While battling cancer, runner will participate in L.A. Marathon
By Jill Painter, Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 03/01/2008 06:15:21 AM PST
Daily News, Los Angeles
ENCINO - Craig Chambers made his way on foot through the hills north of Ventura Boulevard on a beautiful, clear evening.
He always has company on these walks and stories to tell or puzzles to dissect, even if there's huffing and puffing and panting with each stride. A hill never got in the way of a good story.
As he walked up Clear View Drive, he pointed left to show off a spectacular view of the Valley. He called it a good view. He walked under bending trees and around sprawling homes, and even heard a rat rustling in some bushes until he was back to the good view. But now, Clear View Drive is known as a great view, because Chambers said he's earned it.
Chambers, 58, is in training for Sunday's L.A. Marathon - a race he's never missed. But this will be unlike any of the previous 22 he's run. This time, he'll walk.
Chambers is a runner. It's his identity. It's what he does. He's plans vacations - from Cambodia to China to the former Soviet Union - around the the marathon.
His view, much like the changing view of Clear View Drive, is different now. Chambers has battled cancer for two years and just had another round of chemotherapy on Wednesday. The cancer started as melanoma on the top of his head - even though he always runs while wearing hats - then spread to his lungs and liver.
"I'm grateful (for the marathon)," Chambers said. "It's a great goal. I have to do it. I'm looking forward to it this year more than ever, even though it will be tough.
"I might be out there 8-10 hours. But if I can do it, I'll be more happy than ever doing it."
He's learned a lot about love and life and running through the process. He's not about to quit marathons now.
Some might dwell on the change from running to walking, but not Chambers. He's run these things in a little over three hours. A slower pace will afford him a better view of the city.
"It's the same thing as running," Chambers said. "I'm thrilled to be out. It's a blessing to be out. It's fun, fun, fun. I do it because I think I can. I continue training, even though I'm walking. What else are you going to do?"
Maybe rest? Then he'd miss all the good views around town.
Runners run. It's what they do. It's in their blood. Chambers couldn't imagine missing the marathon. This is his city, he said. And marathons are his thing, so, he'll walk the race with a group of friends and co-workers and maybe even one of his nurses.
Chambers has had four surgeries, none of which kept him from moving one foot in front of the other. He had part of his lung removed, but a few days before, he ran 50K - about 30 miles - in the Wild West Marathon in Lone Pine.
Chambers is co-owner of the popular running store Phidippides, which caters to the recreational runner. Chambers used to run from his Santa Monica home to work, a 13-mile trek, and after a full day of work, he would run home. He ran the equivalent of a marathon five days a week for five years from 1981-86.
Then there was the 100-mile run in Death Valley one August - which he did with his longtime girlfriend, Kathy Kusner - and a host of 50-milers. When you've got a resume like that, how could cancer dampen your spirits?
"Craig has been perfect," said Kusner, a former Olympian in equestrian. "That's just the amazing part of Craig. I'm going to walk the marathon with him. Our goal is to try to walk around the whole thing. That's what he sure wants to do. If it takes a week, we're going to try."
Chambers works part-time at Phidippides, which gives him the opportunity to hand out CDs and pamphlets to each new runner he meets. The store was packed a few days before the marathon, and he helped a woman test out running shoes. While he's lacing shoes, he'll invite anyone - tall, short, round, skinny, old or young - to Saturday fun runs he's organized the past few decades.
When a customer heard about his group, she said she wasn't sure she could keep up.
"You'd be surprised," Chambers said, smiling.
His voice is soothing and gentle. One would never know the battle that rages inside him. It brought tears to the eyes of his friend and running partner, Ron Kobrine, with whom he did a Grand Canyon run.
"He's an ultra-long distance runner," Kobrine said. "You just keep going. That's what he's doing. You don't lay down. You don't quit. He still can move and get out there. It's not a question of what does it mean. That's what you do. He's done it every year. He's going to do it. It's like breathing. It's a way of life."
Chambers starts and ends his days with walks. He walks in Santa Monica in the mornings and walks in the Valley in the evenings. He walks with a group of ladies called "The Chickadees" in the evenings. Some break off on runs. Others walk with Chambers. If they're with Chambers, they'll be entertained.
They'll talk about Barack Obama or the latest class he's taking at Santa Monica College, even though he already has three degrees.
Susanna Woods went to the store to buy shoes, met Chambers and hasn't been the same since.
"I started running two years ago, and I've done two 50-mile races, two 50Ks and six marathons," said Woods, who's a regular in Chambers' group. "It's all his fault. But he's not like the rest of us mere mortals."
Chambers still has noticeable definition in his calf muscles, a sure sign of a runner. The inward signs tell more about Chambers and running and how the sport has given him so many great views.
"It's a way of life," Chambers said. "There's a lot of elements - the people are fantastic and you gain confidence. There's just a scale of things you can do."
Marathons are just the beginning.