Kennewick man raises $23,800 for cancer patients

Chris Pumroy had every intention of finishing the Furnace Creek 508 race in Death Valley this year.

The former Marine from Kennewick trained and planned ways to stay nourished and hydrated along the remote, desolate race course, which he planned to bike to raise money for pediatric cancer patients at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.

But what he couldn't plan for was a heat wave that brought temperatures upward of 110 degrees in early October.

"I kept thinking, 'Is this a faulty thermometer?' " Pumroy said. "It was reading 111. The forecast was saying 101 or 102 in some spots."

The brutal heat ultimately did him in, and Pumroy passed out from dehydration somewhere past the halfway mark.

But he succeeded in raising $23,797 as of Wednesday, with donations still trickling in, said Rozanne Tucker, philanthropy director for the foundation.

"That's why we went down there and did that race -- so I could raise money," Pumroy said. "The athlete and competitor in me wishes I could have finished, but that would have been a secondary victory."

Pumroy was inspired to enter the race after hearing the heart-wrenching stories of pediatric cancer patients and their families at the University of Washington Medical Center, where his mother was undergoing treatment for leukemia prior to her death.

He talked to parents who were struggling to make ends meet while their children were dying -- some were being hounded by creditors and were on the verge of bankruptcy.

As a tough combat veteran who served in Iraq, he wanted to put his physical endurance to the test on behalf of pediatric patients and their families.

He decided to raise money by entering endurance races because he believed that honored the exper-iences of children battling lengthy illnesses such as cancer.

The Furnace Creek 508 was his greatest test to date, and he's proud of his performance in the race, which takes riders on a torturous 508-mile journey over three days that includes a 35,000-foot gain in elevation.

"Needless to say, it was tough," Pumroy said. "I went down as prepared as I thought I could be. A lot of times it takes two or three tries to complete it. There are a lot of variables you can't train for."

Pumroy thinks he made two crucial mistakes in the race -- first, he pushed too fast in the early stages instead of pacing himself as well as he should have.

"In the first 180 miles of the race, (I) was in the top 50, even the top 30 at one point," he said. "That should have been a red flag for me."

The race included 200 invited participants.

His second mistake was to overhydrate because of the heat. He had planned to run on liquid fuel that would keep him hydrated and keep his electrolytes up.

He worked with a nutrition planner and calculated he'd need 240 calories per hour, which meant drinking two 24-ounce bottles an hour in temperatures less than 75 degrees. He'd add a third bottle of electrolyte-containing fluids if the thermometer climbed over 75, and a fourth if it rose above 85.

That plan had him consuming 116 ounces of fluid every hour, which ended up being too much and caused a condition called hyponatremia, or low blood sodium.

"I was drinking so much fluid the electrolytes were not sticking," he said.

He had instructed his crew that when he became exhausted from the heat, to keep pushing fluids to keep him going.

"I got sick. My body started rejecting the fluids. I started showing classic signs of dehydration," Pumroy said.

He passed out and wrecked his bike at Furnace Creek, 252 miles into the race.

A physician's assistant who was part of his crew examined him and said he was in danger of heat stroke. Pumroy tried to take more fluids, but couldn't keep them down.

He got back on his bike and rode another 20 or so miles before he wrecked again and his team insisted he quit the race.

But Pumroy wanted to keep pushing on, to push himself to the absolute limit.

"I was pretty pissed off when they tried to make that decision," he said. "I didn't promise anybody I'd finish, but I did promise I wouldn't quit as long as I was within my ability to continue. I promised I'd suffer a tremendous amount of pain, and I did."

He ended up with numb hands and feet for two days following the race, as well as blisters and road rash from crashing his bike. And he spent $6,500 of his own money on the trip, equipment and entrance fees.

Nonetheless, he said he would do it again to raise money for children with cancer.

"I would love to do it again, one, because it turned out to be a very successful fundraiser," Pumroy said. "And I'd like to finish that race from a personal standpoint."