Prospect’s Sage triumphs against all odds

Tanya and Rick Sage, of Prospect, at the finish line of the New Haven 5K on Labor Day. Tanya, who defeated cervical cancer and is disabled and legally blind from a major car accident, began participating in triathlons and 5K races last year. –CONTRIBUTED

PROSPECT — The sports world has its share of monumental moments when a person triumphs in the face of adversity. But there never may have been an account of courage quite like this one.

This story is about one woman’s journey to overcome astronomical odds. It’s a tale of courage, determination, faith and self-belief. This is the story of Prospect’s Tanya Sage, who battled life-and-death situations and has come out victorious.

In the fall of 2001 Tanya Sage was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She underwent surgery, 25 radiation treatments, five chemotherapy treatments and three years later had beaten the odds.

Then in the fall of 2005 Sage was involved in a four-car accident that left her in a coma for a month. When she regained consciousness two days before Christmas it marked the beginning of a long road to recovery.

The injuries were extensive. A contra-coup brain injury caused a stoke affecting the left side of her body. All four arteries in her neck were dissected (splintered internally). She also had a broken left collarbone, spinal bleeding, two cracked ribs, a punctured and collapsed left lung and a lacerated liver.

It’s been seven years since the accident that came so close in taking her life and today Tanya Sage is a marathon runner and triathlete. Disabled and legally blind from the accident, Sage only sees herself as an inspiration to others.

“I led such an active life before the accident,” Sage said. “I wasn’t about to sit around and feel sorry for myself. I had to dig deep and chip away little by little. It was a step-by-step process and this November it will have been seven years since the accident.”

Her husband, Rick, was at the center of her road back. He slept in the hospital room in the bed next to his wife. When she awoke from the coma a month later the first thing she saw was her husband’s smiling face.

“He is my rock,” said Tanya, taking a moment to compose herself. “He always has been a great guy and I’m so lucky to have him for a husband.”

Tanya spent six weeks at Yale-New Haven Hospital and another month at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford. Rick was with her every step of the way, cheering her on through the extensive occupational and physical therapy.

Tanya recalled her difficulty with her hand-eye coordination. It was a daily work in progress to master even the simplest of skills. While her mobility has greatly improved she still uses a cane to get around. Still she looks at her past as a bump in the road.

“Death has come for me twice,” Sage said. “But I have too much still to do with my life.”

Sage began to work out with her husband, getting her strength back one rep at a time. Her close friend, Laurie Veillette, had entered the Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon at Quassapaug Amusement Park and Sage was there to welcome her friend at the finish line.

“That was it,” Sage said. “After that I wanted to try it and worked out with my husband. Last year I entered the Pat Griskus Sprint Triathlon. My husband ran with me and I did the swim portion. My friend Laurie handled the bike phase.”

Tanya and Rick began the 3.1-mile run by walking. They picked up the pace, walking a little faster, and then Tanya wanted to try and jog. She ended up jogging three-quarters of the way and crossed the finish line at 9:10 p.m.

“I was so pumped up after that,” Sage said. “I couldn’t wait to do it again. I entered again this year and my cousin Andra’s son, Ryan Fowler, did the bike portion for me.”

Now, it’s become a habit for the Sages.

“My husband and I enter a lot of 5K races and we meet a lot of people who have become second family to us,” she said. “Every day my husband and I head down to the Naugatuck YMCA to work out. It’s convenient for me since I work at the front desk. After my shift I usually swim for an hour and 10 minutes to complete my workout for the day.”

She continues to push her physical limits not only for herself but for many others.

“We met one woman who told me she saw me cross the finish line at Quassy and she had tears in her eyes,” Sage said. “That’s why I do this. I want to be an inspiration to others.”

Tanya and Rick Sage are not slowing down. They ran a 5K race in New Haven on Labor Day and last week competed in the 5k race in Woodbridge. Their busy race schedule will have them at Veterans Park in Watertown for the Miles for Smiles run Oct. 7 and finish off the month of October with the 5K Penguin Run to benefit the Mystic Aquarium’s research for penguins.

“Taking part in these events is my own physical therapy,” Sage said. “We try and keep it local and support a worthy cause. It really gets addicting working out like this. But if it keeps us from having four slices of pizza and only having three then I guess it’s all worth it.”