June 5, 2024

Two Athletic Competitions This Summer Honor Memory of Isabella de la Houssaye

A LIFE WELL LIVED: The late Isabella de la Houssaye, left, continues to inspire friends like her Princeton University classmate Sara Singer, right, who will take part in a bike ride in August to raise funds for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. De la Houssaye is also being honored by Team Bella, a group of her family members and friends, who will participate in The Watershed Institute’s 2024 Solstice Trail Run on June 20.

By Anne Levin

Isabella de la Houssaye never smoked. The Lawrenceville resident and 1986 graduate of Princeton University was fitter than just about anyone her age or younger.

That made her diagnosis of stage four lung cancer in 2018 especially shocking.

But rather than give in to the rigors of chemotherapy, de la Houssaye — a mother of five, corporate lawyer, business owner, and dedicated endurance athlete — immersed herself, during punishing treatments, in running marathons, climbing mountains, and competing in triathlons. She was determined to make a difference and live her life to the fullest, which she did before passing away last December.

Before de la Houssaye died, she asked her friends and family members to challenge themselves.

“As part of the funeral ceremony, which was a celebration of her life, there was an admonition from Isabella to the rest of us, saying, ‘Push yourself beyond your boundary,’” said Stanford University Professor Sara Singer, who was de la Houssaye’s roommate at Princeton University and part of their close group of friends, who called themselves the Princeton Posse. “So that’s what we’re doing.”

Singer and fellow Posse member Anne Tergesen are planning to take part in the Pan-Mass Challenge (PMC), a two-day, 211-mile bike ride that donates 100 percent of every rider-raised dollar to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Massachusetts for cancer care and treatment. Members of de la Houssaye’s family will also participate.

Preceding the PMC is the 2024 Solstice Trail Run on Thursday, June 20 at The Watershed Institute in Pennington, with which de la Houssaye was involved from 2016 to 2023. Team Bella, led by de la Houssaye’s daughter Bella Crane, will run, presenting the first annual Isabella de la Houssaye Award to the top female finisher in the 10K race (a 5K and 15K are also included).

“The most powerful thing my mother did after she got sick was to keep going,” said Crane, who is 27 and the only girl in the family. “Her favorite thing to say was, ‘If I can do it, you can do it.’ She was incredibly fit. After she got sick, she had 80-plus rounds of chemo and weeks spent in the hospital. Seeing her still get up and at least walk if she could, ‘If I can do it, you can do it’ became this whole other challenge. You can’t say you can’t when you see all the obstacles she had.”

De la Houssaye and her husband David Crane inspired their children to take on endurance athletic feats from an early age. She climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, with her children, on separate ascents. She bicycled across Tasmania. She finished numerous Ironman Triathlons and inspired 15 of her relatives to take on an Ironman challenge. The list goes on.

In January 2019, Crane accompanied her mother on a climb of Aconcagua in Argentina, the tallest summit in the Americas. According to de la Houssaye’s obituary in the New York Times, “she weighed less than 100 pounds. Chemotherapy had made her bones brittle, her breathing capacity had diminished, and she had life-threatening tumors in her brain. During the climb to the 22,840-foot summit, she and Bella faced brutal winds and subzero temperatures. When they reached base camp, at 14,000 feet, she declared that Aconcagua would be her last mountain.”

But they made it to the top.

“The family would sometimes get into fights with her, because she disregarded doctors’ advice,” Crane said. “When we climbed the mountain, she was sick the whole time. That was very stressful. But a couple of years into her diagnosis, we realized that, and just got on board. We supported her choices.”

Singer remembers de la Houssaye as a devoted friend as well as a dedicated athlete.

“There’s this one side of her that is ultra-athlete, and I think that’s the persona that is more visible. And she loved that,” Singer said. “But part of what she loved was pushing herself beyond boundaries and testing her mental strength. She didn’t suffer fools in that way. She committed and achieved in all facets of life.

“But she was also this incredible friend. She knew about you, cared about you and your whole family — your kids, your parents. She was a friend in the way she was an athlete. Anything you needed, she was there. She was extraordinary in all sorts of ways.”

In the PMC Challenge August 3 and 4, Singer and Tergesen will bike 160 miles from Wellesley to Bourne and Bourne to Provincetown, Mass. “One of our other roommates has a house close by, so we’ll make it into another girls’ weekend — but to remember Isabella,” Singer said.

“My mom had five kids in 10 years, which in and of itself I can’t imagine,” said Crane. “She was working corporate jobs, commuting to and from New York, and taking care of all of us. She put us in every extracurricular thing she could, not just sports. She wasn’t as strict as a tiger mom, but she was definitely involved in making sure we were involved in every opportunity. And the thing she cultivated within our family is that we always have someone to do races with.”

The Solstice Trail Run at The Watershed Institute starts with check-in at 4:30 p.m. on June 20 and includes music, food, beer, and firepits. Team Bella, for which de la Houssaye recruited her family and friends for years, will be there in full force. To join, visit thewatershed.org/solstice-run.