Cancer Nearly Took Tommy Rivers Puzey’s Life. But the NYC Marathon Awaited.


Almost a 12 months in the past to the day, Tommy Rivers Puzey, knowledgeable runner who has received or positioned in huge metropolis marathons and different endurance occasions, discovered to take a seat up in mattress once more.

Over the course of some weeks, he educated his physique to slowly swing his legs over the facet of the mattress. Eventually he was capable of stroll from one finish of the room to the subsequent, regardless of exhaustion from the effort lasting two to 3 days.

On Sunday, Puzey, 37, entered the New York City Marathon. He knew he could be far off his finest time for such a race, but it surely didn’t matter. Like the majority of individuals, it was sufficient to be there, even higher to complete. Unlike most, he nearly didn’t make it to the race in the first place as a result of he had almost died.

In July 2020, Puzey was admitted to a hospital close to his dwelling in Flagstaff, Ariz., with what was initially assumed to be Covid-19. Instead, he was recognized with a uncommon and aggressive type of lymphoma. He started chemotherapy and remained in the intensive care unit for 2 and a half months.

His spouse, Steph Catudal, couldn’t be with him due to Covid-19 rules. So she wrote a brief observe to him earlier than he went right into a medically induced coma. “Stay alive,” the observe learn, with an expletive added. “Love, Steph.”

Staying alive was not straightforward, nor anticipated.

“The doctors and everyone acknowledged that his extreme fitness allowed him to endure what he did,” Catudal mentioned days earlier than the race. “Someone that wasn’t training as rigorously as he did would have died.”

Indeed he was coaching, even in the hospital, up till he may not accomplish that. Catudal recalled getting calls from nurses. They informed her that her husband “was doing push-ups beside the bed and situps in bed,” she mentioned. “They’d be like, ‘Dude, you can’t get out of bed and do push-ups in the I.C.U.’”

His muscular body quickly deteriorated throughout aggressive therapies. He misplaced 75 kilos, changing into skeletal.

When he awoke from the coma weeks later, he was transferred to a bone-marrow transplant unit, after which a rehab facility. He must relearn every part: methods to swallow, methods to use his arms, methods to shift his weight from one facet of his physique to the different. The thought of utilizing utensils or a pen was past his comprehension, he mentioned, and when he was handed a smartphone, he was stunned by its weight. He didn’t go dwelling till November 2020.

Both Puzey and Catudal have giant social media presences, and followers have been hanging on each phrase posted on Instagram, searching for an replace from #GroupRivs.

Puzey is understood in the working world as equal elements a fierce competitor and a mild soul, a person who waxes poetic on the which means of motion whereas additionally blazing by way of races with an depth that has landed him on podiums in marathons and ultramarathons.

He positioned sixteenth at the Boston Marathon in 2017 with a time of two hours 18 minutes. He has received a handful of marathons, together with the Phoenix Marathon and the Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Marathon, which weaves by way of the Phoenix metropolitan space. He was chosen to be a member of the U.S. workforce for a 50-kilometer street race in a worldwide ultrarunning competitors.

Initially, Catudal mentioned, medical doctors informed Puzey that if he survived, he would in all probability be on a ventilator the remainder of his life. Then they mentioned if he survived he’d be on oxygen. Eventually, they only stopped giving him projections. “Well, it’s Tommy,” they’d say.

By final April, he was capable of stroll two miles with a walker, stopping each 5 minutes to relaxation.

He has progressed to strolling for as much as six or seven hours in the excessive altitudes of Flagstaff. It’s removed from the coaching he was accustomed to, and much from the place he was just some months in the past.

It takes time for Puzey to explain his well being and his coaching as a result of his mind doesn’t work in addition to it as soon as did, he mentioned.

Indeed, when Puzey has one thing to say, he slowly figures out the finest approach to body it. “If you are moving, you are still alive,” he repeats.

“Everything I’ve done, every movement has been a conversation with death,” he mentioned. He in contrast these conversations to ones that he imagines having with a driver selecting him up from a celebration. “It’s like being dropped off at a New Year’s Eve party. You get dropped off at 6 o’clock and at 8 the driver comes back. It’s like, ‘No, I don’t want to leave,’ and ‘You should be grateful you’ve been here for two hours and had a great time,’ which eventually just becomes, ‘You can try to take me but I’m not leaving.’”

He determined to aim the New York City Marathon not as a race, not essentially as a comeback, and even an inspirational story. He entered the race as a result of it’s a beacon, he mentioned, one thing he has checked out on the horizon for some time now.

“A marathon, like any event, doesn’t matter the distance, it’s a stamp in time and space,” he mentioned over the cellphone from his dwelling earlier than the race. “It’s like a horizontal line on the side of a door frame in our childhood home. It’s a mark that says, ‘I am here in this exact moment and in this exact space.’”

He arrived in New York City for the first time ever just a few days earlier than the race.

“I don’t think that there is anywhere on earth on that particular day that will be beaming with more solidarity and cohesion and cooperation and strength and love and inspiration than New York City on the day of their marathon,” he mentioned days earlier than the begin. “It’s magic. If such a thing exists, that’s what it looks like, that’s what it feels like.”

On Sunday, he mentioned, he was pulled alongside by that magic. By spectators who drew indicators for him, with phrases like “Eyes up, Rivs,” and by individuals who jumped in the race to stroll with him all through the day.

He measured his progress not by mile markers however by what he mentioned was transferring “dot to dot to dot between these expressions of love and inspiration.”

In the previous few miles, with Catudal becoming a member of him, he tried to wrap his thoughts round something apart from being fully current. It was simply too daunting, he mentioned.

“You just close your eyes and keep moving and eventually you get to the end, and when you get there, there’s this sigh of relief,” he mentioned.

He received there, after the solar went down and most spectators had gone dwelling.

His time was 9 hours 19 minutes.