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Local proves herself a warrior

August 01, 2012 - When Kim Zubalik ran the Warrior Dash last Saturday, she faced daunting obstacles including junked cars, mud pits, barbed wire, cargo nets and fire.

Still, finishing the 3.2 mile race in Mt. Morris wasn't nearly as scary as the battle she faced a year earlier to save her life.

The Brandon Township resident's completion of the Warrior Dash July 28 coincided with her 1-year celebration of completing chemotherapy.

"Last year I did chemo and this year I got to do something fun and it really wasn't as bad as I thought," said Zubalik, 44. "The obstacles weren't as bad as I thought they would be. The mud was the worst. It wasn't hard, just gross. The Warrior Dash was fun. Battling cancer— I can't say that was fun."

Zubalik learned she had breast cancer following a mammogram in March 2011. Her father had died the previous September from cancer and after abnormal cells were discovered during her sister's first mammogram in December 2010, Zubalik realized she was overdue for her own mammogram. The procedure likely saved her life—the cancer was found while it was stage 1, but the cancer was a grade 3, the most aggressive form. She had not had any symptoms.

"The hardest part was telling my family," recalled Zubalik, who was newly married at the time to husband John and has four teenage children.

She decided to have a double mastectomy, and the surgery was done in April, with chemotherapy starting a month later. Her last chemotherapy treatment was a year ago July 28.

"It was scary," she said of her treatment. "I watched my dad battle for a year and that was on my mind, but it was not as bad as I anticipated."

The account executive, whose youngest son turned 13 shortly after she started chemotherapy, was asked by a friend whether it was harder having cancer or four teenagers.

"Put that way, cancer is not that big of a deal," laughs Zubalik.

She did workout videos and ran on the treadmill prior to the Warrior Dash, which she believed would be good inspiration. As the race got closer, she worried that she couldn't do it.

"I was hoping I could back out somehow," Zubalik laughs. "But my friend Wendy was like, 'Do it for fun. Change your mindset. Do something different.'"

She did and found that once again she was up to the challenge. Zubalik was among many local athletes running the Warrior Dash, including GHS graduate Erin O'Mara, the top female finisher, and Brandon High School graduate Hannah Scherer, who finished third among the women competitors July 28.

Zubalik notes she may also wind up on television. While at the first obstacle, she noticed a camera crew filming the woman directly in front of her.

"There was this guy cheering her on, and I thought, 'Wow, she brought her personal trainer,'" said Zubalik. "My friend was like, 'That's the guy from tv.'"

The crew, it turned out, was filming an episode of "Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition."

Zubalik is already signed up for next year's Warrior Dash and is looking forward to her kids joining her. She notes that all ages were out on the course, including a grandmother who apologized to her for being slow. Zubalik reassured her that it was fine, she was there to have fun.

She remembers the positive influence from her father, who told her, "Everyday, you have two choices—wake up and make it a good day or wake up and make it a bad day."

For Zubalik, July 28— both this year and last— was a good day.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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