Running marathons has so much more meaning for cancer survivor and pacer Julia Khvasechko as she runs in her 229th marathon at this year’s Air Force Marathon Sept. 21.
Khvasechko today is a vision of health and wellness, but 20 years ago, that was not the case.
In 1998 at the age of 24, she began experiencing seizures and after a visit to the doctor and several medical tests, she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
With only a 30 percent chance to survive, Khvasechko’s determination to beat the disease came after watching runners participate in the New York Marathon.
“Everyone looked healthy, and I would have given anything at that time in my life to be healthy,” she said. “I decided then and there that if God gave me the strength to get me out of my wheelchair, I was going to run a marathon.”
Khvasechko had a glioma in her right temporal lobe and underwent a temporal lobectomy. After undergoing treatments and learning how to walk again unassisted, Khvasechko was finally cancer free and as she promised herself, she ran her first marathon in 2005 at the Marine Corps Marathon and in 2007, she ran the New York Marathon.
“I ran by the hospital where I was once a patient and as I went by, I waved at everyone, high-fived them and I cried tears of joy,” Khvasechko said. “That was the greatest feeling I have ever had in my entire life!”
Khvasecko has been running marathons ever since and has made many memorable events along the way. In fact, in 2010 at a marathon in Wisconsin, she met her husband to be, Maj. Shane Garling, and after three years of dating, Garling proposed to her at a marathon in Louisiana. On Jan. 19, 2014, Khvasecko and Garling exchanged wedding vows on Mile 17 at the Maui Oceanfront Marathon in Maui, Hawaii.
That day also marked Khvasecko’s accomplishment of running a marathon in all 50 states and again at the same marathon on Jan. 15, 2017, she completed her second round of running in every state.
A licensed massage therapist and yoga teacher, Khvasecko is now working on her third round, making the Air Force Marathon her third race in Ohio. Her goal is to finish once again in Maui by January 2021.
No longer running for herself, Khvasechko is driven to help other people achieve their goals by running as a pacer.
“I am honored to be coming back and pacing the 4:25 group this year at the Air Force Marathon,” said Khvasechko. “I love to help people become their best selves and achieve their goals and dreams. When someone runs in my group, I get to know them and find out why they are running then use that to propel them forward. I remind them that they are stronger than they know and inspire them with my own story of overcoming obstacles. I ask them to remember why they started running and encourage them constantly to not give up, to reinforce that they can and they will do it.”
At the Air Force Marathon, there will be about 60 different pacers that assist runners achieve their pace goal. Pacers are available for several different paces, including those who would like to do the run-walk-run method.
Along with helping marathoners reach their goals, Khvasechko will be running the Air Force marathon for the second time concurrently with her husband, who is currently deployed, while he runs at a deployed location race.
“I ran the Air Force Marathon back in 2012, and coincidentally that is the last time Shane was deployed,” she said. “He was in Afghanistan for six months and when it was time to choose a race for Ohio, it was a no brainer. Again with him being deployed, knowing that we are both running the Air Force Marathon, it allows me to feel closer to him.”
Deployed races offer deployed military members the chance to share the experience and camaraderie associated with the Air Force Marathon. This year, six different deployed units will host the event. Approximately 1,800 deployed service members participate each year.
Khvasechko said running has become a testament to her good health, to working hard and achieving her goals no matter what the roadblocks are and she encourages others to do the same.
“You keep your eyes focused on the prize and don’t let anything deter you from your goal,” she said. “My first goal was to run the marathon and when that was achieved, I wanted to up the ante and run a marathon in every state. I always needed an audacious goal to chase. I read somewhere once that if your goal doesn’t scare you, it’s not big enough. So when I attain a goal, I set an even bigger one.”
To run with a pacer, sign up is not necessary. Located at the start line at the day of the race, runners can meet up with pacers. Pacers will be wearing shirts identifying them as well as holding a flag with their pace time. Information on pace running will also be available at the Marathon Expo.
The 2019 Air Force Marathon is presented by Northrop Grumman, USAA and Boeing and is scheduled for Sept. 21. The Sports & Fitness expo is scheduled for Sept. 19-20. The Breakfast of Champions is Sept. 20 from 8 to 10 a.m. and the Gourmet Pasta Dinner that evening, starting at 5:30 p.m.
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