By C. Ron Allen
Delray Beach Tribune
DELRAY BEACH – Travellers along Linton Boulevard may notice a woman hauling a car tire along the bridge over the Intracoastal Waterway.
She is not going nuts as some may think. And it appears to be a tiring exercise – as many onlookers often say to her.
“Some people stop and take pictures,’” Melissa Watson said recently, during a break between her arduous workout in preparation for a – 44-mile, 20,000 elevation – charity trek across the Grand Canyon. “People wave, talk and some ask, ‘What are you doing this for, obviously you’re training for something.”
A firefighter of 18.5 years with Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, Watson is raising money for the Project Athena Foundation, which helps women who’ve endured medical setbacks achieve their athletic dreams, whether it means climbing Mount Kilimanjaro or running a local 10K.
She will be among 30 survivors and top endurance athletes in their own rights, who will participate in the Sept. 21-25 fundraiser to encourage survivors not just to survive but to thrive in the wake of their diagnoses.
There won’t be any donkeys to carry their load, only their hearts and soul and spirit of teamwork.
“The goal is everybody is getting across. If you’re tired or you’re having a hard time, I carry your pack,” said Watson, who will be lugging a 35 pound pack including 10 pounds of camera gear, food, water and clothing. “If I’m tired and having a hard time, you put me on a tow line. Whatever it is, we’ll get across as a team.”
A 30 hour adventure racer, she began preparing by running along the bridge, up and down the stairs at the Tennis Center, on the beach and on soft sand.
Watson said she did whatever challenge she could find until she saw a man pulling a tire in preparation for a 135-mile run in Death Valley. She tried it and has not stopped since.
“I asked him if I could try it and the second I put that thing around my waist, I said, ‘This is the closest thing to climbing a mountain,’” she said.
Sometimes the two practice together.
She is on her third tire, donated by a local Tire Kingdom.
Watson’s goal is to raise $2,000. The simplest way to contribute (and become an Athena-dubbed God or Goddess) is to donate dollars through the group’s website, projectathena.org. Once at the site, find Wilson’s name and support her.
An athlete since childhood, Watson, who has had her share of setbacks, ran 5.30 miles in high school.
“Unfortunately after my second knee surgery, I was told that my only alternative is a knee replacement,” the cancer survivor said. “While my knees hurt me every day, I refused to be held back and I want to help others remain active after medical setbacks as well.”