NJ residents overcome medical challenges to compete
When Christine Conti is going through a difficult day, she takes advice from Wonder Woman.
“You have two choices in life: do something or do nothing,” said Conti, a 43-year-old from The Brick. “I’m going to choose not to use (rheumatoid arthritis) as a crutch. … I have this disease, and some days I don’t feel well, but I’m still on the move. I’ll try to carry on as long as I can. .”
Early Sunday morning, Conti will dive into the Hudson River to start the New York Triathlon. An Olympic distance event, it includes a 1,500 meter swim, a 40 km bike ride on the West Side Highway and a 10 km run through Central Park.
A high school and college volleyball player who coached the sport while in college, Conti was diagnosed with advanced RA at age 30, after struggling to use her hands. His grandmother Jeanne had been left virtually paralyzed from the neck down by the same autoimmune disease, leaving Conti’s mother as his primary caretaker.
Conti was plunged into depression for about seven months, until “I finally woke up”. She began researching chronic disease, gave talks, and created a program for the Medical Fitness Network. Conti describes herself as “a unique experience”, having completed more than 40 marathons since her diagnosis.
About 2,400 people are expected to participate in New York’s 20th Anniversary Triathlon on Sunday. About 10% of them are from New Jersey, representing 16 of the 21 counties.
Pompton Plains’ Greg Dabice plans to celebrate his 52nd birthday by crossing the finish line in Central Park. He had both knees replaced after years of rugby. At 30, he wanted to complete an Ironman triathlon – but he couldn’t swim.
Dabice got help from lifeguards at Montclair State University, where alumni have access to the pool. He started with short distance triathlons in 2001 and did his first Ironman in 2004.
Dabice and Conti finished Ironman Lake Placid. Dabice also competed in Ironman Florida. Conte did Ironman Maryland in 2019 and is scheduled for Ironman Chattanooga (Tennessee) on September 25.
“I wasn’t going to stop living,” said Dabice, who couldn’t walk down stairs before her first knee replacement surgery seven years ago. “It’s tough. Anyone who does an Ironman has to overcome a lot mentally. My knee is swelling and I’m limping, but I’m not stopping. I’m not choosing to stop. That’s what helps you get through this. Maybe that’s what sets us apart from the crazies.”
This will be Dabice’s third participation in the New York Triathlon. He owned and ran several local races, including a triathlon in Pequannock.
A mom of two, Conti co-hosted the “Two Fit Crazies and a Microphone” podcast with Manasquan native Brian Prendergast for five years. She compiled interviews and essays into her first book, “Split-Second Courage,” which was published in January and was an Amazon bestseller.
“I was good for nothing when I started, but I showed up. It became such a positive and uplifting experience for me that I wanted to continue,” Conti said. “Every race I finish, it could be my last race. I don’t know. One day I won’t be able to do that, but today is not that day.”