Team Mamta Strong lifts 10,000 pounds in pink tutus for local breast cancer patient
by Phil Lindeman
A week before her double mastectomy, Mamta Shah donned a tutu, tiara and bright-pink “Barbells For Boobs” shirt before lifting 10,000 combined pounds in one night. She can’t wait to do it all over again — once she’s cleared by the doctors, that is.
“I’ll probably go in and cheer people on,” laughed Shah, a nurse at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center who was diagnosed with breast cancer in mid-summer. “I can walk, I can pull a sled — ski season is around the corner so I have to be ready. I keep telling myself, ‘You can do it, so do it.’”
On Tuesday, the Summit Cove resident of two years joined more than 30 fellow weightlifters at Crossfit Low Oxygen in Frisco for the annual Barbells for Boobs event. The concept is simple and undeniably Crossfit: members at the gym (or box, if we’re getting technical) collected donations throughout October, and then everyone dressed in pink, frilly outfits to lift 10,000 pounds each. It’s a national fundraiser designed to raise money for women who can’t afford mammograms — the screening costs about $80 and most health insurance carriers won’t cover it until a certain age, Shah said — and the local gym has participated for several years.
But this October was different. Soon after Shah’s diagnoses in July, Crossfit Low Oxygen owner Adriana Gillett wanted to dedicate the local fundraiser to her athlete. The mantra for the night: “Team Mamta Strong,” written in chalk all across the floor, walls and whiteboards at the warehouse-style gym. As of Tuesday, the coaches and members have raised $8,100 of the $10,000 goal.
Shah, who’s been an avid member since moving to Summit two years back, fits in at least three or four workouts per week, which might make the post-op recovery hard to swallow: chances are she’ll be sidelined from lifting for six to eight weeks at best. So how’s she taking it?
“There is a silver lining,” said Shah, who, ironically enough, assists local patients with chemotherapy treatments, “I can empathize with my patients more. I know what they’re going through.”
After the fundraiser and before her operation on Wednesday, Nov. 2, the Summit Daily News caught up with Shah to find out more about the fundraiser, her diagnoses and why Crossfit has become much more than lifting in the past four months.
Summit Daily News: You and the crew at Crossfit Low Oxygen just wrapped up with the Barbells For Boobs fundraiser. How did you get involved with that gym?
Mamta Shah: I hadn’t done it before coming to the mountains, but it was near my house then, I heard good things about it, and now I’ve fallen in love with it. That place has a family feel, I will say that. It’s a place where people bring each other up, which is really nice. I’ve heard people say it’s nice to finish last there because everyone else is cheering you on (laughs).
SDN: Have you always enjoyed lifting, or was that new too?
MS: I really like it, but I didn’t get into it until finding Crossfit. It’s something I do really well. I know I keep saying it’s like family there, but it is. It’s a team. We have jars at the gym with every coach’s name, and for the amount raised the coaches have to do that many burpees. One of the coaches (Campy Campton) had $300 in his jar, and he told me he’d be doing 300 burpees the morning of my operation at 9 a.m. I told him that I’d do 50, then someone else said, “I’ll take 50 for you,” and she’ll be in Turkey. We’ll be doing burpees across the world.
SDN: That should be the name of the next fundraiser, Burpees Across the World. Had you participated in Barbells For Boobs before this year?
MS: My background is oncology — pediatric oncology — and I did Barbells For Boobs last year before I was diagnosed. I was diagnosed this past July on a regular scheduled mammogram. What’s really cool is that a few members at the gym have said to me, “I scheduled my mammogram, and I’ve been putting it off for years.” It’s like an oil change — you put it off for years and years until your car blows up. It’s been a hard year for my husband and I — my husband’s mom died, my dad died, my mom’s home flooded, I got diagnosed — and the outpouring of support has been awesome.
SDN: And then the gym dedicated the fundraiser to you. What stood out about this year’s event?
MS: It’s way more personally for me, obviously. Barbells is committed to health and a healthy lifestyle, and they promote that breast cancer doesn’t discriminate. There are a lot of people who are diagnosed before 40 and health insurance doesn’t cover that. They help people who might not qualify through insurance — just bringing awareness. Barbells is another community. One of the founders actually called me — I wouldn’t usually answer the phone if I don’t recognize the numbers, but this one I just did.
SDN: Who was it? And how did she get a hold of you?
MS: I was driving down to Denver for an appointment when she (Monica Olmos) called and said, “Adriana told me your story and I wanted to talk with you.” They have a site on Facebook for people who have been diagnosed, and that’s a great way to build the community of people for what we’re going through. It’s not a great club to be in — the membership fee kind of sucks — but it’s more common than you think.
SDN: Did you ever suspect you’d be diagnosed with breast cancer?
MS: It was totally out of the blue. Actually, I was at the gym when I got the phone call, so I said, “I’m going to do the workout and then deal with this.” I also got a call from my mom’s neighbor at the same time, and she said, “You need to call me now. The entire house is flooded.” I just thought, “Well, we’re all here, we’re all together. This is where I need to be.”
SDN: How helpful was it to be at the gym — in a familiar place, with friends — when you got those two serious calls?
MS: Ironically, it was helpful. I thought at first I should be with my mom to help her, but then I knew I had to be there for that workout — just be present with the support of people I know and trust. It’s about not being alone.
SDN: You had the option of radiation or a full mastectomy, and you went with the mastectomy. Why go that route?
MS: With radiation, the tumor was just on my left breast, so they would radiate the left. On the right side I’d be getting mammograms every six months, and then down to Denver for alternating mammograms frequently. They say a lot of women choose that because it seems easier, but you’re back to the waiting thing right away. I talked to lots of women who had radiation on just one side and said they wished they would get the mastectomy. You’re just waiting so long and wondering, “What did they see? Was it calcification? Was it a tumor?” For me, this is peace of mind.
SDN: Your operation is less than a week away. Did this year’s fundraiser help you get mentally ready?
MS: It was amazing to be with them. It just reaches so far, like a big network that knows no bounds. I like to say, “Family isn’t just by our last name and your blood — it’s people who are committed and stand by you.” I came home one day to find a package from someone from the gym. There were times I thought, “What is the point?” But you’re around your friends and your family at the gym, and that’s when you realize, yes, there is a point.
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