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Terminally ill and running four half-marathons

Posted at 5:29 PM, Sep 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-01 17:47:33-04

The name Darth Vader is usually associated with space, the Sith Lord and Skywalker.

He also lives in Canandaigua.

Thirty-year-old Eric Welch decided to legally change his name two years ago, just because.

He just wants to live his life to the fullest - see as much as he can, do as much as he can, and be himself, Darth Vader, to the best of his ability.

His attitude was inspired by his cancer.

When he was diagnosed with leukemia, his doctor said he had ten to twelve years left.

That was 14 years ago.

"When you are given a particular timeline, or they kind of compartmentalize your life in a timeframe, it awakens you," said Vader.

Vader says he is grateful for exceeding doctor expectations, but he is also grimly reminded that at any point he could succumb to the disease.

"I try not to let it bother me. I try to maintain a positive disposition, keep myself busy."

He says he understand that the illness is there and that it can escalate at any time, but he doesn't want to let it hold him hostage.

And it certainly hasn't.

About four years ago, Vader started running half-marathons and competing in Tough Mudder events.

Not one, not two, not even 20.

Just this year, Vader has run 26 half-marathons and competed in 11 Tough Mudders.

Last weekend he was in the Western New York Tough Mudder event and this weekend he will be running four half marathons. That's 32 half-marathons total for the year, and with 6 more Tough Mudders to compete in before January, Vader will have completed 62 Tough Mudders since he started four years ago.

"You have to live your life," said Vader. "And I know it's very cliche, but you have to live your life day-to-day, moment-to-moment and not allow yourself to be held hostage mentally, physically, emotionally by your diagnosis or prognosis, your timeline of potential death."

Vader calls himself a fatalist and understands this is the circle of life. He is willing to live with his disease and has accepted the fact that his time will be cut short.

"I'm not worried about it. That's why I live my life very hard, in a good way, with races and events. So it keeps me busy, it keeps me distracted, it gives me something to look forward to."

Leukemia hasn't been his only obstacle. Twenty-one years ago he broke and dislocated his ankle sliding into second base while playing softball. Since then he's had eight surgeries to help prolong the use of his leg and has been wearing a prosthetic brace since about the time he started running in half-marathons and competing in Tough Mudder events.

The next step is to amputate his leg below the knee and get a prosthetic leg. He feels that his current leg his holding him back and slowing him down.

"I'm looking forward to post surgery to run faster, run better, run longer."

Vader says the new leg will help him continue to push himself. He says he has pushed himself harder this year than any other year he has competed.

"Once you stop competing, once you stop living, once you stop looking forward to it, then you've already died, you've already quit, you've given up."

He says his love for competition and pushing his body to its limits keeps his spirit alive.

"I think it embodies what I'm trying to do in life: tough it out and live it out."

Vader doesn't believe in being defined by cancer. He says people should be defined by their hard work and their character, not their circumstances.

"There's a good amount of my friends that don't know that I'm sick. It makes me feel good to know that they're impressed with my races and the amount that I do. And then for them to find out that I have a terminal illness, to find out that I'm running on a leg that doesn't work very well, it makes me feel good. It gives me a sense of confidence to know that I can go out there and I can work just as hard, if not harder, than people who aren't struggling with what I'm dealing with."

Sitting down with Vader, he exudes positivity and it's easy to see how proud he is of his accomplishments.

"It's bittersweet, because this is the battle that I've won, but, eventually, the war will be lost. At this point, as long as I have the ability, even if I'm walking or jogging or dragging my body, I want to fight as long and as hard as I can."

For now, Darth Vader chooses to relish his accomplishments and the moments he has left, living his life week to week, and choosing not to be paralyzed by the projected time that cancer has left him with.