Found on RunnersWorld.com and written by Megan DiTrolio
A lifelong runner, Brian Thomas could hardly walk two years ago.
It was a daunting day in March of 2013 when ultramarathon runner, teacher, and track coach Brian Thomas was faced with a grim prognosis. After running for the benefit of others with cancer, he was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—and was told he had three months left to live.
“I was dying,” said Thomas, 36, who resides in Florida. “I could barely talk, and I was super weak. I laid there on the bathroom floor and had a conversation with God, saying, ‘I need to stay here with my daughter.’”
Metastatic melanoma is dangerous because it can spread to other parts of the body quickly, jeopardizing lymph nodes, bone, or organs like the liver or brain. When he first started treatment that summer, walking the length of his driveway felt like an ultramarathon, but he promised that if he could return to the roads one day, he would do it with the intention of inspiring others again.
That’s why on June 6, Thomas—who, while not in remission, has outlived his diagnosis by following a strict treatment regimen—began an 1,100-mile trek from Florida to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness for the Road Warriors Corp, a nonprofit organization he founded before his diagnosis. (The distance of his run later changed to nearly 1,800 miles with various additions to the route.) The group’s main goal is to raise funds to help cancer patients with medical bills by organizing various runs.
A runner since childhood, Thomas’ passion for the sport flourished in college when he started running longer distances. In 2002, he completed his first major run of 1,200 miles from Michigan to Florida to raise funds for children with cerebral palsy. He moved permanently to Florida and started working as a science teacher and track coach at Okeeheelee Middle School in Greenacres.
He went on to complete six marathons and 10 ultramarathons, as well as three 1,000-plus mile runs in about a decade. In 2012, Thomas launched the Road Warriors Corp.
“I originally founded the Road Warriors Corp to help [cancer patients] fight for their lives,” Thomas told Runner’s World Newswire. “We use running as a platform now to raise funds and awareness for specific patients. The Road Warriors Corp trains runners to run for someone else.”
A year after he started the program, he learned about his own life-threatening diagnosis of melanoma. That summer he began chemotherapy.
Shortly after the treatments started, he worked to gradually build up his strength as his life expectancy progressed beyond expectation. He began by crawling until he could stand and walk. Walking transitioned into jogging, which eventually turned into running.
“I started pushing the running envelope,” Thomas said. “I have a high pain tolerance, and I decided that [running] is what I want to do. I have an intense passion for running.”
Thomas ran while undergoing chemotherapy. His first race was a 5K in November of 2013, three months after he started walking again. After his last chemo session in June of 2014, he drove 14 hours from West Palm Beach, Florida, to run the 50-mile Without Limits Ultra in Lake Conestee Park in South Carolina. He also did the SkyDive Ultra and the Keys 50-Mile Ultra, both in Florida.
Before embarking on his current 1,800 mile trek, Thomas worked up to 125 training miles a week.
Though he has a support crew of two tailing him, Thomas does not have a team of traveling doctors, so he flies back to Florida every three weeks to receive a cancer treatment known as immunotherapy, which is a treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer, according to Cancer.org. This trip takes one day out of his running schedule, and he does not take any extra days off. After receiving treatment, Thomas gets back on a plane, returns to the course, and picks up his run where he left off. All of his doctors consider him as an anomaly and have given him the go-ahead to run.
Thomas has managed to average 25 miles a day, some days running up to 50 miles. His runs last between four and nine hours a day, and he stops about every five miles for fluids.
“I love the challenge,” Thomas said. “I love that [the run] is bringing people together and uses funds as a platform for individual cancer patients who spend up to a year of salary on treatment.”
For Thomas’ current long-distance goal, he anticipates he’ll finish the week of July 20, but he doesn’t plan to stop running once he reaches D.C.—he hopes to participate in future Road Warriors Corp ultramarathons.
“Every step I take makes me even stronger because I’m not even supposed to be here,” he said. “When you go after your dreams, it’s not going to be easy. This is my dream, this is what I live and breathe for. I want others to see that there is hope.”