Mountain
Chandler Spears

Leukemia & Leadville: 1 Man, 2 Huge Challenges

Amateur racer pays all his own expenses, contributions go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

Editor’s note: It’s a rest day here at the Tour de France. I took a little break from covering the pros to catch up with an old riding buddy from New Mexico. Here is his story.

Chandler Spears was training for the Leadville Trail 100 last year when things started to go sideways. Instead of rebounding stronger from training, he was getting weaker.

“Something was profoundly wrong, but, being a man, I would just beat my head against the ground – I need to train more,” he said with a laugh.

Then the father of two was informed that he had an incurable form of leukemia.

“It was crushing to hear that I had cancer,” he said. “But at the same time it was a massive relief, because I had spent the better part of last year training for Leadville, putting in more and more time, and watching my fitness decay.”

Spears is a former pro racer who has enjoyed a successful financial career in Santa Fe, New Mexico, keeping amateur bike racing going on the side for fun and fitness.

Being diagnosed with a terminal condition prompted some soul searching, and some surprising conclusions.

“Your first reaction is not necessarily living for the things you love, but living for the people who love you. Your wife. Your boys. Your family,” he said. “The next few weeks were spent thinking about the worst what-ifs.”

His first week getting chemotherapy exposed him to others with cancer. For seven straight days he sat with a catheter dripping fluid into his chest. He responded well to the treatment, and is now in remission. Being brought into contact with so many other people living with leukemia — especially those who weren’t rebounding — Spears said he felt compelled to do something. He decided to give Leadville another go, but this time with a different perspective. Instead of the typical self-centered bike racer approach, Spears set out to see how much money he could raise for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS).

Unlike some fundraisers that include overhead operating expenses, Spears’ arrangement funnels all money directly into the LLS. He is paying all his own costs. He hopes to raise $50,000.

“My wants are not modest. But they’re not self-serving, either,” he said. “The nice thing about how this is set up is that every single penny I raise goes to the LLS for this particular type of cancer. You don’t have big pharma going out of their way to fight blood cancer. They’re fighting breast cancer, the sarcomas and the really nasty stuff — which is absolutely necessarily, of course. I’m just trying to help raise funds to fight a type of cancer that is somewhat out of the spotlight.”

His website with more information at an LLS donation link is http://rmt.lls.llsevent.org/LT100.

With his leukemia in remission, Spears is training again and feeling good.

“The nice thing about today is that I feel strong. I do have residual cancer in my marrow. About 13 percent of my marrow has cancer in it,” Spears said. “At some point — I hope it’s 20 years from now – that cancer comes back. I’m treating it as if I have one year, with whatever I do. I’m giving it everything I’ve got.”