The Power of Running in the Face of Cancer
Running a half-marathon is challenging enough, but some of the entrants in the 2018 United Airlines NYC Half face an additional challenge—they have survived or are currently battling cancer.
Carol Chaoui: “I Run Now to Feel Alive”
In 2009, Carol Chaoui was diagnosed with breast cancer; she had a double mastectomy, four months of chemotherapy, and seven weeks of radiation. Six years later Carol learned she had metastatic (stage 4) breast cancer, and several months after that she developed metastatic thyroid cancer as well. The diseases are incurable, so Carol and her doctors focus on managing them with medications while she strives to live life to the fullest.
A lifelong runner, Carol clocked sub-1:30 half-marathons and a 3:17 marathon before her cancers. Last year she ran the Boston Marathon—which passes not far from her home in Wellesley, MA—and the TCS New York City Marathon, which fell on her 54th birthday. She plans to run both races again this year—but first she’ll run her first United Airlines NYC Half on March 18. Carol lived in New York City in the 1980s. “I am excited to reconnect with New York,” she says.
Carol brings an infectious enthusiasm to her races, often wearing a Wonder Woman costume. She tweets about her training, racing, and fundraising for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute at @thrivingwithmbc. “I am most proud of my current running adventures even though I am so much slower than before,” she says. “I run now to feel alive. I am having a lot of fun with my running.”
Garth Atchley: “I Am Still a Runner”
At age 47, Garth Atchley of Jersey City, NJ, will be running his third United Airlines NYC Half on March 18, and his second race since being diagnosed with lung cancer last September. A committed endurance athlete, Garth has completed several half-marathons, seven full marathons, and eight ultras. “I got bored of the treadmill, went outside, and the rest is history,” he says.
Garth is full of anticipation for race day. “The race takes you right through the heart of Manhattan. The atmosphere is amazing and the fans and great the whole way,” he says. He’s also looking forward “to doing something I love to do, even if that thing seems at odds with my illness.”
His resolve to continue racing in the face of cancer was strengthened in January, when he ran the Fred Lebow Manhattan Half. “I think it’s about proving to myself that I am still a runner and I can still finish races,” he says.
Garth isn’t sure exactly what he’ll feel as he cruises Brooklyn and Manhattan. “I think the true meaning will become clearer when I see and hear all the crowds, and when I finish and they put the medal around my neck—knock on wood,” he says. It will mean a lot to him to be part of a citywide event. “I'll be just one of thousands of runners doing what they love. Maybe it will inspire someone else—I hope so.”
Garth will be running to support Fred’s Team, the athletic fundraising program of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. “MSK works wonders for cancer survivors,” he writes on his fundraising page. “In Fred’s Team I’ve found that amazing link between something you care about deeply and an organization you really want to support.”
Gabriela Schmidov: “I Won’t Run Fast, But I Will Finish”
A breast cancer survivor, Gabriela (Gaby) Schmidov, 50, will run her first half-marathon at this year’s United Airlines NYC Half. Her diagnosis came six years ago, just two months after a divorce. Gaby had surgery and treatment, but five years later the disease came back, and she underwent major surgery in August.
Gaby had never been a runner, but during her recovery she started walking and jogging, and soon progressed to entering 5K races. “Before, I never even ran to catch a train,” she says. “I never thought I would enjoy it the way I do. The spirit and camaraderie amazed me and inspired me.”
The United Airlines NYC Half will be her longest race. “I’m determined,” says Gaby, who lives in New Hyde Park, NY. “I won’t run fast, but I will finish! This is something that’s mine—I’m not good at it but I’m going to do it anyway, even if I’m the last one.”
But finishing will be about more than simply her own achievement, Gaby says: “I’m a fighter, like many women out there battling this horrible disease. If my story can inspire at least one woman to keep fighting and never give up, then I’ll know that I made a difference.”
Gabe Grunewald: "We Just Have to Hang in There"
Runners battling cancer—or any serious illness—can draw inspiration from these stories as well as that of professional runner Gabe Grunewald, a former 3000-meter U.S. champion who has been battling adenoid cystic carcinoma since 2009 through multiple surgeries and treatments—all while continuing to train and compete at the elite level. “We just have to hang in there until an effective treatment arrives,” she posted on Instagram last year. Grunewald hopes to compete in the USA Outdoor Championships later this year.