Monday, December 8, 2008

Kerryn McCann RIP

The day got off to a horrible start when news came through the news sites that marathon runner Kerryn McCann had died this morning of breast cancer.

McCann had been diagnosed when she was pregnant with her third child, and she began treatment after giving birth. Unfortunately, despite early hopes that it had been caught in time, her cancer appears to have been particularly aggressive, it took hold and within a year of diagnosis she is gone.

She leaves behind a husband and three kids. She was 41. It would be nice to be eloquent about such things, but you know there are times when life is just shitty, and cancer is particularly shitty.

There are those who think sports people don't deserve funding, or even special treatment, because all they do is play games and they add nothing to other people's lives. I have long argued that such belief is bullshit. Kerryn McCann's win at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games is a case in point.

She defended her Commonwealth Marathon title that she had won four years earlier in Manchester. But her win in Melbourne was (to borrow from Bruce McAvaney) special. She won by 2 seconds, and had to out kick her Kenyan opponent. After 42km, you're not meant to have to sprint for the line. McCann did, and a packed MCG cheered for her like they cheered for no one else.

It was truly a spine tingling moment. If you were watching that and you weren't on your feet cheering and most likely crying after she won, well then it's time you checked your pulse to see if you have one. I felt lucky to have seen it live on TV, felt proud to be Australian, and in general, just felt good about life. Sport does that - she wasn't a rich superstar, but she sure as hell earned any funding she did get.

The commentary from this clip of her victory is all the more poignant now. If you have tears, prepare to shed them now:

McCann's death is tragic of course because of her age and young family, but no one can deny she didn't achieve everything she could on the sports field. She will be remembered as one of the good ones - a woman who seemed like she could be your next door neighbour and yet who was as good as anyone on the day in the hardest event on the athletics program.

It seems incongruous that an athlete could die so soon after being in such peak condition. But as I say, cancer is shitty.

Consider the case of Hector Hogan. In 1956, Hogan won bronze in the men's 100m at the Melbourne Olympics - still the only Australian male to have won a medal in the event. After competing in the Cardiff Empire Games in 1958 his health deteriorated rapidly, and he was diagnosed with Leukaemia. He died at the age of 29, on 2 September 1960, exactly one day after the final of the men's 100m at the Rome Olympics. Not even a novelist with an overly tragic sense of timing could be that cruel.

As Matt Price (another victim of cancer) said: Life is fragile, hug your loved ones.

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