Manassas couple gear up to watch Olympian-in-law

MANASSAS A Manassas couple know exactly where they will be at 6:30 p.m. on Feb. 19 in front of their television watching their daughter-in-law compete in the 2002 Winter Olympics Games.

Betty and Ron Knowles and a houseful of guests will be eagerly watching the womens bobsled competition as their sons wife, Ildiko Strehli, competes as the driver of the first Hungarian womens bobsled team.

That Strehli is even in the Olympics is remarkable because she has overcome two bouts of cancer and has had to battle constantly to come up with the funds to keep her sled in competition she does not have a corporate sponsor.

Those watching the competition will recognize Strehlis sled the Sled Full of Hope as bright red with pink ribbons painted on each side, the universal symbol for breast cancer awareness.

“Few people have the determination of Ildiko,” said mother-in-law Betty Knowles. “She just wont accept defeat, despite all of the obstacles she has faced including back and shoulder injuries.”

Strehlis career as a bobsled driver happened by chance. Her husband, Manassas native Robert Shell, was reading an article four years ago in a periodical that said for the first time women could compete in the bobsled competition in the 2002 Olympics. He mentioned it to his wife.

At the time, the two were living in Park City, Utah, where they were ski instructors.

“I was up to something new and challenging and enrolled in a workshop that included both classroom and trail runs on a bobsled course. I was immediately hooked and set my sights on the Olympics, getting a loan to buy a secondhand sled,” she said.

Strehli, 35, from Dorog, Hungary, and her pusher, former Hungarian sprinter Eva Barati, set off for a World Cup competition in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in November 1999.

It wasnt a very successful run for the two as they finished 13th out of 14 sleds. However, they kept improving and last year they finished 17th out of 43 sleds in the final World Cup standings and earned a spot in the Olympics, which Strehli said “was the fulfillment of my dream.”

To help finance her racing, the couple has been selling T-shirts and pins.

Strehli has been involved in competitive sports since she was 8 years old.

“After graduation from college, I became a physical education and sports teacher. I have been a survivor since my first bout with breast cancer six years ago.

Strehli described the moment she realized a small lump in her chest may have been cancer.

“I remember that night and I always will until the day I die. I woke up as if someone was shaking my shoulder. When I touched the lump in my right breast, it felt like a frozen pea. I had found it a couple of months before, and I was keeping an eye on it. In that moment it was if someone was screaming in my face, Wake up! I knew something was wrong.”

She visited a doctor, and a few days later got the news she had breast cancer. It was just a few weeks after her 30th birthday and three months before her first wedding anniversary. (Ildiko and Robert met in 1993 while she was visiting a Hungarian friend in Manassas. They met during a co-ed volleyball games and married in October 1994. Hes now serving as her bobsled manager.)

Strehli said the news of her cancer “evoked feelings in my heart that I can never fully describe, a mixture of anger, fear, guilt and sadness.”

Strehli said as “I travel, I want to tell everyone affected by cancer that there is hope. Cancer is a sobering reality, but it doesnt have to be a dead end; it can be just a bump in the road.”

Four years after having the initial lump removed, Strehli felt another mass. This time, she opted for a bilateral mastectomy, not wanting to again undergo chemotherapy and its side effects.

Like bicyclist Lance Armstrong, Strehli said competing in the womens bobsled “gave me a goal to shoot for.” Armstrong successfully battled testicular cancer to win the Tour de France.

Strehli knows that winning a medal in the Olympics is a real long shot, as she will be competing against stronger and well-financed teams from the United States, Switzerland and Germany. But she said she wont let being an underdog steal her dream.

Her bobsled team has already come a long way.

Even her in-laws believe winning a medal is “too much of a miracle to expect” but will be cheering her on from their living room.

“It will be like a gigantic Super Bowl party,” said Betty Knowle

Similar Posts