This Man Has Incurable Cancer, But He's Still Training For Races And Triathlons

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A half Ironman competition, also known as an Ironman 70.3, generally includes a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride, and a 13.1-mile run. It's not for the faint of heart, and requires serious training in the months prior, so needless to say it's a massive challenge for even the most healthy of individuals. That fact is what makes Georgia man Kirk Smith's goal of competing in the PPD IRONMAN North Carolina triathlon on Oct. 22, 2016, all the more impressive. He has lung cancer.

The 54-year-old Smith was diagnosed with Stage 3B lung cancer in December 2013, which has a 5 percent five-year survival rate. The news was, of course, a shock when he found out, but doubly so because he has never smoked cigarettes, which causes 9 out of 10 lung cancers, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

In spite of the serious diagnosis, though, Smith has been maintaining an incredibly active lifestyle. He's completed several 5Ks, 10Ks, half marathons, and sprint races since, all thanks to a history of healthy living and a specific drug that blocks the genetic mutation that caused the disease.

"If you get cancer, it's not automatically a death sentence, or that your-quality-of-life-is-going-to-crap sentence," Smith told "That's one of the biggest things for me: With targeted therapy, I'm able to do this, and my quality of life has changed very little."

Pair that drug with a relentlessly positive attitude and you've got a guy who's defying the conventional expectations of a terminal cancer patient. And Smith shows no signs of slowing down — his half Ironman is five months away, and he's set on competing as part of team Free to Breathe, a Wisconsin-based lung cancer research organization.

"If I see a guy who's doing a half Ironman and know he has late-stage lung cancer, I would be inspired, but I also think I'd be, 'That's phenomenal — how has cancer treatment gotten to this stage that that could be done?'" Smith said.

As for his goals with respect to the Ironman? In his prime he broke four hours and 30 minutes start to finish, and now he wants to hit under five hours. More generally, though, he sounds like he wants to test the boundaries of how far a cancer patient can go.

"I can't make my lungs any bigger and make that part of my lung alive again, so what can I do to maximize what I have, and still be competitive, but still enjoy the fact that I'm still alive?" he said. "I'm two and a half years into a late-stage lung cancer diagnosis, and I'm really lucky to be here, so I don't take any of this for granted."

If that doesn't inspire you to get active, nothing will.

Cover image: Pixabay