Runner’s daughter races Grandma's Marathon to raise money to fight cancerWhen Kevin Peterson isn’t sick from chemotherapy, he’s working on his 30 rental properties in Superior or donating time as a board member with Grandma’s Marathon. His daughter will be racing 26.2 miles for the first time Saturday to help raise money to fight pancreatic cancer.
When Kevin Peterson isn’t sick from chemotherapy, he’s working on his 30 rental properties in Superior or donating time as a board member with Grandma’s Marathon.
He’s too busy to bow to the odds stacked against him after a diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer on July 1, 2011.
“Stubbornness is what’s helped him get through this,” said his daughter, Sarah Peterson of Superior. “His attitude is ‘This disease isn’t going to beat me.’ He’s a runner, and runners are tough.”
It’s probably a family trait.
Sarah Peterson will be racing 26.2 miles for the first time Saturday in the 36th Grandma’s Marathon as a member of Team Hope, a component of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. She’s helped organize more than 45 runners and 25 aid station volunteers taking part in the marathon or accompanying Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon, or working at a Team Hope booth at the race expo at the DECC. Her efforts already have raised more than $23,000.
Sarah Peterson, 25, a special education teacher at Grant Nettleton Elementary in Duluth, ran cross country and track at Superior High School, graduating in 2004, and earned an undergraduate degree from Minnesota Duluth in 2008 and a master’s degree from Wisconsin-Superior in 2010.
She has run half marathons in Duluth and Fargo, N.D., and is eager to participate in a race so close to her dad’s heart, on the day before Father’s Day.
“I feel a deep and personal connection to Grandma’s Marathon,” said Sarah Peterson, who has been a race volunteer since childhood and is in the race’s Canal Park office this week answering phones. “I know there will be times when I’m running Saturday that I’ll think it’s too hard, or I’m too tired and that I might want to quit.
“I know it’s a long way, but I also know I can do this. My dad is my inspiration.”
Connected to Grandma’s Marathon
Kevin Peterson, 53, a lifelong Superior resident, has been part of Grandma’s Marathon since its inception in 1977. He was a member of the founding organization, the North Shore Striders, and ran in the inaugural race (although, he admits not finishing in the 80-degree heat that day), which was won by Olympian Garry Bjorklund of Twig.
When the race went to a nonprofit status in 1987 and needed volunteers to help run the event, Peterson pitched in and continues to help. In 2011, he was the chairman of the 16-member board of directors.
Race executive director Scott Keenan, in charge of Grandma’s Marathon from the first day, isn’t afraid to show emotion when talking about those who have given to the race, especially contributors lost to illness. He has shed tears when former board member and star volunteer Don Fennessy of Duluth died of pancreatic cancer last December at age 75, and when Alex Ratelle of Grand Marais, who ran in the first 21 Grandma’s Marathons and spread word of the race, died Sunday at age 87.
Keenan also has a soft spot for Peterson, whom he sees as determined and
“There is only one way Kevin looks at this: He wants to live and he’s going to do whatever he can to keep going,” said Keenan, who wears a purple wristband in support of Team Hope. “Everyone who knows him is so extremely proud of how he’s faced such a challenge in his life.”
Peterson doesn’t drink or smoke, and said he was in shock for a month after the diagnosis because doctors said that surgery wasn’t possible. He’s had chemotherapy treatments of five to six hours every two weeks since August at Essentia Health’s First Street Building. The treatment continues at home for an additional two days. He says he’s laid low by the medication for five days, then resumes work.
In his rental property business, he shows apartments, meets with tenants and is a handyman, putting in new floors, texturing walls and painting. He also mows the lawn at his home, the house he grew up in, using a new zero-turn mower and times his effort. He’s staying active and enjoying each day.
Seventy-four percent of pancreatic cancer patients die in the first 12 months of diagnosis, according to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
“I’m doing better than average compared to those in the same situation,” said Peterson, a 1976 Superior High School graduate, who earned degrees at UWS and UMD. “I feel good, better than, say, two months ago. You always dream that one day you’ll be told you’re cured and the pictures they’ve taken say the cancer is shrinking, but that is a temporary thing at best.”
The Stephen Sondheim musical “Follies” features the song “I’m Still Here,” a favorite Peterson phrase.
A hard-core runner
Of course, not being able to run is nettling to Peterson. He was a hard-core member of America’s first running boom in the 1970s and ’80s, racing nearly every weekend during the summer. He finished Grandma’s Marathon seven times; had a marathon best of 2 hours, 36 minutes in Miami in 1985 and ran a Las Vegas half marathon in 1:10 at age 40 in 1999; and completed the Edmund Fitzgerald 100K race of 62.1 miles. He ran the 2011 Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon.
His last serious race was as a relay member at the 2011 Brewhouse Triathlon at Pike Lake last August, completing five miles on a warm day. In the Fitger’s 5K race April 21 in downtown, he ran with Sarah, his only child, but said he needed to stop a number of times before finishing. He says his endurance has waned considerably.
“Running has been a lifelong passion, and I believe living a healthy lifestyle teaches you many things about life. I still believe that,” said Peterson, a Superior mayoral candidate in 1987, 2000, 2003 and 2011.
There will be many Team Hope stories Saturday, like Julie Weiss, 41, of Santa Monica, Calif., attempting 52 marathons in 2012 in memory of her late father; and Nancy Marian, 49, of Burnsville, Minn., running the half marathon in memory of her late mother.
Kevin Peterson will be at the Canal Park finish line cheering.