From Cancer Survivor to Marathon Maniac: How the ’99 NYC Marathon Helped Julia Reach New Heights
For almost a year in 1999, when she was in her mid-20s, Julia Khvasechko practically lived at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.
The Manhattan native was receiving treatment for brain cancer and confined to a wheelchair. She happened to be there on November 7, 1999, when some kind of commotion on First Avenue sent everyone rushing to the windows. It was the New York City Marathon.
“I watched for hours,” explained Khvasechko. “At first, I was bewildered. I’d never heard of the marathon, if you can believe that. After a few hours, I became intrigued. I was inspired. I wanted to do that.”
From Five Boroughs to the World
Khvasechko would eventually run the five boroughs—and many, many more marathons—but it took some time to get to the starting line. Her first step was learning how to walk again. Then she decided she wanted to earn her spot by completing NYRR’s 9+1 program, which requires you to run nine marathon qualifying races and volunteer at one.
She did that in 2006 and made her New York City Marathon debut in 2007. She ran on behalf of Fred’s Team, and thanks to pledges from colleagues in the finance industry, she raised thousands of dollars for Memorial Sloan Kettering.
“I felt really good about doing something to give back,” Khvasechko said. “It was a dream race. Running past Sloan on First Avenue was a euphoric experience. I was so grateful.”
Khvasechko had such a great time that she signed up for more marathons and raised even more money for cancer charities. “Something happened to me,” she said. “I became the person I was meant to be. I felt strong and capable. I liked who I became in the process of training. I went from ‘cancer girl’ to ‘runner girl,’ and I liked that title more.”
She eventually met the man she would marry at a race—which inevitably led to more racing. He lived in Alaska during their early years together, and they started picking random races where they could meet up every month.
At the time, he was trying to complete a marathon in every state, and that became Khvasechko’s goal, too.
Khvasechko and her husband have now run two marathons in every state. They’ve now moved on to countries. They’ve run in Australia, South Africa, and Germany, and they’ve got South America on their agenda this fall.
The Added Importance of 212
Khvasechko is excited about that trip, but she’s especially thrilled about the 2018 TCS New York City Marathon.
One reason is that it’ll mark her 212th marathon—a number that’s extra special because it’s Manhattan’s area code. It’ll also be Khvasechko’s 10th time running the New York City Marathon and her sixth serving as a pacer, something she loves doing.
“I enjoy inspiring others and hearing about others and what got them to the starting line,” said Khvasechko, who’ll hold a 4:35 pace on November 4 for the NYRR Pace Team Presented by Biofreeze. “When they tell me they can’t go on, I say, ‘Yes you can. I know you can.’ When they cross the finish line, and they’re crying because it’s their first race or a PR, and they’re thanking me, I say, ‘No, thank you for me letting me be here to witness this.’”
In 2014, Khvasechko left the finance world and became a massage therapist. She now runs her own business, Marathon Massage, and works with clients in both NYC and Portland, Oregon, where she splits her time.
After notching marathons on every continent, she’ll set her sights on one final goal: becoming the oldest woman to finish the New York City Marathon. The number to beat is 86 years old, and she thinks she can do it.
However long she continues running the New York City Marathon, Khvasechko is sure to feel something special every time she hits mile 16 and goes past Memorial Sloan Kettering.
“It never loses its effect on me,” she added. “I’m always bawling when I pass by. I’m thanking God and the universe for giving me the opportunity to be on this side of the glass.”
On November 4, run with the free NYRR Pace Team Presented by Biofreeze at the TCS New York City Marathon! For more information, click here.
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