Vince DiCroce is registered to run the Colfax (Colo.) half marathon Sunday, but he's thinking about running the full marathon instead. He figures he might as well, since his next round of chemotherapy has been postponed because his "blood levels" are too low for treatment.
Besides, there will be nearly 200 "InVINCEables" running in T-shirts that honor the courage with which DiCroce has fought brain cancer. Many of them will be running their first marathon, including his wife and a daughter, and he wants to support them.
On the back of the shirts is something he vowed when he was diagnosed eight years ago: "I will not just survive, I will be better than before." He didn't just say it. He's lived it.
He knows it sounds crazy — opting to run 26.2 miles instead of 13.1 just because a delay in his chemo schedule made it doable for him — but that's the way he thinks. That's one of the reasons his family and friends love and admire him so much.
"I could struggle through," DiCroce said of the marathon. "I'll make a decision, probably, the day before."
His wife, Linda, is sure she knows which way he will go.
"Mark my words," she said, "he'll be at that marathon start."
DiCroce has run 30 marathons, all but two since he was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2004. He also has done seven Ironman triathlons in the eight years since doctors gave him a life expectancy of three to five years.
"I kind of developed this mentality that, if I pushed myself and did these things, then I was more alive," said DiCroce, 50. "If I'm doing these things, I'm not dying, I'm living. I'm sort of defying death."
That worked really well for years. He believed (and doctors concurred) that endurance exercise helped slow the progress of a disease for which there is no cure. He got well past the life expectancy doctors predicted for him. He felt great and was running well.
Then a routine check-up last November brought horrible news: The tumor was growing again.
"That's not a good sign," DiCroce said. "Once they start growing again, they're higher grade, they're more aggressive, and treatment becomes more aggressive."
Six weeks of chemo and radiation followed. He lost 10-15 pounds, down below 135.
"I went from looking like a fairly fit and trim long-distance triathlete to a POW," DiCroce said.
He's back up to 140-145 now. He's still running, still working as an attorney for the city of Denver. He tells his 11-year-old daughter, Leah, that cancer is not an excuse for failure.
"He inspires everyone to live a very fulfilled and meaningful life," Linda said. "Many times Vince has said that he wouldn't wish cancer on anybody, (but) there's been parts of it that have really been a blessing, because he's learned to live life to its fullest, and it's not just talk.
"He really does it, and inspires everyone around him to also feel the same energy and the inspiration to do your best in whatever you can do in life. He's inspired countless people."
Linda becomes visibly anxious at the thought of running her first marathon, but she is fortified by Vince's courage.
"In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, 'Wow, I saw my husband go through chemo and radiation, the most brutal treatment that I can imagine,' " Linda said. "He got up every day and he went to work with a good attitude. He lost his hair, he lost his weight, he lost his body muscle and every day he was there to inspire Leah to do her best in school and put a smile on her face. Throughout all of this, he's been our strength."
He does it with humility, too. He says he is inspired by Linda, his 23-year-old daughter Molly and the other InVINCEables who will be braving the marathon distance. He knows how scary it can be at that starting line.
"People say I'm inspiring, but to me it's everybody else who's inspiring," DiCroce said. "It's that defiance of weakness. It's being strong, it's standing up and saying, 'I'm better than this.' That's what it takes to do stuff like this. To me, that's an important concept in life. No matter how large or small, to stand up and do what it takes to overcome."