RIVERBANK -- Don't be fooled by the pearl earrings and smile as big and sweet as an orange slice.
Elizete Postma is a fighter in the spiritual sense, the kind you should never EVER! count out.
She's endured the loss of her mother, father, sister and brother, a life-changing move from Brazil to the United States, and a series of struggles with her health.
In 1993, when she was diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma the very same blood cancer that claimed her brother's life Postma responded with rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.
"I survived the biggest scare of my life," she wrote on her blog, "and was ready to move forward full of faith, hope and optimism."
Eighteen years later, when doctors told her the radiation had damaged her heart, she didn't lie down. She didn't quit living.
Postma, a vibrant 52-year-old Riverbank resident, did what most fighters do when staggered: She collected her wits, devised a medical plan and walked it out.
For 13.1 miles.
"They gave me no hope to live," said Postma, a certified nursing assistant with Bethany Homes in Ripon. She discovered she had congestive heart failure after collapsing at work in 2011.
"They said the radiation did so much damage to my heart, and there was no hope for me.
"Well, here I am."
And there she is, grinning and posing with Team In Training teammates at mile markers at the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco on Oct. 14.
There she is crossing the half-marathon finish line with three buddies Debbie Sanders, Stacy Van Laar and Trish Christensen hands clasped, arms raised, a human chain of purple perseverance.
And there she is with tears pouring from her eyes as the emotion of the journey poked holes in her tough, battle-worn facade.
No hope, eh?
Don't tell this fighter that.
She finished in 4 hours, 10 minutes, 5 seconds.
Key word: Finished.
"It's very emotional for me. I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing something. That's not what I want to hear 'You're done. From now on, you have congestive heart failure.' I didn't accept that," she said.
"I fought for so long to survive cancer. When they (doctors) told me, you're still alive but you're going home very limited, I didn't accept that."
She wasn't marathon-ready.
Not right away, at least.
After being told by one doctor that open-heart surgery was too risky, Postma found a doctor with Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Medical Center who successfully performed an angioplasty clearing out clogged arteries and implanting two stents and helped her manage the congestive heart failure.
That was in November 2011.
Shortly thereafter, she began to walk, determined to live a full and active life.
Postma struggled early on, laboring through 10-minute walks. Eventually, though, she was walking five miles a day and fostering dreams of completing a half-marathon.
That was in May, just six months off the operating table.
Still, Team In Training had its reservations.
Postma, with a long, complicated medical history (she arrived for her first workout with a broken arm), needed clearance from her doctors to train with the nonprofit organization, which raises money and awareness for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
"Everyone has to sign a medical form," walk coach Leanne Mason said. "Usually, everyone writes asthma. Being a nurse and looking at hers, it was like 'Uh, OK?' "
In her first show of determination with her new teammates, Postma not only secured a doctor's note but blew away her fund-raising goals. Asked to raise $2,500, Postma went above and beyond. As of Friday, she had raised $5,025 for a cure.
Still, Mason wasn't sure Postma would stick with TNT, and the first workout in May at Stockton's Fleet Feet a two-mile walk just six months out of surgery did little to sway her.
"She was short of breath, sweaty and having a hard time talking," Mason said. "I was nervous. I honestly didn't think she'd make it after the first workout.
"She had so much heart in her; she was determined to do it."
Postma's miracle story has had its share of angels, too, from husband Richard Postma "my biggest supporter" to the three that seemingly dropped out of a cloud near Mile 9 of the half-marathon in San Francisco.
"By Mile 9, I was exhausted. I was thinking there's no way I can finish. I was dragging," Postma said. "At the top of the hill, I saw the three girls. They were waiting for me because they knew I was struggling."
They feared the worst.
"We got to a water station (near Mile 7) and hadn't seen her and we knew we were the last ones," said Christensen, who shares a deep bond with Postma: They're teammates with TNT and first-time marathoners. "We didn't want her to quit, but we knew she was struggling."
And then Postma appeared at the base of the hill, smiling through the pain, her cheeks flushed, her breathing heavy.
Her teammates are sensitive to those physical cues.
"We pay attention to those things," Christensen said, "because we know what she's been through. She was in a hospital just a year ago."
As Postma crested Nike's final climb, held up by wobbly legs and powered by her angels' cheers, the four made a pact: Let's finish together.
They did, hand in hand.
"It happened instinctively," Christensen said. "No one said a thing. We crossed
and then we sobbed."
Most of those who run in the Nike Women's Marathon are motivated by the race's take-home gift: a Tiffany necklace, blue box and all.
No doubt, Postma embraces the bling, but her shine comes from someplace deeper.
"I told my husband I'll never forget this the rest of my life. Crossing that finish line 10 months after doctors told me I was dying
I have no words to express what I felt," Postma said. "I crossed that finish line with tears in my eyes."
She pauses for a moment before unveiling her next challenge: Postma is taking her fight to the masses, with plans to join TNT's volunteer staff. She'll also walk in the inaugural Nike Women's Half-Marathon in Washington, D.C., next spring.
Her heart might be damaged, but it's far from broken.
"You'll be seeing a lot of me," said Postma, a walking miracle.
James Burns is Regional Sports Content Editor of The Modesto Bee and Merced Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2324.
Team In Training
WHAT: A nonprofit organization that combines endurance events with fund raising in the fight against blood cancers
EVENT: Participants can run or walk a full or half marathon, cycle 100 miles or complete a triathlon.
UP NEXT: Teams are forming for the spring season, which includes the San Luis Obispo Marathon, Nike Women's Marathon, Lavaman and Avia Wildflower triathlons, and America's Most Beautiful Bike Ride.
MORE INFO: Contact campaign manager Melissa Van Diepen at (209) 522-1800 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Web site: www.teamintraining.org/sac.
TEAM POSTMA: Elizete Postma's next adventure is the Nike Women's Half-Marathon in Washington, D.C. If you'd like make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society on Postma's behalf, visit: http://pages.teamintraining.org/sac/nikewhlf13/elizete.