic happens, you don’t know the depth of peoples’ love for you. This year of dealing with cancer has been a beautiful and magical year in some ways.”
— Lisabeth Cuppoletti
The Spartan Spirit Awards exist to honor athletes who embody Spartan’s key values of grit, determination and perseverance. What makes one person keep going when others give up? For Lisabeth Cuppoletti, who just five days after her 40th birthday was diagnosed with breast cancer that had metastasized to her lymph nodes, the determination to thrive through cancer has come from the knowledge of her own strength that she found in Spartan racing. The outpouring of love that she received from her Spartan community has kept her pointed toward the future during five months of chemotherapy. She even ran a half-marathon while she was undergoing treatment. And nine days after her double mastectomy on September 17, with a port still embedded in her chest, she was at the Nationals in Lake Tahoe, not to compete, but to cheer on teammates and her husband, Tony Cuppoletti. What we admire about Lisabeth is her ability to find the silver lining, her mental toughness, and her drive to help others. That’s why Spartan awarded her the Spirit Award for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We sat down with Lisabeth to discuss what winning this award means to her.
SPARTAN RACE: Why did you show up to Nationals nine days after your mastectomy?
LISABETH CUPPOLETTI: I didn’t want to miss it. My husband was competing in a Legend Borne T-shirt with my name on it. A friend had the shirt made so people could show their support for me. For months, all over the country, people were racing in that shirt to show solidarity with me while I was getting my treatments. One of my friends on my team had pink bracelets made with #LJCStrong on them, and so many people were wearing them at Nationals. Sure, I was a little envious, because I was supposed to have been doing my first Ultra--31 miles and 70 obstacles--but being there, connecting with my community, and cheering on my friends, that was good for my soul. I wanted to show up for them. Until something catastrophic happens, you don’t know the depth of peoples’ love for you. This year of dealing with cancer has been a beautiful and magical year in some ways.
My approach to my treatment has been one foot in front of the other until I hit the finish line.
— Lisabeth Cuppoletti
SR: Has the Spartan mentality helped you as you’ve been battling breast cancer?
LC: Yes. I am so grateful I had my Spartan experience and community. If it wasn’t for Spartan, I don’t know if I would have been as strong. Spartan taught me how to do hard things. Cancer is just another hard thing. My husband told me: This is just a 12-foot wall. You’ve never seen it before, but you are going to get over it. My approach to my treatment has been one foot in front of the other until I hit the finish line. I know there is no limit to what I can do. Also, through Spartan, I have met some of the best friends of my life and they have been a huge support system. They reminded me of who I am when I felt terrified.
SR: Why have you been so public about your cancer treatment and all of the decisions you’ve made on social media?
LC: I want people to understand that it’s not the end of the world to get a cancer diagnosis. You’re not too young and too healthy for this to happen to you. You must examine yourself and go for mammograms. And if it does happen to you, it’s going to be ok. It’s imperative to keep a positive mindset, eat well, and stay active. Walk if you can’t run. The energy that you manifest will come back to you.
SR: You have been posting about being #flat, and your decision not to get breast implants. Will you comment on that?
LC: I found an online community of breast cancer survivors who have gotten mystery illnesses through breast implants. I am not going to work this hard to get better just to get another illness for the sake of appearances. Flap reconstruction is another option to recreate the breast mound, but that reduces function by taking muscle from another part of the body. I want to do sit-ups, hike, ride bikes, climb in a way that requires a fully functioning body. I don’t judge other people’s choices. I just want to get back to my active life ASAP, so I have chosen to be flat. I’m excited to run without a sports bra. It will be freeing. Maybe I will be more aerodynamic now.
SR: How are you doing now?
LC: The pathology came back and I don’t need more chemo. I’m cancer-free, though my doctors are not using the word “remission.” My risk of recurrence of cancer is currently 30 percent. After I do 25 sessions of radiation, 5 days a week for 5 weeks, and go on an estrogen suppression medication for the next 5-10 years, my risk of recurrence drops to 5 percent or less.
SR: What does winning the Spartan Spirit Award mean to you?
LC: I was moved and overwhelmed beyond words. What did I do that was so special? I was diagnosed with a disease and I dealt with it. I do what I can to help people in the same predicament.