Dubbed the Warrior Marathon Runner, Carol Dellinger has run a marathon a month for the past 25 years.
by Laura Shipp
When Carol Dellinger ran her first marathon, she was a professional women’s softball player looking to make a move to an individual sport. It turns out, she was a natural distance runner. In the 25 years since that pivotal race, Carol has finished more than 300 marathons – 308 to be exact. That’s about 12 marathons a year, every single year, for 25 years. Or 8,069.6 miles (and that’s not even counting training runs).
Dubbed the Warrior Marathon Runner, Carol has become an inspiration for many. In 2009, Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer – stage II ductal carcinoma in her right breast. She underwent a unilateral mastectomy without reconstruction, followed by routine lymph node removal.
Nine weeks later – you guessed it – she ran a marathon. And she’s run nearly 75 more since. Never one to back down from a challenge, the 56-year-old believes she can make it to 400 marathons completed before she finally hangs up her running shoes. And, after our recent interview with Carol, we can definitively say we wouldn’t dare bet against her. Read on to find out what Carol had to say about running marathons, beating cancer, and not letting the disease define her.
What was your initial reaction when you got the news that you had cancer?
My initial reaction was that cancer had picked the wrong woman to mess with. I hit it head on like I do my marathons I run.
I truly believe that, each time I cross the finish line of another marathon, I am continuing to put another 26.2 miles between myself and cancer.
What was your hardest challenge when facing cancer?
I think the hardest challenge was wondering how it was going to affect my competing in marathons, because that is such a huge part of my life! I didn’t want this cancer to define who I was.
I wanted to prove that, after cancer, you can still lead an active, healthy lifestyle. I finished my comeback marathon just nine weeks after my mastectomy. I believed that if I could still complete 26.2 miles, then cancer didn’t win the battle, I had won the battle.
Did you ever think about giving up running?
I never, ever thought about giving up my marathons. I soon realized after my road to recovery from breast cancer that a whole new fire was burning deep inside me. I truly believe that, each time I cross the finish line of another marathon, I am continuing to put another 26.2 miles between myself and cancer. And if I can continue to do 26.2 miles, then cancer will never catch up to me again.
Has your outlook on life changed since your diagnosis?
For sure! I wake up every day and feel so blessed to be given this chance to inspire others by continuing to run a marathon a month. I had just finished my 234th marathon before cancer eight years ago, and now I’ve just finished my 306th* marathon. Staggering marathon totals for anyone, especially someone who went through the challenge of breast cancer.
What does life after cancer and being a survivor mean to you?
It made me realize how strong I really was, not just physically, but it made me so much stronger mentally. There’s a great saying I’ve adopted: You never know how strong you have to be until being strong is the only option. I truly believe things happen for a reason, and it has been an honor and privilege to be chosen to go down this breast cancer journey. I’m not saying what I went through was easy, but I can tell you that it has been worth it. I believe I’m the same person I was eight years ago; it’s just that surviving cancer has revealed a more grateful, kind, and compassionate side of me that was hidden before.
What accomplishments are you the most proud of?
I am the most proud of overcoming cancer and not letting it define my identity. And I am so proud of finishing 306 marathons, and counting. And I am very proud to be a caring, kind, and compassionate person to my friends. My friends are my life, and I would do anything to protect them.
What advice would you give to someone facing cancer? Any lessons you’ve learned that you’d like to share?
I’ve learned to only surround myself with people who love, support, and nurture my soul. Everyone that is negative, I let them slowly drift away with the breeze. I’ve really tightened up my close circle of friends and quickly realized to identify the friends and people who only want to bring negativity or drama to my life.
What’s in the future for you now?
I want to continue to be strong and fit. I want to be able to dig deep each day to face any challenge ahead of me.
*In the time between when this interview was conducted and when this issue of Coping went to print, Carol had completed two additional marathons, to make her current (as of print) marathon total 308.
Carol Dellinger (left) competes in the Moose’s Tooth Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2015.
This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2018.
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