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Determined Columbus mother takes on new cycle of life

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No scars are visible from the August 1994 surgery that saved Katia Martinho’s life.

That doesn’t mean the then-18-year-old Martinho wasn’t scarred.

Sitting in the living room of her Washington Street home, and only a few days before she would compete in the Columbus Challenge Triathlon, Martinho talked about the cancerous tumor that changed her direction.


Growing up in São Paulo, Brazil, Martinho loved sports and was an aerobics junkie. She was active, fit and headed for college to become a physical education instructor.

“I was passionate about sports,” said Martinho, now 38. “Then I got the bad news about the tumor that was growing on my forehead. I needed to have a very complicated surgery.

“It was growing into the bone and it was growing inwards and pressing on my brain. They had to open me from ear to ear and remove my skull. The tumor had destroyed my forehead.”

Under close examination, the edges of the rectangular plate inserted into her forehead can be seen. However, Martinho was able to continue her life without any noticeable physical difference in her appearance.

Unfortunately, doctors advised she change her field of study, because they thought taking a shot to the head could be dangerous.

“I was angry,” she said. “I wanted to take sports science and now I couldn’t do it. I was grateful and angry at the same time.”

She attended Santo Amaro University in São Paulo and eventually earned her degree as a veterinarian.

The years passed and Matinho settled into a rather normal lifestyle, which for her was mostly an inactive lifestyle as well. She met her husband, Julio Gamba, had two children, Pedro (9 years old) and Eric (4 years old), lived in England for a decade and eventually moved to Columbus in the summer of 2011. Her husband is an engineer at Cummins.

With the move to Columbus came “adrenal fatigue” which she said resulted in the stress from making big life changes.

“I gained weight,” she said.

Five months ago, Martinho was talking to a friend when she heard that Columbus had many fitness opportunities, including the Columbus Challenge Triathlon. She was intrigued.

“It hit me that 20 years had passed since my surgery,” she said. “I just thought, ‘I am going to do this.’”

So Martinho talked to her husband, who offered to help in any way he could. He would come home and watch the kids, and Martinho would train.

“I was totally out of shape,” she said. “I am not a runner at all.”

She was struggling, but she went online and found a three-month training program for a sprint triathlon. She went to the library and checked out books that would help.

“It wasn’t long before I regained all this joy that I had lost over the last 20 years,” she said.

“At the beginning it was very hard. I was not able to run 100 meters without my Polar watch beeping.”

Her Polar watch monitored her heart rate and would beep when it climbed too high. She was worried.

“It did make me wonder, but I knew that I had to build up over time. We don’t become unfit overnight, and we don’t become fit overnight. I didn’t give up.”

Her close friends pushed her forward with support, and her husband bought her a racing bicycle for Mother’s Day.

“It was the best Mother’s Day gift ever,” she said. “He understood how important this was to me.”

She found two friends to join her for training, and she started to feel better during her workouts. She joined Pat Pierz’s training class for the Mill Race Marathon, so she could get expert advice about running.

She still isn’t in the kind of shape she wants, but it’s been a start.

Finishing the Columbus Challenge Triathlon on Saturday will buoy her spirits even more and will be affirmation that she is headed down the right road.

“I am going to finish even if I have to crawl in the 5K,” she said. “I am racing for myself. I just want to complete this.”

If Martinho completes the triathlon and continues down her current path, it will be another success story in a city that battles to become more fit. The Columbus Challenge Triathlon and the Mill Race Marathon events have captured the attention of those sitting on the couch, unable to move.

Martinho is more evidence the word is spreading.

“I bet there are so many people who believe they can’t do it,” Martinho said. “They think they don’t have the time, or that they are too old.

“It’s a matter of making a decision and swapping bad habits for good ones. I have been through health issues, and like most moms, I am busy, and I gained weight. But I am here as proof that you can do this.”

It has been a scary time for Martinho, and it has been hard work. But she loves talking about the results.

“My Polar watch is not beeping anymore, and I have lost a bit of weight,” she said. “I am stronger and I am sleeping better. I am more relaxed and happier.

“I am a better mom, a better wife, a better person.”

Jay Heater is The Republic sports editor. He can be reached at or 379-5632.

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