Cancer survivor runs 17th marathon

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    By Casey Williams

    For many people, completing just one marathon would be the accomplishment of a lifetime. But for George Vaieland, the accomplishment was when he finished his 17th.

    Last weekend Vaieland, assistant director of international admissions at BYU, ran and finished the St. George Marathon less than two years after beating cancer, which he was diagnosed with in 2001. In October 2002, he had an operation to remove the cancer; for the next three months, he had radiation treatments.

    He said a marathon was the last thing on his mind.

    “I was just tickled to walk to my car after the treatment,” Vaieland said.

    But as time went on, he started to wonder if he could run another marathon.

    “I started seeing advertisements in the paper to register for St. George,” Vaieland said. “So those feelings kind of came back again, kind of wondering, could I do it one more time? So I signed up for it.”

    Vaieland finished the race in 5:17. He said even though it wasn”t close to his best time and he struggled occasionally, he was pleased with the race.

    “I felt pretty good, but it was a struggle,” he said. “I was tickled that I was able to do it, to set that goal and do it.”

    Vaieland started working for BYU in the admissions office in 1974. He said he didn”t play sports much growing up and wasn”t very athletic. But while recovering from a knee injury, he was challenged to run a marathon by a co-worker, Ford Stevenson. Vaieland accepted the challenge and began training. On July 24, 1979, he completed the Deseret News Marathon.

    “It was a great feeling to know that, oh my gosh, I really did this,” Vaieland said.

    Though he said it was a great sense of accomplishment, he wasn”t sure he would do it again.

    “Everybody”s first feeling is, I”ll never ever do this again, this is stupid, this is crazy,” he said. “But after a while I got to thinking about what a neat sense of accomplishment it is. I just took it a year at a time and now I can”t believe I have done 17.”

    Along with running marathons, Vaieland also served in the Army National Guard for 34 years. He said he has found similarities between racing and military basic training.

    “Even though both endeavors are very grueling and physical, they all have a common denominator, and that is that both of those activities are a mind game,” Vaieland said. “If your mind says, ”You can do this and you will soon get over this,” rather than being in the moment of the pain and so on, you”re halfway there. But if you feel like, ”I”m not going to do this, I”m not going to make this,” then you”re not. So you take basic training one day at a time and you take a marathon one mile at a time.”

    Vaieland said he doesn”t know if he will run another marathon, but he has said that before.

    “Maybe I”ll go into bicycling, or something that is a little easier on my knees,” he said.

    Vaieland said marathons can be compared to life in some aspects.

    “You have so many things come up to you, there are doubts and your mind is playing games,” he said. “Whatever this endeavor is in front of us, we can always stop what we are doing and just opt out of it, and that”s life. If the goal in mind, or whatever you are doing, is a good one and a noble one, then stay with it.”

    Vaieland said he can”t emphasize enough the importance of the mind in running marathons or accomplishing anything else.

    “There are two parts to the race. There are the first 20 miles, and the second part of the race is the last six because it gets to be quite grueling,” he said. “It”s a mind game. I know it sounds awfully trite, but whatever you set your mind to, I”m a firm believer that you can really accomplish. But you”ve got to be willing to pay the price for whatever that endeavor is.”

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