‘I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.’ Christopher ReeveI have a new hero. Iram Leon is a single dad and a runner living with terminal brain cancer who refuses to let obstacles slow him down. Iram was at a friend’s 39th birthday party when he collapsed at the table, no warning, and his friends thought he was goofing off. He woke up in a hospital bed, in complete denial. Reality set in when he was diagnosed with grade 2 diffuse astrocytoma in his left temporal lobe- terminal brain cancer. They wanted to operate immediately, but Leon argued he had a marathon to run, a marathon only five weeks away and he had spent months training.
After his first neurosurgeon discouraged running, he turned to Dr. Allan Friedman and the Duke University Hospital Medical Team. Dr. Friedman recommended immediate surgery as well, but also understood this might be Leon’s last marathon. Brain surgery is risky and there are no guarantees. A runner himself, Dr. Friedman agreed to postpone the surgery and allow Leon to run his 26.2. In March 2011, they removed as much of the tumor as possible and monitored what was left with frequent MRI’s. Leon soon found that it affected his memory and, as a juvenile probation officer, thorough and accurate reports are required. He lost his job and eventually his wife, and high school sweetheart.
Two things he has to cherish and celebrate: his daughter, Kiana, and running. Kiana is the center of his universe and running is his therapy. He teases that he needs a lot of therapy, so they run a lot of miles. Iram and Kiana live in Austin, Texas and he’s busy making sure she they spend as much time together as possible. He has a blog that he updates periodically. He uses it to remember experiences, since his memory has been affected, but I think his followers get even more out of it. They get a peek into this bond between father and daughter, an open and honest perspective.
I was honored Iram took time to chat with me over the phone. This man amazes and inspires me and I’m sure I sounded like a teenage girl getting to chat with the guys from One Direction. This guy has not only run a marathon, he WON a marathon while pushing his, then 6 year old, daughter. He’s on anti-seizure medicine that makes him nauseous. He’s been sick and thrown up in the middle of races, but pushes on. He admits he’s made mistakes, is humble and FUNNY! I told him I wanted to get a CARPE DIEM tattoo, he said not to get one, they’re trashy. I knew he had a tattoo of a lion and lion cub on his shoulder, portraying dad and Kiana. I guess I love trashy, because every time I see pictures of them running together and the tattoo on his shoulder, it makes my heart happy.
They almost didn’t make it to his victory at the Gusher Marathon, since strollers aren’t allowed. He was turned down numerous times, but refused to run without his little lion cub. When they finally allowed him in, he borrowed a better running stroller from a friend, only to get to the race and find a flat tire. A cyclist tried to double up a bike tube and make it work, but, fortunately, a kind stranger let him borrow an actual stroller tire. They swapped out the tire and had 40 seconds to spare before start time. Trying to have good manners and stroller etiquette, they didn’t start in the front of the pack with all the fast runners. Tenacity. This father/daughter team had been turned down three times, finally get permission to enter and then show up with a flat tire. Most of us would take that as a sign, but this is the guy that put off brain surgery to run a marathon and his equally spirited daughter. A 3:07 marathon is impressive itself, but add that he was pushing his daughter and it’s downright amazing. I love watching the videos of the Gusher Marathon, with her smiles and his singing. I can’t run a 3:07 marathon, especially pushing a stroller and I’m NEVER singing during a run, I need to conserve my energy.
The Leon Team is onto something. They are living every single day to the fullest, doing what they love and spending time together. She loves to sing along their runs and tell dad to go faster. Their medals hang in her bedroom. Dad teases that he came in second at the Gusher Marathon, behind his 6 year old cutie. “When I’m in a race, when I’m climbing a hill, for a few moments it feels like I’m pulling ahead of my problems,” says Iram.
I asked this amazing athlete what his favorite run has been so far- expecting for him to reply with Boston or the Gusher Marathon. He had two favorites: Kiana’s 60 yard dash at school and his mom’s first half marathon. This guy has taken a somewhat lonely sport and used it to bring him closer to the people he loves. We can all learn from that.
Last weekend Iram and Kiana placed 9th overall in the Miracle ‘Match’ Marathon, a marathon that claims to be the ‘toughest in Texas, no bull.’ I had to ask if his stroller had brakes, after checking out the hills on this one. Fortunately, his stroller had brakes and an emergency strap but that obviously didn’t help with the climbs, including a gigantic set of stairs. Hills, stairs and pushing a 7 year old in a stroller and he still placed 9th overall and 3rd in his age division. He teases about retiring, but I don’t buy it. They are clearly having too much fun together. Iram is only running in races that allow him to bring Kiana. “I want her to have as many memories of me as possible,” he said. “I want her to remember us having fun together, not me being sick.”
When asked about his favorite distance, he likes them all and is simply excited to spend time with his little lady. A 5k, a marathon and everything in between, they’re all good. In April they’ll be heading to Minnesota for the Fools for Five 5k. It will be a chance for them to bond and inspire others. I hope he makes an Oregon event someday soon, but until he does I will continue to follow his races and be inspired. This man is truly a hero. He’s faced adversity that would sideline most runners. Not only does he overcome that adversity, he does it with a positive attitude, an amazing pace, and the cutest co-pilot you have ever seen. If I could capture just a small portion of the magic he brings to running, my legs would never stop moving. Some great people have set up a fund to help send Kiana to college, if you are interested in donating, click here.