Just months after reaching the summit of a sport in which she was a U.S. pioneer, Kikkan Randall announced that she was undergoing treatments for breast cancer. The 35-year-old Alaska native, who helped win her country’s first medal in women’s cross-country skiing — a gold medal, no less — at the PyeongChang Olympics, said her “prognosis is good” and vowed to bring “tenacity, strength and energy toward this challenge.”
Randall shared the news Wednesday on social media and on her personal website, saying, “The color pink has taken on a new chapter in my life as I was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.” In addition to an effervescent personality, Randall has become known for her pink hair, a look she adopted to bring attention to cross-country skiing as “a fun, exciting and dynamic sport,” as she put it shortly before the Winter Games kicked off.
In her fifth appearance at the Olympics, one she had already determined would be her last, Randall combined with Jessie Diggins for an unexpected win in the team sprint event. That gave the U.S. its first gold in cross-country skiing and just its second of any kind, following Bill Koch’s silver in 1976, and it ended Randall’s Olympic career on the highest of notes.
She didn’t have long to bask in her accomplishments, however, before receiving a jolt when a pair of pea-sized lumps in her breast were diagnosed as cancerous. The disease was caught in an early stage, leading to the positive prognosis, but Randall is set for six rounds of chemotherapy, with a treatment every three weeks, before undergoing surgery.
“It’s tough for sure,” she told the Anchorage Daily News, “especially coming off winning an Olympic gold medal. To go from that high, to barely two months into retirement, and then you find out about this, which just changes everything.”
Randall, who had a child after the 2014 Games in Sochi, told the newspaper that she found the lumps on Mother’s Day, and she described her experience over the past few months as a “roller coaster.” She said, “Just like getting any tough news, you go through all the stages of denial and disbelief and frustration, but I always come back to the same skills I’ve used in my athletic career. I need to focus on what I can control. I need to be positive and optimistic.”
In her statement Wednesday, Randall said she began her first round of chemotherapy on Monday, and befitting her “Kikkanimal” nickname, she rode her bicycle to and from the hospital. Having moved to Penticton, British Columbia, earlier this year with her husband and child, she has returned to get treated in Anchorage, where, she told the Associated Press, she will stay with her parents at least until she can decide if it’s feasible to move back and forth between the two places.
Back in her hometown, Randall said she was moved by the support she has received, including from a group of friends who accompanied her to her first treatment. “You always want to celebrate the gold medals together, but you know, in a way, you really see the strength of the whole community when they come to your aid when you’re having a tough time,” she told the AP.
A 17-time U.S. national champion, Randall is the only American to have won a World Cup season-long title, as she has three in the sprint competition. She has 14 World Cup wins and 29 podium finishes in single events, and she and Diggins won the team event at the 2013 world championships.
“It’s a scary thing to learn you have cancer, and I have wondered every day since how this could have possibly happened to me,” Randall said Wednesday. “But I have promised myself that I will remain positive and active and determined throughout my treatment.”
Of how she plans to handle the looming prospect of losing her hair, Randall told the Daily News, “I’m taking great suggestions for any pink wigs.”
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