UCR’s Stacey Grady Overcomes Cancer, Arthritis to Finish in Boston Marathon

10 months removed from surgery, the director of The Well is all smiles as she fulfills the goal of competing in the prestigious race

standing at finish

UCR’s Stacey Grady stands near the finish line after competing in her first Boston Marathon on Monday, April 21, 2014. Photo by Chuck Grady

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Runners who want to compete in the legendary Boston Marathon must overcome a variety of challenges. But UC Riverside staff member Stacey Grady overcame all of those and more to fulfill her dream of being one of the 36,000 runners competing in the annual Patriot Day race, held on Monday, April 21, 2014.

Grady, who frequently runs five miles or more with a group of UCR employees during her lunch breaks from her job as director of the UCR student-wellness center The Well, finished the 26.2 mile course in a time of 4:10.03, placing 20,030th overall and 8,036th among women. She did this despite a lifelong battle with osteoarthritis and being just 10 months removed from surgery for colon cancer.

“I’ve just been working to prove that you can overcome the odds,” Grady said by phone after the race Monday.  “The crowds out there were absolutely phenomenal. It was an amazing experience.”

At the age of 11, Grady was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, a disease that causes cartilage to become stiff and lose elasticity, resulting in pain, swelling and decreased range of motion. By the age of 30, Grady was beginning to show symptoms of the disease and she began a series of “significant treatments,” including bone marrow treatments every 12-18 months. Running short and medium distances help to keep her strong and fit and to alleviate the symptoms of the disease.

A frequent competitor in 10K and half-marathons throughout Southern California, she set her mind on running the Boston Marathon in 2011, following a strong performance in the San Diego Rock & Roll Half Marathon. She qualified for Boston on her third attempt in February 2013, finishing the Surf City Marathon in San Diego in a time of 3:39.42 – just under the qualifying cut-off time of 3:45 – despite making a stop for a therapist to work on her knees.

“I had a medical provider who was able to work on my knees for a few minutes and get me in and out,” she recalled.

But just a few months later, in May 2013, Grady took ill and passed out while sitting in her office following an on-campus run.

“I was feeling fine and I came into the office that afternoon and we were supposed to take a hike to the ‘C’ that evening,” she said. “I blacked out. They took me to the hospital and found internal bleeding and shortly thereafter I was diagnosed with colon cancer.”

Doctors quickly scheduled surgery and on June 21, 2013 the cancer was removed. Grady then faced a four month recovery period where she was limited to speedwalking to treat her arthritis. Her oncologists began coordinating with her arthritis experts to find a strategy that would allow her to continue her therapeutic walks and runs without hindering the cancer treatments and she began running again.

In October of 2013 she started running longer distances, building up her mileage toward half-marathons. In January she won her age group in the Tinker Bell 10K at Disneyland in Anaheim, then followed it with a strong 1:44:23 in the half-marathon the next day. Grady then repeated the 10K/half-marathon duo in mid-March at the Princess Half Marathon weekend at Disney World in Florida, finishing the 10K in 46:36 and the half in 1:51:58. Just eight weeks before the marathon, doctors cleared her to increase her distances and gave her the OK to run in Boston

“I came into Boston with a 20-mile and 18-mile training runs,” she said. “I wasn’t trained up, but the goal was to come out, have the experience and cross the finish line.”

She also had to promise her doctors that she would make stops along the way at medical aid tents.

“I had a few medical stops. The plan was always to do some medical check-ins along the way,” she said. “They fixed me up with ice at miles 20, 22, 24 and 26. I had an awesome care team taking care of me out there. They got me through it, so it was good.”

Grady gave thanks to her husband, who she said has been “my No. 1 supporter. Even when there were questions or doubts, he believed that I could be out there. He really made a big difference.”

She also gave thanks to her campus running group, which includes Robert Smith, Alvin Xu, Leslie Rose, Scot Metoyer, Thomas Barnett, Tony Ontiveros, Hadeel Elamin, Jennifer Miller and Wendy Hatfield.

“The camaraderie and encouragement makes the time pass quickly as we gut out five miles together on the trails. It has made me a stronger runner,” she said. “When I was recovering from the surgery, they were extremely encouraging every step of the way. As soon as I was able to run alongside them, they stuck by my side. They have been a true inspiration and have made an incredible difference.”

Smith returned the compliment, describing Grady as an “amazing person,” and said she was in the groups thoughts as they started their midday run in California as she was finishing her race in Boston.

“Stacey has arthritis at a level that most can’t imagine – yet when schedule, not pain, permits she is there.  Always,” he said. “Even when coming back from cancer, she would come out the run start to say, ‘hi’ and encourage us.  That’s just how Stacey is.  Even when she was sick and I reached out to encourage her, the thing that struck me is how much she cared about us.”

She is also a great workout partner and is “always humble.”

“She will cheerfully run with the slowest runner on the slowest day and challenge the fastest runner on the fastest day,” he said. “Stacey is consistently positive, no matter what she faces, she is always finding some way to say to someone in the group, ‘Wow, that’s great.'”

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