After a cancer diagnosis derailed his endurance racing adventures, Marvin dug deep, setting “crazy goals” to motivate himself and inspire others.
by Paula Wielinski, BSN, RN
A natural-born athlete, Marvin ran his first marathon at age 28. Back then, he set a goal of running a marathon every year until age 80. His competitive nature left him frustrated with his finishing times, and after not qualifying for the Boston Marathon, Marvin decided, “If I can’t go fast, I can go long.” This jumpstarted his journey to become a triathlete.
After many years of participating in endurance events, Marvin’s athletics were sidelined in 2008 with the diagnosis of pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer, the same cancer that took Steve Jobs. Its progression is slower than that of typical pancreatic cancers. Cancer had spread to his liver, prompting the surgical removal of the right lobe. No chemotherapy or radiation was needed.
With grit and determination, Marvin was able to get back to doing what he loved: endurance running and racing. He went on to compete in four Ironman events, as well as 31-mile, 50-mile, and 100-mile ultra running events.
Marvin’s cancer made a resurgence in 2020. He was treated with localized chemo directly to the liver prompting sepsis, another setback in his cancer journey. His regimen was then changed to oral chemotherapy for six months in 2022. Now receiving a targeted therapy infusion every two months, his regimen will be complete this May.
Ready for a crazy challenge
Marvin, age 58, is now getting his strength back and his determination to return to endurance racing. “After chemo, I couldn’t get off the couch. I needed a goal to pull me out of that…something long and difficult.” Leadville Trail 100 MTB fit the bill. He explains, “I need a crazy challenge. It helps my brain’s well-being.”
Often called “the Race Across the Sky,” Leadville Trail 100 MTB is a 100-mile race across the high-altitude, extreme terrain of the Colorado Rockies. It is considered to be one of the premier mountain biking events in the world.
Marvin followed the career and cancer battle of Lance Armstrong explaining, “He endured what he had to deal with to treat his cancer. I figured, if he can do it, I can do that. It’s not impossible. He defines himself as someone who wants to make others’ lives better,” which resonates with Marvin, who now finds motivation inspiring others by sharing his own story.
Marvin rides a full-suspension Trek Top Fuel 8 with an aluminum frame. When asked about the importance of bike selection, Marvin explains, “In the end, the best bike is the one you have!” The idea is, just get out and ride!
A life-changing mindset
“Having cancer changed my life and view on everything. You realize what’s important,” Marvin reflects. “I try to distill it down to points that would inspire other people to live their best lives…not to miss opportunities and foster relationships.”
When cancer returned, Marvin looked inward for strength, focusing on his health with mindfulness, meditation, and building family relationships. Further, he hopes to inspire others, saying, “Keeping it to myself wasn’t helping anybody. To create change, I can’t keep this stuff to myself.”
Marvin’s message to other cancer patients is “just slow down and look around you. If you only think of the numbers, you’ve done yourself in. I haven’t figured it all out yet. Whatever you are is the perfect being. Whatever disease you have, don’t let it define you.”
Marvin describes meditation as a powerful tool, having a placebo effect on the mind. “A changed perspective can help to live with the disease. I thought, ‘How can I balance my life so that it doesn’t take over?’” Marvin has carried this mindset into his career in dentistry and dental anesthesiology, where he often treats patients who are very ill. “From my own disease experience, I can have honest conversations with patients, their caregivers, and their families. I have more empathy than I would otherwise.” As a dental educator, Marvin also is exploring avenues to instill the importance of self-care in medical and dental students. “I don’t want them to burn themselves out. If you can’t manage yourself, you can fall into a dark hole.”
Giving it all he has
Living at sea level, Marvin says racing at Rocky Mountain altitude will be “a little scary.” His wife and grown children are supportive despite the enormous time demands of training. “I wonder what kind of crazy stuff I can do and still have a job! The chaos and craziness draw me in.” Marvin bikes to work, trains on his Peloton bike, and rides with friends on the weekends. He will also be incorporating weightlifting and yoga into his training regime this year.
Marvin declares, “I am just an average person, not a professional athlete. With endurance racing, a lot is in your head.” He underscores the importance of training, pacing, breaking the race into chunks, and proper fueling. He describes ultra-running as “a buffet with a run.” Marvin ran for sometimes 27 to 35 hours during ultra-events. He explains, “My goal with the Leadville 100 is to finish within 12 hours to secure a buckle. But it’s the journey more than the event itself. Getting a buckle would be cool, but it’s the training and sharing my experience with other people that’s important. The race is the icing on the cake!”
“For now, almost post-chemo, I am in earnest training for the big one, the August 2023 Leadville 100 mountain bike race. It’s the toughest, highest altitude, 100-mile mountain bike race in the country. Join me on my journey with Livestrong to make the world a better place through crazy endurance endeavors by people with cancer and inspire others. You can find me and follow my training on my Livestrong fundraising page. We have all heard the expression, ‘It takes a village to create something meaningful.’ Be my village.”
“There is no remission for me. I’ll have this prognosis forever. I didn’t think I’d be here today. You persevere.” Looking toward race day of Leadville Trail 100 MTB, Marvin proclaims, “I will give it everything I have to get there!”
If you would like to help Marvin reach his fundraising goal for Leadville MTB as he rides in honor of his cancer journey, you can donate to his fundraising page. With your support, Marvin and survivors like him can continue to push the boundaries of their cancer diagnoses and live strong.
About Livestrong Events
When you participate in a Livestrong event, you are helping cancer patients access Livestrong survivorship programs and services. We serve over 50,000 cancer patients each year and we cannot do this without the blood, sweat, tears, and smiles of our amazing event participants. We have all been touched by cancer. Whether you choose to bike, run, or walk, dedicate your miles to a loved one who has faced this disease. Challenge yourself. Challenge cancer. Challenge accepted? View our full 2023 event lineup.
I will give it everything I have: Marvin’s Story | Leadville Trail 100 MTB was originally published in Livestrong Voices on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.