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When ultra marathoner John Maack heads out on the trail for a training run, his mind is focused on what he needs to do to complete his next race. However, these days Maack has another race on his mind: the race to beat cancer.
Late 2012, Maack was diagnosed with stage three mantle cell non-Hodgkin's lymphoma after discovering a lump under his left armpit.
“When I got the call letting me know I had lymphoma, I felt like I was running along on one of my favorite trails and someone stepped out from behind a bush and wacked me in the forehead with a two-by-four,” Maack wrote on his blog.
Wanting to approach cancer just like he had with running, Maack was determined to keep moving forward.
“Once I got through the diagnosis and prior to starting my treatment plan, I developed this mantra to keep me focused and I still use it: 'Game on — live strong — constant forward motion — sprint to the finish line.’ ”
His mantra was as literal as it was figurative. Not only did Maack want to move forward toward a positive prognosis, it was important for him to maintain physical activity and keep his body moving.
Exercise helps your whole body heal, and keeping the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems moving is key to recovery and getting through the process.
–John Maack, cancer survivor
Coupled with his already fit body, the help from the staff at the Huntsman Cancer Institute, the Linda B. and Robert B. Wiggins Wellness-Survivorship Center at HCI and the love and support from his wife and two daughters, Maack was able to maintain a high level of fitness through his treatments.
Maack would receive five days of continuous chemo in the hospital, followed by a two-week break at home, rotated over a period of five months.
When he was in the hospital, unable to enjoy one of his favorite mountain trails, he was walking upwards of eight miles each day throughout the hallways on Huntsman level 4 — with 12 laps equal to one mile — or riding his stationary bike, which he positioned to overlook the Salt Lake Valley.
When asked if there were days when he felt too weak to exercise, Maack said, “When I felt like all I wanted to do was lay down, that is when I knew I needed to get up and do something.”
Maack's determination to remain fit during his treatments not only caught the attention of his doctors, but many of his fellow patients were inspired, finding themselves getting out of bed and walking the halls with him.
“Exercise helps your whole body heal, and keeping the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems moving is key to recovery and getting through the process,” Maack said.
He did more than just keep his body moving, however. During his course of treatment, Maack completed one half marathon, two full marathons and three ultra-marathons (races above 31 miles). And just one year to the day after he checked into the hospital for a stem-cell transplant, Maack completed a 100-mile ultra-marathon, the Wasatch 100, in September 2013.
“You can always do more than you think you can,” Maack said. “Mental strength is so important during your diagnosis and treatments. Remember: Your body will follow your mind.”
With just over a year in remission, Maack is living strong in constant forward motion. He is looking forward to a 50-mile race next month and a clean bill of health at his next screening, all while sprinting to the finish line.
Arianne Brown is a mother of six who loves running the beautiful trails around Utah. For more articles by Arianne, "like" her Facebook page, follow her on Twitter @arimom5, or visit her blog, timetofititin.com. If you have a story to share, contact her at email@example.com.