It's 2010 and Greg has just celebrated the birth of his daughter. After three wonderful boys, the family was very excited to finally have a little girl.
But life has an odd way of throwing us curveballs. Just one month after his daughter's birth, Greg discovered he had a brain tumor and after its removal was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer — Oligodendroglioma.
After his diagnosis, he started six weeks of radiation coupled with daily chemotherapy treatments. If you or a loved one has ever undergone chemotherapy, you know how brutal it can be on the body. Prolonged treatment often lowers white blood cell count which weakens the immune system and increases the risk of infection.
"After the initial cancer treatment, I continued to take chemo five days every month, have MRIs, lab work, and follow-up appointments for over four years," Greg shares.
Throughout this time, Greg searched for ways to cope with his health. Wanting to focus on getting healthier, he says that running offered him an outlet for mental meditation and physical fitness. He shares that before he started to run, he would ball up on the couch, unable to sleep, and his mind would just wander. "I remember feeling like I was trapped in my house and that I couldn’t do anything but give-in to the lack of energy my body had."
But balling up on the couch wasn't an option — not if he wanted a solid shot at making it through treatment.
He started with walking, and then running. "When I was finally able to run a mile without walking, I got into the routine of building my mileage up on my weekend long run."
After completing a 10 mile run one weekend, Greg walked into his local running store in Pensacola, Running Wild. He got to talking with the woman working that day and she suggested that he sign-up for the marathon training program. "That's crazy!" he thought. Greg laughs, "But then I signed-up!"
And so begins the long distance rabbit hole. As he trained for his first marathon, Greg fell in love with long distance. Race day rolled around and he felt ready and excited. Just before the race, Greg was recovering from a fever — the chemotherapy must have been taking a toll on his body — but he toed the line and ran his first full marathon. Almost.
A quarter-mile from the finish line, Greg collapsed. Exhausted, dehydrated, but still tough as heck. He was transported to the hospital and the race director called him afterward. "So are you done running marathons?" he joked. "I told him I was not, and he referred me to another event in 2014."
This time, Greg was able to finish!
After running several more marathons, Greg decided to pace a few races through Running Wild.
"Being able to help others reach their goals and push themselves further than they thought they could is a great feeling. I really believe it’s a win-win situation as the inspiration goes both ways," he comments on his pacing experience. " Many friendships have been made from spending many miles on our feet together."
Greg also credits pacing with helping him build up his own mileage for longer runs. And after reading an article about ultramarathon distances, he thought "why not?" and decided to for that too.
Greg ran his first ultramarathon a few weeks before his last chemotherapy treatment. In March 2015, after no new cancer growth, he was finally able to stop chemotherapy.
"I feel my brain cancer has become a blessing to me," Greg offers. He says it has served him more than improving his health. Running has allowed him to focus on reaching more goals in life.
Walking, and then running, he says changed his life for the better. "One of my oncologists told me that he was convinced that my running was probably why I could tolerate my chemo so well."
That's something he hopes to share with others. "Just because you get a life threatening illness or you experience something negative, it doesn't mean it should control your life. Use it as fuel for the fire and push forward."
While battling cancer, Greg looked for a local fundraising run to help other patients like him. Not finding any in his area at the time, he started the Brain Tumor Run for Research 5k in 2013. During the years he organized the event, he helped raise over $60,000 for brain cancer research.
His Love for Distance
When he runs ultramarathon distances, Greg says he feels more free and able to release stress and negative thoughts — especially when running trails.
"Seeing wildlife in their natural environment, navigating through water crossings, watching the sun rise or set, climbing up mountains or viewing beautiful views [...] my love of long distance adventures keeps me moving forward."
Greg affirms what all distance runners already know. It's hard to explain to those who don't run or who don't like to run. We think he sums it up best in his own words:
It’s like all the negative things going on in my life are non-existent and I’m able to enjoy nature at it’s finest. The highs and lows you go through as you truly find out what our body is capable of if you push forward. The camaraderie you have with friends or random people you meet on the trails who are supporting and looking out for each other. The beautiful views you see and the amazing sounds of nature you hear in the wild. All of this makes me feel free from any negative issues no matter what they are. This is why I love ultramarathons. This is why I run. Besides, if my cancer wants to get me, it has to catch me first!
You can follow more of Greg's story and latest races on his blog, Running Away from Cancer.
Miles That Matter, is Vacation Races' blog segment where we share inspiring and touching stories from our runners. Some stories may make you cry, some may surprise you, and others may give you the grit to get out there and do the darn thing. Over the years, we've been inspired by the compassion and determination of our runners and this is just one small way that we can share their stories to uplift even more people. Our runners do the hard work; we're just here to share their voices.