Connie’s irrepressible lifestyle inspired Moore to share her story and a glimpse into the courage of a woman who took control of her indomitable spirit and lived life to the fullest.
The following is author Gay Moore’s piece on “Connie Bridges: Distance Rider”:
Distance rider Connie Bridges believes, “If God has put a dream in your heart, don’t let it die.” The story of the enthusiastic, diminutive, 55-year-old with bright blue eyes and smile to match begins with a move to Bradley County from Texas in 2006. While moving into her new home, she began to bleed profusely from a mole on her right arm. Referred from the emergency room to a physician, she was diagnosed with malignant melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer.
Prior to moving to Tennessee, she and her husband, Tim, purchased two horses. Connie was eager to begin riding again, a sport she enjoyed as an adolescent, and Tim was happy to join her. When the horses were delivered it was obvious that one of them, Major, was not the well-behaved horse they believed they had purchased. Fiercely independent and aggressive with no respect for any mere human-being, everyone, including Connie, was afraid of him. Nonetheless, Connie declares, ‘Major changed me in ways that I could never have anticipated. He became my buddy. He challenged me.’
Following surgery and beginning the first of a number of rounds of chemotherapy, Connie decided that she would continue to care for the horses, Major and Buddy, rather than give into being a full-time cancer “victim.” Realizing she could not manage Major without special training, Connie decided to visit Clint Anderson in Crossville, and began to use his techniques to win the horse’s respect. Slowly, for it was one and half years before she would attempt to ride him and even then he threw her with a resulting head injury, Connie and Major developed a bond of mutual respect.
As the child of a military family, Connie was accustomed to moving and meeting new people, but her support system was back in Texas. Several months after her diagnosis, Connie and Tim started an adult riding club, the “Giddy-Up Riders,” which provided her with the supportive women friends she needed. Connie recruited Lenore Scannapiego and the two began making frequent trail rides.
“Lenore understood my illness, including the exhaustion and mental fogginess caused by the chemo, and was willing to ride with me in the way I was able to ride, sometimes for just fifteen minutes. Lenore encouraged me, but she didn’t pressure me.”
Connie also began working as a crew member for Lenore during distance races. Eventually, Connie began to prepare for her first distance race. While training for her initial race at Talladega, Ala., Connie, feeling increasingly exhausted and having difficulty breathing, returned to her oncologist. Almost four years to the day from her initial diagnosis, she saw a thoracic cancer specialist, who discovered an inoperable stage four melanoma between her lung and chest wall.
Placed on an experimental drug, she continued to plan for the race despite warnings from her doctor that she would probably be too weak to ride in the competition. She even ran in place for him, much to his surprise, to demonstrate that she had regained sufficient energy and stamina. However, as the race approached, she found she could not ride and instead loaned her horse, Major, to Lenore to make the race. Connie, although quite weak, crewed for Lenore while nursing her own horse, Kinsey, who had injured his eye.
In February, 2011, before knowing whether or not the new drug was effective, Connie rode with Lenore in her first distance race in Mississippi. In a sport where completing the two-day, twenty-five mile competition is a victory, Connie, riding Kinsey who had lost his eye, and Lenore came in fifteenth and sixteenth respectively.
Connie soon began to anticipate her next race. In fall, 2011 despite chemotherapy related burning pain in her hands and feet, she placed 36th out of 57 riders at Skymont, riding Major who, despite balking while crossing a narrow bridge, carried her through the 25 mile race!
Insisting that she “does not feel inspirational,” she credits a number of sources for her success in dealing with cancer, including the support and caring of others including her husband, the doctors who continued to offer her hope, and her willingness to discharge one specialist who did not offer her that hope.
She further credits her military father, a strict disciplinarian, who always told his children that the words, “I can’t,” were not acceptable in their home, as well as her boss at one of her two part-time jobs, who purchased a wig for her when she lost her hair, one of the few times she says she cried. Most of all it was her supportive friends in the riding club, especially Lenore, and the horses themselves, for “when you are riding all labels are off you, you are not a cancer patient.”
Connie is her own best medicine with her indomitable resolve and her abiding spirituality, often visualizing herself as “David” shooting at the cancer “Goliath.” Though she would probably not use the word “courage,” Connie believes “You always have a choice. You cannot control what happens to you, but you can control how you react and what you do.”
Connie died of malignant melanoma one month after this interview on Jan. 14, 2012.
Moore, a registered nurse described Connie as “a very special person” who made an impact on her life. The author and experienced speaker, said she enjoys talking with different groups about her books, short-stories as well as her continuing interest in mental health and substance abuse, as featured in her new blog, “Talking About Mental Health Care” at blogspot.com.
You can follow Gay Moore on her website:www.gmooretn.com.