When Gig Harbor resident Cordell Council took his spot at the starting line of the Boston Marathon in April, there was more on his shoulders than the race bib No. 13290 draped across his chest.
The long distance runner began the 26.2 race mile competition through the streets of the city and eight nearby townships just 15 days after his latest treatment for advanced melanoma. The race gave Council his first break from the grueling series of surgeries and procedures he has endured over the past year in his battle against the deadly disease.
Council made the trip to the East Coast with members of his extended family and the full support of his oncologist.
“I am nervous and overwhelmed,” he told KOMO News via Skype on the morning before the race on April 18. “My whole goal is to finish.”
He did finish the race. The 51-year-old began his fourth running of the Boston Marathon along with 7,500 other runners in the second wave of participants at 10:25 on the morning of Patriots’ Day and completed the demanding course five hours and 30 minutes later. A record number 30,000 qualified runners took part in the 120th running of the Boston Marathon; 500 of them were from the state of Washington.
Council said he met the three-hour and 40-minute qualifying time to qualify for the Boston Marathon last March, the week before he was diagnosed with cancer. When Council informed his doctor that he had qualified to run in the 2016 edition of the prestigious race, his doctor rescheduled his treatment schedule and encouraged him to run.
Council has been a runner since high school. He ran his first marathon in 1982 as a high school junior in Seattle when he took part in the Emerald City Marathon.
However, the seasoned runner had not run a marathon since before his diagnosis. He knew his body would not be able to tolerate the demand of running the entire course in Boston, so he devised an alternative plan.
Mind over body
“My plan was to run as far as I could, then walk as much as I needed until I felt strong enough to run a little more,” he explained. “It was all mind over body that allowed me to run the first 10K (a little over 6.2 miles).”
After passing the 10K marker, Council knew he still had 20 miles to go. At that point, he began to search out a landmark ahead of him and push to reach that point, then began the process again by selecting another point in the distance until he reached the finish line.
The proud father of five ran the race wearing the T-shirt his daughter made for him that proclaimed, “Cancer Will Not Beat Me.”
“People all along the route saw the T-shirt and shouted out words of encouragement that helped me tremendously,” he remembered. “Several people came out of the crowd to put their arms around my shoulders to express how much my effort meant to them, personally.”
Another runner came up to Council to ask what type of cancer he was battling. Ironically, the other runner was participating in the race to help raise funds to help find a cure for melanoma.
Although running is an individual effort, Council was not alone on the course. His sister and brother-in-law were with him at the starting line and cheered him along the course of the race. His wife and daughter were waiting at the finish line on Boylston Street. Council fought his way through the crowd to embrace his family and then to his sister and her husband 300 yards away. He was told by others that he sat down and went to sleep moments later.
“(I had a) tremendous amount of pride that (my family) just wanted to be here for me,” Council told his supporters.
Council’s daughter, Carly, expressed gratitude to friends and neighbors from Gig Harbor who encouraged her father to run in Boston and have been at his side throughout his fight against cancer.
Before he was stricken with cancer, Council said it would take his body about a week to recover from the torture of a marathon. This year it took three to four weeks for his body to go “back to where it had been, which is still not great.” His race injuries included numerous blisters and a lost toenail.
“It was pure pain toward the end,” he recalled. “For me, just finishing was a victory. In my eyes and in my heart, I was the true winner of the marathon in Boston this year.”
Council hopes his achievement will inspire others to battle adversity and, “never give up.” His initial efforts will be to educate firefighters who face the reality that one in every five will get cancer in during their lifetime.
“If my efforts inspire just one person, then all of the pain will be worth it,” he said. “This is just the latest chapter in my life. A chapter that I hope will leave a lasting legacy to help others.
“If I can touch just one person to let them know that if you keep fighting and trying, that anything is possible” he said. “If I do, then my efforts were worthwhile.”
He has already reached more than one person. Council said he has received messages from individuals who are using his story in their own personal struggles, including one woman who said she had always hoped to run a half-marathon. The woman wrote that she is now training to run the full 26.2 miles.
Council concluded with some sage advice, “Remember that pain is temporary. But dreams are forever.”
Dan Aznoff was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the toxic waste crisis. He is now a freelance writer living in Mukilteo dedicated to capturing the cherished stories of our lifetime so they can be preserved for future generations. He can be contacted directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.