#WHYoming: Dawn Piaia

#WHYoming: Dawn Piaia

Welcome to our series, #WHYoming.

We are highlighting people from around our communities and asking them a few questions. We want to learn a little about them and see why they chose this great state to raise their families, start their businesses, or simply to ask — Why Wyoming?

For this week’s #WHYoming, I had a chance to talk with Dawn Piaia, an Oncology Nurse at Sweetwater Regional Cancer Center at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County. Dawn loves her job as a nurse as it is a very fulfilling career. She cherishes the time spent getting to know her patients and their families, and the feeling is mutual as she received an award in 2018 for the Locals’ Choice for best nurse in Sweetwater County. Throughout her 31.5 year career as a nurse, she said that award was one of her greatest accomplishments because it showed her that her choice of career was the right one.

Dawn is a Rock Springs native, as is her husband, Mark. The two families have deep roots in our community as business owners, and Mark and his brother own and operate Bi Rite and Remedies Grill. Dawn takes pride in her community and she loves Rock Springs, saying it was a great community for raising her and Mark’s two daughters, Ali and Karli. For Dawn, there’s no better place to live than Wyoming. There’s no place like home, after all, and Dawn’s home will forever be Wyoming.

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Dawn, what do you do for a living?

I am an Oncology Nurse at Sweetwater Regional Cancer Center at Memorial Hospital of Sweetwater County. I have worked at MHSC for 31.5 years. I graduated with Bachelor of Science in Nursing from the University of Wyoming in 1990 and have worked at MHSC since graduation. The majority of my nursing career has been spent in the operating room but in June 2015 I started my career in Medical Oncology. 

Dawn received this plaque in 2021 for 30 years of service as a nurse at MHSC.

What do you enjoy about your job?

I love working in Medical Oncology. I give cancer patients chemotherapy and/or immunotherapy. Oncology is a very fulfilling specialty in nursing. I love to visit with my patients and their family members.

You are also quite passionate about CrossFit. Can you tell me about how you got into CrossFit?

My good friend Stacey talked me into trying Crossfit at Flaming Gorge CrossFit. We ride mountain bikes together and she told me CrossFit would make me a better mountain biker. Of course my first thought was “I will get hurt” and my second thought was “I am way too old to start CrossFit”. It is now three years later and I am much stronger. But not just stronger, my balance is way better. I try to talk everyone I know into trying CrossFit because it is so awesome. CrossFit is amazing because you work out out with athletes all around you. I love every WOD (workout of the day) that I do with my Flaming Gorge CrossFit family.

Dawn’s CrossFit family at Flaming Gorge CrossFit.

I also heard you ran the Boston Marathon. What was that experience like? Have you ran any other marathons?

Yes, I ran the Boston Marathon in 2000 at the age of 33. I am very proud of this accomplishment because I was not an athlete in high school. I didn’t run track in high school at all. I didn’t start running until after I had my first daughter, Ali. I quickly realized I enjoyed running marathons. I ran a total of five. I had a great group of friends that I ran with that helped me learn to run fast. Qualifying and running Boston was so exciting and such an amazing experience. I stopped running marathons after Boston but I continued running 5k, 10k and an occasional 1/2 marathon for fun. 

How did you end up in Rock Springs, and what do you appreciate about our community?

Rock Springs has been a great community for Mark and I to raise our two daughters Ali and Karli.  Our families have always lived in Rock Springs and have had their own businesses. My great grandfather Joseph DeCora started Rock Spings Coca Cola Bottling Company in approximately 1932. My father Joe DeCora ran the company for many years until the family/stockholders chose to sell the company in 1998.

Dawn’s grandfather Lawrence DeCora working at Rock Springs Coca Cola bottling company.

Mark and his brother John have continued the business that their parents, Duce and Mary Ann Piaia started in 1956. They have had to be creative in order to keep their downtown doors open at Bi Rite by providing home oxygen, cards, gifts and meals at Remedies Grill. 

If you could give one brief piece of advice, what would it be?

Keep life SIMPLE!  You do not have to keep up with your friend who is always posting on Facebook about everything they are doing. Pick and choose what is important to you and your family. Spend quality time with family and friends. As a family, we spend a lot of time outdoors i.e. backpacking, skiing, boating, mountain bike riding. 

Where is your favorite place to hang out in Sweetwater County?

I love to mountain bike. My husband and I are members of the Sweetwater Mountain Biking Association. SMBA has developed amazing single track mountain biking trails in the Green River/Wilkin’s Peak area. These trails are top notch. Mountain bikers from all over come to Sweetwater County to ride these trails. I am also lucky enough to be able ride my mountain bike right behind my house and also White Mountain has trails. 

Mark and Dawn mountain biking at the Green River/Wilkin’s Peak mountain biking trails.

Another amazing area in Sweetwater county is the Killpecker Sand Dunes.  The sand dunes are an amazing playground. My husband loves to ride his motorcycle in the dunes. This year I bought a motorcycle and rode a couple times with him. Riding in the sand is hard, but there isn’t a better feeling than floating on top of the sand out in the middle of the sand dunes. The wildlife at the Sand Dunes is also fun to watch. 

Dawn riding her motorcycle at the sand dunes.

What are some of your proudest accomplishments?

One of my proudest accomplishment was when I received the Locals’ Choice Best of the Best of Sweetwater County 2018 award for nursing. Receiving this award made me realize that working with cancer patients was what I should be doing. I absolutely love visiting and getting to know my cancer patients and their families. People always ask, “how do you work in such a sad place?” My reply is that yes it is sad to lose a patient that you have gotten close with, but I value the time that my patient, their family and I have had together. 

Dawn’s award for Locals’ Choice Best of the Best for best nurse in Sweetwater County.

Another proud accomplishment is that myself, Mark and our girls have backpacked the high line trail from north to south in the Wind River Mountain Range. We completed this hike in 10 days.

Dawn and her family backpacking.

What’s something unique about you?

I had to ask my husband Mark to help me with this question. He told me that I am a very dedicated person. Once I put my mind to something, I am all in. I guess this good and bad. I have to be careful I don’t get too crazy. Take for instance CrossFit—I have to make myself take days off because I know it is good for me, but I enjoy it so much that I don’t want to take days off.

Why do you choose to live in Wyoming?

Both Mark and I were I born and raised in Wyoming along with our parents. We will always stay in Wyoming. Our daughters Ali and Karli both live at this time in other states but they appreciate Wyoming and what it has to offer. Wyoming is special because of the low population and it is a beautiful state with so many different outdoor activities. If you haven’t backpacked in the Wind Rivers then that needs to be something on your bucket list. Of course, Teton and Yellowstone National Parks are amazing. Wyoming has amazing hunting and fishing. I could go on and on.