This story ran in the Nov. 12 edition of the Daily Gleaner.
When it came to setting running goals for 2016, there was a justified emotional component at work for Fredericton’s Bob Cormier.
As a veteran of 23 previous marathons, Bob knew the demands required and the internal discipline needed to complete the 42.2-kilometre route, regardless of its setting or time of year.
But this year was different for the 65-year-old Cormier, who is retired after 24 years as purchasing manager for the City of Fredericton.
You see, his 2016 running calendar was fuelled by life events from 2014 when he received a call to see his doctor to confirm his worst fearsafter he took some tests that summer: Bob had prostate cancer.
“My goals were pretty simple,” he said. “I wanted to finish a marathon and hopefully get a Boston qualifying time.”
Before looking at the route to the 2016 Baystate Marathon in Lowell, MA, it is noteworthy to point out Cormier’s running resume, one that initially used the sport as a way to stay in shape for activities such as rugby, soccer, curling and basketball or his refereeing responsibilities in university football.
Eventually, without coaching, he tackled some shorter distances, such as 5k and 10k runs, before he graduated to a half marathon. The sport was fulfilling, enjoyable and kept him in decent shape.
Ultimately, he took the plunge to his first full marathon, and in 2000, he was preparing for the Baystate event in Lowell.
Things were going well until three months before the race, when he had a lawnmower accident and severed the top of the big toe on his right foot.
It affected his training, limiting him to a long run of 18 miles (most programs call for one long run of 20-22 miles before the big race) but as fate had it, he finished the race just under four hours, making his debut a more than memorable and rewarding experience.
He never looked back, producing finishes in almost two dozen marathons and one ultra 80 km run, a slate that included the Boston Marathon in 2004 and again in 2015.
That took him to last month, when he was determined to complete his first marathon since his many months of 30 intensive radiation treatments ended in August 2015.
Those followed prostate cancer surgery in November, 2014, and preceded hormone therapy treatments that concluded last December.
It was a lot to handle in a short time frame.
“Mentally, I was ready but it was going to be my first marathon since my radiation and I wasn’t sure if, physically, my body was ready,” he said of the prep work for the Oct. 16 run, that featured approximately 1,400 entries.
“My goals were to finish and maybe squeak in under my Boston qualifying time of 4:10. My faith has allowed me to have a “no negatives attitude” and I surprised myself and ran a relatively comfortable 3:49 marathon. This allows me to run Boston 2018.”
He credits running in a supportive group of friends who have stuck with him throughout his cancer treatments. They listened, understood, offered support and provided a critical coping forum.
“Many are elite runners who allowed me to tag in back when my health was recovering and I was struggling to keep up. I am grateful for that,” Cormier said. “I am also grateful to our coach Mike Simmons, who has been instrumental with training programs and his wisdom, and to my wife and dietitian Heather who keeps me motivated and healthy.”
In addition to his success this fall, several other marathons stand out. In 2003, he qualified for his first Boston Marathon in his third attempt, achieving the required time of 3:23 after missing other attempts by 35 and 14 seconds.
But his 2015 Boston Marathon stands out as his most treasured experience.
“Less than two months after having my prostate removed in November, 2014, I began training,” Cormier said. “It was determined shortly after my training started that I was going to require additional treatment in the form of radiation therapy and with my PSA climbing, the radiologist asked me to stop running and cycling to see if these activities were causing this increase.”
So nine weeks into his regiment, he stopped. But thanks to a suggestion from running pal Heather Suttie, he took up core strength training with coach Chris Schnare. He calls it the best move he could have made, and proceeded to get into the best shape in years.
“The five no-impact weeks went by quickly,” Cormier said. “The strength training and my renewed faith in God, thanks to the support of my friend and colleague Tina Tapley, resulted in a great run, with me achieving another Boston qualifying time, though a bit slower (3:53.58).”
It is a clocking he bettered by four minutes several weeks ago to set in motion plans to return to Boston in 2018.
Given this month’s Movember movement to promote early cancer screening for men, Cormier is a firm believer of regular checkups and annual visits to the doctor. For him, it was a life saver.
Through his cancer fight, his drive and dedication are traits he is proud of and characteristics that might assist in helping others facing the disease or tough circumstances in their own lives.
“I hope my continuing with marathon running can serve as an inspiration to others living with cancer,” he said. “I would be classified as an active coping vs. passive coping.”
Kevin Barrett’s column appears every other Saturday. If you have a suggestion for a feature story, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit barrettkevin.wordpress.com.