It’s the early morning and in the corner of the Duanesburg YMCA Wellness Center an older man is doing squats, with 20-pound weights in each hand, on a BOSU ball. He turns around and looks into the camera filming him. “I could do this all day,” he said.
Eleven years ago, when Bill Blance was 68 years old, he was diagnosed with throat cancer. As a lifelong athlete — competitive swimmer, triathlete and body builder — the news came as a shock.
Just weeks before the diagnosis, Bill noticed a bump on the side of his neck. His doctor originally figured, since he appeared healthy otherwise, the bump was a swollen gland. So, when the cancer was finally discovered, Bill’s response to his wife was, “I’m almost 70; I’ve had a good life; I’m not going to do it.” Needless to say, Bill’s wife refused his sentiment and brought him to see the best doctors she could find.
Bill spent 17 weeks in a hospital receiving chemo and radiation. He lost his hair, 50 pounds and, once dispatched to recover at home, could barely walk to his mailbox.
Now, 79-year-old Bill, a natural-born story-teller, agrees to share his remarkable story of recovery from cancer, how he discovered the Y, and his post-cancer life as a competitive athlete.
Recovery wasn’t easy. But as his strength slowly returned, he decided to start swimming again, which was when he found the Y.
“I fell in love with this place,” Bill said. “You can swim every single day[…]from 5:30 in the morning to 8 at night.” A look of nostalgia appears on his face just before he shares the beginning of his competitive swimming and triathlon career.
“I got my first medal in 1949, swimming,” Bill said. “It wasn’t quite 100 yards because back in those days you didn’t have pools; you swam in a lake or in a pond or something.”
As he positioned himself to race, he motioned to the man sitting in the middle of the pond to “get back”, because Blance, being a pompous, young athlete, wanted to race a more difficult distance.
“Come on, Blance, stop screwing around,” the man said.
“I can still remember looking up and seeing him above me in the boat,” Bill said, “and I went way beyond that[…]my mother said he called in the lifeguards because he thought I drowned.”
Then, Bill discovered triathlons in 1986. “When you finish, you’re not really tired,” Bill said. “[I] budget [my] time and [my] energy expenditure over three things, so when I finished, bingo, I wasn’t tired. I say, ‘My god, this is a piece of cake; I’m going to keep doing this.'”
Though Bill’s love of competing never faded, his battle with cancer made him feel, at times, like he’d never race again.
When Bill started swimming and taking exercise classes at the Y, the familiar rush of endorphins moved him. He finally realized cancer was in the past. Now, he could do whatever he set his mind to and what he missed most was racing.
“Because of the Y, I am able to be very consistent in my training,” Bill said. “I found that when you’re consistent, that’s the best thing to get you to where you want to be.”
“Consistency is the Y’s middle name and that’s what I thrive on… consistency.”