Cancer Patient Makes It Through Peaks and Valleys

The news was devastating, and those who have ever been told they have cancer can relate.

Louise Cooper- Lovelace, a second-grade teacher at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, was informed by her doctor a little more than a year ago that she had an aggressive form of breast cancer--the recurring kind.

"It's scary when someone breaks the news, because it makes you feel so vulnerable," she says. "But looking back, I really feel that my lifestyle equipped me to deal with this in a positive way. I looked at it as merely another hurdle, another obstacle."

The biggest obstacle ever in her path.

Cooper-Lovelace, 45, is used to them. Being a grade-school teacher, most are 4 feet tall and have runny noses.

But being a veteran triathlete and adventure racer, many of the obstacles come in the form of towering peaks, raging rivers and severe muscle cramps that are part of such grueling endurance races as the ECO-Challenge and Raid Gauloises, multiday marathons held annually in exotic locations.

Cooper-Lovelace has a second-place finish in the Raid Gauloises and several top 10s in other adventure races.

"It's a hell of a way to see the world," she says, adding that she was training for last year's Raid Gauloises in Ecuador when she had the world pulled from under her feet.

Cooper-Lovelace, a West Hills resident, was found to be Her-2 positive, meaning her cancer cells would keep regenerating.

She started undergoing chemotherapy and only recently was given a reprieve from that, and hope for the future in the form of a newly approved "smart drug" called Herceptin, a man-made antibody that attacks a protein produced by the Her-2 gene associated with this form of cancer.

The drug has shown promise, giving Cooper-Lovelace a new lease on life. New cancer cells have not been detected in months. "And it's going to prevent the cancer from coming back," she confidently says.

For the time being anyway, it's enabling her to mount a personal comeback of pretty remarkable proportions.

She had her last radiation treatment in February and immediately began training for the Catalina Marathon in March, because, as she said, "I needed something to focus on."

She didn't win the 26.2-mile run over the island's rugged terrain, but she finished, which was all she wanted to do.

"It was a real bitch," she recalls, "all hills and mud."

She then stepped things up a bit. She entered last week's Hi-Tec Badwater ultra marathon from the floor of Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth at 282 feet below sea level, to the trail head leading to Mt. Whitney, at 8,360 feet.

"My friend, Lisa Smith, contacted me about this race and said it'd be really cool for us to do it together and try to raise money for charities," Cooper-Lovelace recalls.

The two sent letters to family and friends, asking for pledges for donations to UCLA's Revlon Breast Center and the Christopher Reeve Foundation for spinal injuries.

The response was incredible.

So was her finish in the 135-mile race: 13th overall among 43 runners from around the world, and second among women in 40 hours 14 minutes. The overall winner was Eric Clifton of New Mexico in 27 hours 49 minutes.

"That way exceeded my expectations," Cooper-Lovelace says of her place in the lineup. "My crew and I weren't really racing; we just wanted to finish."

Smith fell short of the finish line by seven miles after having an allergic reaction to the muscle-relaxing body cream she was using.

"She got up the next morning, though, and finished just for the sake of finishing," Cooper-Lovelace boasts of her friend. "That was pretty cool."

Unlike the race itself. It began the morning of July 15 with a thermometer reading of 124 degrees, and it took total concentration just to stay focused on the white line running down the middle of the highway she was following.

Cooper-Lovelace had prepared for the heat by driving around the San Fernando Valley with her windows rolled up and the heater on, and by jogging under the broiling sun in full sweats. Her adventure racing experience, she figures, helped with the sleep-deprivation aspect of the Death Valley race.

At one point, a crew member driving alongside her in a car, insisted she stop and rest for 10 minutes atop a small hill. She reluctantly agreed, and discovered that the crew member had fallen asleep.

"I said, 'Forget that, I'm outta here,' " she recalls.

And on she went, running eight minutes and walking two, taking nourishment from another of her support crew, who caught up with her in his car.

"Everyone did everything to deter me from entering this race," she now says, having long since cooled off. "They kept saying how boring it was looking down at that long, white line of the highway.

"But I didn't think it was boring because there's such beauty in the desert. However, at times I'd look around and see that the only living things were us."

A hell of a way to see the world indeed.

FISHING

* The albacore score: This from Red Rooster III skipper Andy Cates after a two-day trip 85 miles offshore earlier this week: "We stopped targeting the albacore at 2 p.m. the first day and went running east for some variety, but it was more albacore everywhere we went. We were definitely on them from start to finish and they wanted to bite the entire time."

The fish dived for cover Tuesday and Wednesday, but surfaced again Thursday off San Clemente Island and Ensenada. Many of the skippers reported scores of more than 100 albacore, despite wind-swept seas.

Meanwhile, the Central California season has begun, although not with a bang. Virg's Landing in Morro Bay sent an exploratory boat out last Sunday and caught six albacore in an area 58 miles offshore, and the weather has kept the fleet at bay since. The Princess, however, was scheduled to leave Thursday night.

* Sailing along: Capt. Jamie Morales of the Vamanos II out of Ixtapa Sportfishing Charters reports that there are "too, too many sailfish," stopping just short of calling them pests. His anglers are raising more than 12 sails per day and the only drawback is that the scrappy billfish are making it difficult to get baits down to the tuna and dorado. Another possible drawback: It's hurricane season there so checking the weather is vital before booking a trip.

* Baja revisited: San Diego author Gene Kira, on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Raintree restaurant in Carlsbad, will give a one-hour slide show-discussion on the sportfishing history of Baja California and sign copies of his new book, "The Unforgettable Sea of Cortez."

The book is based on the personal archives of the late Ray Cannon, a colorful columnist who covered the beginnings of sportfishing in Baja. Kira is best known for co-authoring the "Baja Catch," but his best work is the novel "King of the Moon," set in a small southern Baja fishing village.

WHALE WATCHING

Blue and humpback whales continue to put on a show near the west end of Santa Cruz Island. During a recent American Cetacean Society-sponsored trip aboard the Condor out of Santa Barbara's Sea Landing, the highlight was a humpback launching itself almost completely out of the water a few hundred feet from the boat.

Bernardo Alps called it "the most spectacular humpback breach I have ever witnessed," and that says a lot coming from the president of the Los Angeles chapter of the ACS. "The animal seemed to come out of the water in slow motion, almost to the flukes, then slowly twisted "in midair while falling over to one side."

The ACS has another trip scheduled July 31. Details: (310) 399-5367.

SCUBA DIVING

This report came in last Sunday from Mark Rayor, owner of Vista Sea Sport at Baja's East Cape:

"Today may have been the best day of diving since I have lived here. At Cabo Pulmo, grouper to 200 pounds are everywhere. Besides that, we saw amberjack to 100 pounds, schools of dogtooth snapper to 80 pounds, lots of giant stingrays, mantas, a huge school of bigeye jacks, clouds of yellow snapper and a lot more.

"We saw two green moray [eels] doing the nasty. On our second dive at El Cantil we saw three white-tip sharks about six feet long. Last week, one of my dive masters saw a hammerhead in the same spot. Pulmo is not known for sharks but we are seeing them now. There's so much life it's hard to know which way to look." Rayor can be reached via e-mail at vseasport@aol.com.

HUNTING

* Those who want to participate in any of 64 special half-day family and junior pheasant hunts offered by the Department of Fish and Game beginning this fall have until Sept. 1 to send in their applications to be eligible for a drawing. The hunts, free of charge and open to anyone with a hunting license and upland game bird stamp, will take place throughout Southern California and the Eastern Sierra. For dates and application details: (562) 590-5100.

* The fall flight of ducks should be a spectacular one, thanks to ideal habitat conditions in their northern breeding grounds. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in its annual report on breeding-duck numbers, reported an estimated 43.8 million ducks, the highest count since 1955 and 12% higher than last year.

Mallards numbered 11.1 million, up 15% from last year. Green-winged teals (2,826,000) and blue-winged teals (7,210,000) are at record highs. "Virtually all the news this year is good," said Bruce Batt, a biologist for Ducks Unlimited. "We're seeing some of the best habitat conditions ever across much of the birds' breeding areas. That means a high percentage of ducks are stopping to breed where the habitat is best. And that, in turn, means a greater nesting effort and an expected increase in the fall flight."

* Ducks Unlimited announced during its annual national convention that, for the fourth year in a row, California sportsmen raised more than any other state for waterfowl-related conservation projects, a whopping $14,173,500. DU has spent more than $47 million on 417 wildlife habitat projects in California.

* FISH REPORT, PAGE 11

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