Don Wright should be easy to spot during Sunday’s Vancouver USA Marathon. Just look to the back of the pack.
“I start at the back of the pack and drop back from there,” Wright explained.
The 75-year-old will be among the last to complete the 26.2-mile course, but he is certainly one of the most accomplished marathoners in the field. When he gets to the finish line, he will have completed 97 full marathons since being diagnosed with cancer 13 years ago.
A resident of Stillwater, Minn., Wright’s marathoning journey is linked with his cancer fight. Three weeks after he first completed a marathon, Wright was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. The bone marrow plasma cancer was supposed to kill him in about five years.
“The beauty of it is I’m supposed to be dead and I’m running marathons,” Wright said.
For that, he credits doctors such as Martha Lacy at the Mayo Clinic. There is no cure for Wright’s cancer. But innovative new treatments have kept the cancer in check. He is on his fifth different treatment regimen in 13 years. Recent signs that his cancer was back have been countered in recent weeks by a new treatment regimen. On Monday underwent an infusion to stimulate his immune system and is looking forward to the marathon and to the beer that awaits him at the finish line.
In addition to his goal of completing 100 marathons, Wright promotes eRace Cancer, a social media campaign to raise awareness of multiple myeloma and medical innovation. He now also promotes “My Life is Worth It”, an online campaign that advocates for patients to be included in discussions about cost issues that impact their care.
Wright said that he doesn’t know what his life is worth in terms of cost. “But I’ve lived to meet my grandchildren and they know their grandfather.”
Wright is accompanied to each marathon by his wife Ardis and their daughter Sarah, who will do the half marathon together on Sunday.
Back in 2003, Wright figured one marathon might be enough for him. The diagnosis changed that. He decided he wanted to run the Boston Marathon — which he did the following year.
Wright said he still gets emotional thinking about the approach to the Boston finish line. He counts New York City and Chicago with their millions of spectators as favorites. Another favorite is the Avenue of the Giants Marathon, where the only spectators are ancient Redwoods.
Wright’s fastest marathon was 10 years ago when he competed his hometown Twin Cities Marathon in 3 hours and 36 minutes. These days it takes him almost twice that long as he walks and jogs his way.
“I run across intersections” and across the finish line, he explained.
He close the Vancouver USA Marathon because it allows 7 hours to finish. He will likely need most of that on Sunday, Wright’s sixth marathon in 2016. Since completing the Fargo Marathon on May 21, Wright has been resting a sore knee that forced him to walk that entire route, taking 6 hours and 40 minutes to do it.
In 2012 in Hawaii, Wright reached his goal of completing a marathon in all 50 states. He then turned his attention to reaching 100 marathons as a cancer patient. If all goes to plan, he will hit that mark at the Philadelphia Marathon in November.
Vancouver USA Marathon and Half Marathon
The sixth Vancouver USA Marathon and Half Marathon will send thousands of runners and walkers onto Vancouver streets and roads on Sunday morning. Here’s what you need to know:
Start times: The 26.2-mile marathon starts at 7 a.m. Sunday. The 13.1-mile half-marathon at 9 a.m. Sunday. The courses close at 2 p.m. The Freedom 5K fun run is at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
Location: The races start and finish on Columbia between Sixth and Eighth streets in downtown Vancouver. Columbia borders the east side of Esther Short Park.
Registration ends Saturday: There is no day-of-race registration. The last chance to sign up for the marathon or half marathon is 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday at the VUM Active Expo in Esther Short Park. This is also the last chance for participants to check in and pick up their bibs. The cost to register at the expo is $135 plus tax for the marathon, $110 plus tax for the half marathon.
Boston Marathon qualifier: New this year to prevent short cuts, those trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon must step on special mats at Frenchman’s Bar Park and at Wintler Park to verify their time.
Past men’s marathon winners
2011 — Cody Barton, Ridgefield, 2:37:39
2012 — Youssef Zirari, Vancouver, 2:34:25
2013 — Youssef Zirari, Vancouver, 2:35:18
2014 — Wynston Alberts, Tokyo, 2:30:15
2015 — Andrew Hillier, Federal Way, 2:33:52
Past women’s marathon winners
2011 — Lauren Breihof, Vancouver, 2:54:08
2012 — Angie Fiese, Mableton, Ga., 3:07:40
2013 — Jennifer Enge, Lake Oswego, Ore., 2:58:54
2014 — Tonya Lutz, Salem, Ore., 2:57:01
2015 — Sara Mostatabi, Moraga, Calif., 2:48:58