When Olympic gold medalist Casey FitzRandolph signs his family’s book, “No Stone Unturned,” the Verona native considers the message before adding his signature.
“I don’t write, ‘I hope you enjoy the book,’” said FitzRandolph. “It’s often more along the lines of ‘Thanks for your interest in our story.’”
That’s because it’s not a lighthearted sports biography, glorifying FitzRandolph’s 2002 Olympic speedskating triumph or retelling countless accolades of his skating prowess.
Instead, “No Stone Unturned” follows the desperate cancer struggle of Casey’s sister, Jessi, who died of breast cancer in March 2014.
As a result, the book describes two journeys: Casey’s two-decade, relentless pursuit of speedskating titles and, later, Jessi’s worldwide search for treatment of late-stage cancer.
“People spend too much energy painting facades. Our family (including parents Jeff and Ruthie) wanted to share the truth: the good, the bad and the ugly,” FitzRandolph said. “We found that liberating. The goal was to tell our story, let people behind the curtain and, maybe, relate to it.”
Jessi’s route for alternative treatment wound through Germany and Mexico. That choice likely prolonged her life after American doctors suggested chemo to survive a relatively short time, Casey said.
“No Stone Unturned” documents that experience.
“It’s not like we feel every drug is a bad drug and shame on drug companies blah, blah, blah. Many help,” FitzRandolph said. “But we didn’t feel with a diagnosis of terminal that it was the only option.
“A lot of our frustration lay in the fact that 99 percent of doctors are taught one way: Treat with drugs for a lot of ailments. We think there’s a lot to be said for different, often times more holistic, approaches.”
Alternative medicine “is not a popular thing to say to the powers that be” in American medicine, FitzRandolph said, but “No Stone Unturned” follows Jessi’s largely positive experiences with it.
Triumph and agony
FitzRandolph, now 41, works at M3, a Madison-based insurance company where he is an account executive. He’s a resident of Cross Plains with his wife, Jenn, and their children, Sawyer, 9, and Cassidy, 7.
The first one-third of “No Stone Unturned” highlights the remarkable steps the family took toward FitzRandolph’s speedskating prowess. It’s a fascinating look at elite-level athletics, which ranged from triumphant to torturous – with emphasis on the latter.
FitzRandolph described a typical daily training regimen at age 9: “Mom would pick me up from school (in Verona) 15 minutes early. We’d drive to Milwaukee from 3 to 4:30 p.m. I’d warm up and get on the ice and skate from 5 to 7 p.m., then wind down until 7:30. We’d be home at 9 or 9:15 p.m.”
Morning workouts included filling inner tubes with sand, which were placed on his shoulders while doing squats and squat jumps. Keep in mind, he wasn’t 10 years old yet.
“The further removed I get from it, the harder it is for me to fathom that lifestyle,” FitzRandolph said. “It was crazy. It was extreme.”
And successful. He still holds the Olympic speedskating record time for 500 meters.
In the book, there is an honest discussion among the family about whether it was worth the insurmountable sacrifice and no answer is given.
FitzRandolph will bring his gold medal, usually tucked away, to a Verona event at the library.
And, yes, he still speedskates when he joins his kids, who participate in numerous sports, including speedskating.
“I enjoy it – I should clarify that: Speedskating is a painful sport. It’s not something you go do for fun. But when we’re skating short track, it’s good to feel the centrifugal forces. I can wind it up for a few laps then I have to shut it down,” FitzRandolph said then laughed. “My legs don’t support me like they used to.”