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Boomer Athletes Beat Cancer & Take Life One Blessing at a Time

Liz Merritt
July 24, 2017
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Eight days ago, Bob Norvelle got the best news of his life. That was the day his doctor spoke the words “cancer-free,” and he officially graduated to prostate cancer survivor.

At 55, Norvelle and his wife, Del Ann, 54, are Boomer athletes who share the love of an active lifestyle. But his cancer battle during the past four months left a lot of question marks on their future. You see, prostate cancer took Bob Norvelle’s dad in 2013. Ever since, a nagging subconscious voice reminded him that he, too, might someday fight the same battle.

“Considering the family history, my doctor and I have been watching my PSA level closely for years,” he says. When that level crossed over the 4.0 mark to 4.7 between checkups, it was clear something was going on.

World Turned Upside Down

Boomer athletes

Bob Norvelle on the day of his prostate cancer surgery.

This past March, the Norvelles world was turned upside down with the diagnosis. “I didn’t hear anything else the doctor said after, ‘You have cancer,’” he recalls.

Bob took comfort in knowing early detection significantly increases survival rates, he was younger than most prostate cancer patients, and, as an athlete, he was physically strong. He would go into prostate removal surgery on May 24th strong and ready to fight.

For Del Ann, the diagnosis was devastating. She couldn’t imagine a life without her best friend. That same week, Del Ann was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma skin cancer on her nose.

“It was physically draining. I cried, and that morning God gave me something.” A song came on the Christian radio station: Through it all. Through it all. My eyes are on you. “I had the realization that I can’t live tomorrow, and I can’t live yesterday,” she says. “I have today and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Boomer Athletes

The Norvelles are active Baby Boomers who share a passion for cycling, running, triathlons, cycle touring events, duathlons and hiking.

“I have always liked being fit. I just feel better, so I always pursued sports in some manner,” says Del Ann. Bob was more a gym guy and discovered cycling and triathlons much later in life, after his father passed away.

Bob’s dad was an avid cyclist who competed in cross-country touring events. He completed four Pacific Atlantic Cycling (PAC) Tours, rated the toughest tour in the world by Bicycling magazine. Those tours spanned 3,500 miles over more than 30 days on a bike. After his father’s death, Bob’s mother gave him the vintage Trek road bike that once belonged to his dad.

Boomer athletes

The Norvelles are active Baby Boomers who share a passion for cycling, running, triathlons, cycle touring events, duathlons and hiking.

Del Ann also had a classic bike in the garage, so they hopped on and took their first ride together. “We did a whopping 6-mile ride and were exhausted,” she laughs. He finishes her thought: “We call ourselves team vintage because we both have old bodies and old bikes.”

Married 31 years, they raised four children, are grandparents to one, and view their empty nest status as an opportunity for renewed adventure. They are frequent competitors, and Bob is Sponsorship Officer for the Arizona Tri Club in metropolitan Phoenix.

“These sports are the first thing we’ve done together besides raising kids,” says Del Ann. “It’s been really cool to get back to something we both like doing together.”

From Touring to Triathlon & Duathlon

It wasn’t long after that Bob caught the triathlon bug when a friend convinced him to enter a sprint distance event. In the meantime, Del Ann settled comfortably into her favorite sport of duathlon. They both enjoy riding in long touring events together, and hope to someday complete a PAC Tour, just like Bob’s dad.

“I basically started from nothing just a few years ago,” recalls Bob. “I tried running with Del Ann, but I couldn’t keep up with her. Then we went to the pool, and 25 yards across the pool, I could barely breathe.

Boomer athletes

Bob Norvelle is back on the bike and training again following prostate cancer surgery.

“In my mind, I always thought I was in very good shape. My brain told me I was just as fit as ever – until I did my first triathlon. I could barely walk afterwards. And when I saw my time, I knew I could do better than that.”

With that competitive spirit lit, the Norvelles eventually graduated to sleek racing bikes. They training together regularly and join local group rides each week week.

What’s next? Bob is upping the ante and has entered the Oceanside 70.3 Half Ironman in 2018. “I’m terrified,” he confesses. “It’s the longest triathlon I have done up to now.”

Journey of Healthy Aging

When they’re not working out or training together, the Norvelles have busy careers. He is an estimating manager for a retail services company based in Oregon, and she works as service quoter and dispatcher for an air-conditioning repair company.

They are extraordinarily grateful for their health and certainly do not take it for granted. “You only have a certain amount of time here on earth. Don’t waste any of it,” Del Ann says.

With cancer behind them, their leisure time will be filled with training and preparations for their next race. Bob is particularly focused on what he will need to do in the coming months to rebuild his fitness from the surgery and prepare for his Half Ironman next spring.

Never Give Up

Boomer athletes

Del Ann and Bob Norvelle sharing a ride together.

The way they see it, healthy aging is all about never giving up on yourself and remaining active.

“Never stop,” Bob says emphatically. “For me, cancer was a wake-up call.”

Del Ann tells a story of hiking the Grand Canyon for the first time when she was 40. There, she encountered a 72-year-old woman taking a break about midway through the grueling hike.

“I was confessing my woes, and she tells me, ‘You don’t sit down and stop.’ I took that to heart. It’s better than sitting in that chair and dying one pound at a time surrounded by medicine bottles.”

Bob adds, “If anything, I am learning more and more that life is so much about attitude. My dad definitely inspired me in this. Honestly, it’s not much different from one of those long, death-march bike rides where you just go ahead and finish and are grateful for what you learned.”

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