Mother hopes ‘angel’s’ legacy will be her greatest race yet


WYOMING, Mich. (WOOD) — In a rear basement bedroom at Kathy Haven’s condo are two pairs of shoes.

One is placed neatly on the bottom rack of a corner shelf next to a birth certificate. The other towers high above a lifetime of memories, a wall of medals and a journey of hope. One is the first pair her daughter Alicia Haven ever wore; the other, the last.

“They found a polyp really near her pancreas. They said, ‘We can keep an eye on it or we can go in and remove it,’” Kathy Haven said. “She did not want cancer again and she’s like, ‘No, I’m not going to play this game.’ So she went in for what they call an ampullectomy, where they were going to remove that small polyp and put a small stint in the pancreas. It’s supposed to be outpatient, but she packed her bag because she’s like, I’m never outpatient.

“Other than being in a lot of pain, we weren’t expecting anything to be terribly wrong. But there’s always a risk,” Haven continued of her daughter’s pancreatitis battle. “And we got a call in the middle of the night that she went into sudden cardiac arrest and we lost her.”

Haven’s daughter was a 10-year cancer survivor and an avid athlete. She was a dedicated runner. She was 33.

“She was just outgoing and sparkled,” Haven described her daughter. “She was the baby of three children, so that’s been tough with her being the baby but, I don’t know, she was, she was just a beacon, a shining light, a cheerleader.”

At 24, Alicia Haven was diagnosed with familial adenomatous polyposis, or FAP. It’s an inherited genetic disease that causes polyps to grow in the large intestines and colon. If left untreated, the polyps turn cancerous and deadly. Alicia had an accelerated case.

“At age 24, she found out that it was colon cancer, had to have the whole colon removed,” Haven said. “She did six to nine months of chemo, which was very debilitating. (She) lost a lot of weight from just the surgery and the chemo.”

Alicia was a champion for Chuck, her dad, Haven’s husband and the person she inherited the disease from. He found out early he had FAP. Just three months after his daughter’s sudden death, he too died from complications caused by FAP.

“I don’t even know if I can describe it as a pain as much as emptiness,” Haven said. “I mean, I went from a household, with my husband and actually with my 93-year-old mother and (Alicia) was here a lot, to an empty household.”

Haven knew her husband had fought hard his whole life but she expected her daughter to be there as her cheerleader when he passed.

“That’s been really tough… She’d be putting a positive spin on everything,” Haven said. “I know the presence is still there. There are things that happen and I know, you know, I know that she’s still there giving the rest of us strength.”

That’s what she did while she was here: strengthen others through running.

“She was the person who if someone else was struggling, she would go back out and help run them in,” Haven said. “Or she would run slower and run with them and encourage them.”

Running became a part of her daughter’s DNA. She trained every day. She ran marathons, competed in triathlons and did specialty cause races too.

“She was so grateful. Instead of going, ‘Oh, I had cancer and now I struggle with nutrition,’ it’s like, ‘I had cancer, but I can do marathons and half-marathons and I can push myself to always do more,’” Haven said. “So she always looked at the optimistic, the bright side and lived every second of life to its fullest.”

It was that outlook that led her to MyTeam Triumph. The nonprofit is a group made up of ‘captains’ and ‘angels.’ The captains are those with disabilities who wouldn’t be able to finish races without the help of angels. They are given the chance to compete in races with the angels pushing their chair from start to finish. It is as rewarding for the angel as it is for each captain.

Alicia Haven (upper right) pushes a captain towards the finish of a race with MyTeam Triumph. (Courtesy)

“I think also the cancer journey made her realize you can’t take anything in life for granted,” Haven said. “And one of the posts that she posted after one of the MyTeam Triumph (events) is most of us don’t know what it’s like to wonder if you can even take one or two steps, let alone run. And so she had this passion for wanting the captains to feel the same triumph of the race as the angels who are running. She wanted them to have that same exhilaration.”

It was a passion she had to help others. She formed relationships and stayed in touch with captains she had help finish.

When Alicia died, it was that great big running community she had been a part of that came racing to Haven’s side.

“You love your children, you think you know your children, but then when you lose one, the people who reached out to us and the messages they sent us and the stories they told us and just the tributes that they paid to her, were beyond,” Haven said, crying. “And that was a really healing.”

Those moments and tributes continue to come in regularly. Friends will train in the same route that Alicia did last. They’ll wear her shirts or hats. Or they’ll pass along messages to Haven that it felt like Alicia was running with them on a particular day.

“I know friends said, ‘Alicia is running with me, you know, Alicia’s there with me at least just pushing me to get through this,’” Haven said. “And I do believe that. I do believe it.”

Alicia would hae been running in the 2021 Amway River Bank Run, either pushing a captain or logging training miles for an Ironman.

She would have been wearing that blue pair of shoes sitting high in the basement. They were her new running shoes. She wore them to the hospital when she when for her ampullectomy — they had never seen the pavement of a race.

They embody who Alicia was: ready to push her mother ahead in the race of grief, to give her hope that a daughter’s legacy will be her greatest race yet.

“Do I want her back every single day, for sure,” Haven said. “You have to look at not always what you’ve lost, but what you gained through it.

“I truly believe she’s an angel in heaven. I truly believe she’s a guardian angel.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

NBA Stats

Top Stories On

Know something newsworthy? Report It!