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Ashway: Running keeps Christian in the race of life

POSTED: March 11, 2014 5:51 p.m.

Moses Christian completed another Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday.

That shouldn’t come as a big surprise. The 81-year old has now completed the race 19 years in a row. In fact, Sunday’s race marked the 183rd official marathon that Christian has completed. And he’s completed every marathon that he started.

But this one was quite unique, far different from the rest. It took him nine hours, 36 minutes, and one second to complete the course, far off the five-hour times he used to log.

Just three months ago, Christian was hospitalized. The prostate cancer he has battled for 19 years had spread to his spine, causing intense pain in his upper back.

“He was really sick,” his wife, Lena, told Doug Williams for ESPN.com. “He thought that was it, that it had spread everywhere, and that he was going to die.”

Christian finally recovered enough to go home, but he remained in pain, lacking energy, depressed. Finally, in January, a colleague asked him to assist on a surgery.

“He went that morning, and he came back that evening a totally different man, with a spring in his step,” Lena told Williams. “From that day on, he’s been going to work. Suddenly, I heard, ‘I think I can walk the L.A. Marathon!’ No, I didn’t expect it.”

Perhaps she should have. Moses Christian is one amazing man.

Born in Poona, India in 1932, Christian was steered toward a career in medicine.

“My mother wanted one son to go into medical work,” he told Jeff Venables of the American Running and Fitness Association.

He moved to the U.S. in 1967, and is certified with the American Board of General Surgery and the American Board of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery. Which explains his interest in running and fitness, right?

Well, no. It was a cousin who pestered him into running and piqued his interest.

“At that time, I knew exercise was good,” Christian told Venables. “But what made the change was my cousin, Devadas. I was curious as to how people can run 26 miles, so I thought I would go ahead and try it. Once.”

And so, in July of 1993, at the tender age of 61, Christian ran his first marathon. And he was hooked.

“No doubt, when you do the marathon, it’s hard,” he told Williams. “But after you finish, the enjoyment, the glory, the finish line, the medal, the people congratulating you, it boosts your ego so much that you never want to stop.”

But just a year later, it looked like Christian would have to stop. He received the prostrate cancer diagnosis in December of 1994, and the traditional treatments were prescribed: Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation.

But Dr. Christian created his own treatment.

“I did not want to stop my exercise,” he told Venables. “I thought, if I go to surgery, it might affect my running.”

So the Seventh Day Adventist devised a holistic approach to fighting cancer. He became a vegetarian/vegan (though he occasionally cheats with fish and ice cream), reduced his stress, and exercised.

Boy, did he exercise.

He remains convinced that all the running gave his immune system a tremendous boost.

Christian was told he had two or three years to live 19 years ago.

“So, 61 became 65,” he told Williams. “Nothing happened. 70, 75. I said, ‘My, God has been good to me. I still live.’ And I come to 80, 81. Now I’m getting more pains and I have to face the fact that one of these days I will go.

“And I will be happy with that, thank God. I lived much longer than I expected, and I will be happy to do what God wants me to do.”

As part of his exercise regimen, Christian went almost 14 years, from 1999 to November 2013, running a marathon every month.

Let that sink in for a moment. A marathon a month.

“It was just a challenge,” Christian told Williams. “Once you do one a month, you want to make sure you do the next one, too. At times, when your legs are hurting, and you’re in pain, I said, ‘No, no, I must do it anyway.’ So it’s just a streak. Once you have a streak, you don’t want to break it.”

This is one determined man. He once completed a marathon a week for five straight weeks. And that’s not all.

“Four times I did the bike race and the L.A. Marathon right after that the same day,” he told Venables. “I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 1996 to the first peak, 18,600 feet high, and after one day of rest, I ran a marathon in Tanzania.”

He was at the Boston Marathon last year, and had six miles to go when the bombs went off. Determined to finish all 26.2 miles despite being told to stop by race officials, Christian continued on his own route, taking his own roads.

“Your body is much stronger and more capable than you think,” Christian told the San Bernardino County Sun last week. “There is lots of energy stored in you. I am an example of that.

“Tap into it. Believe in yourself. You can do almost anything.”

Denton Ashway is a contributing columnist for The Times. His column appears on Wednesday.


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