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My Friend and Inspiration: Shirl Koenig

My Friend and Inspiration: Shirl Koenig

by September Summers - April 15, 2014

My group of friends these days mostly consists of those I have either trained with or raced against; and Shirl Koenig is my most trusted source of inspiration among those peers. Even though he is hardly in my “age group” he is always the one to watch out for. At least that was true a few years back. Shirl is now in his 80’s and has survived cancer not once, but twice in his lifetime. He is credited with always defeating cancer because of his religious exercise habits. His story is one to remember.

Let me start from the beginning. When I first met Shirl, I was invited to swim with him and his group, the self-named Nutria Gang. They met three mornings a week at Lake Nasworthy. My first swim was apparently my initiation. As we were sitting on the bench next to the water talking casually while getting our swim caps, goggles and towels ready for the water, the “gang” used this time to totally terrify me with stories of water snakes, nutria, and turtles. I was certain all of the above were lurking in the murky water just waiting for me. Determined not to be a wimp I jumped right in, after the last of the boys, of course. I figured if any snakes were interested in us they would go after the leader of the pack, right?

I guess I passed the test because I was invited back. For the rest of that year and most of the next three years, I would meet up with the Nutria gang as often as my schedule permitted. I soon grew very fond of these wonderful guys. Through our friendships, I learned about their wives, children, and of course their health. Shirl had already conquered prostate cancer; and I would have never guessed it had ever taken time from his workouts, as he seemed in tip-top shape for all the three activities related to triathlon racing. In fact today, he proudly claims to have competed in all but one of the Wool Capital Triathlons held in San Angelo over the past 25 years.

Then, he was diagnosed with colon cancer one month before his 80th birthday. I remember him telling me his biggest regret was not getting a colon scope in his 70’s, as he was certain if he had it would have been caught in its early stages.

After Dr. Cornell took the top part of his colon, he was told the cancer had metastasized. He was referred to the Shannon Oncology Center. Shirl spent six months in chemotherapy treatment. During this time, he stayed as active as he could, still going for walks and exercising at the club when he felt strong enough.

He told me his saving grace was his friends, who he trained for triathlons with, never treated him any differently and were always available for a shorter walk or bike ride to get him out of the house.

Shirl is now cancer free and at 82 is back out on the road riding his bike and running. Apparently he is even still strong enough to fight off those Nutria varmints, too. He recently told me his lifestyle of exercise, meditation, and positive attitude were undoubtedly the reason he survived and is now back to living life to the fullest.

I don’t know about you, but I truly want to be just like Shirl when I grow up!


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