Distance running took Mark Curp from a farm near Polo, Mo., to All-American honors at the University of Central Missouri and then to a contract to run professionally.
The sport’s leading magazine, Runner’s World, named him the top road racer in the world in both 1987 and 1988. Curp ran what he calls the race of his life in Philadelphia in 1985, setting a world record in the half marathon with a time of 1:00:55 (for perspective, try running a mile in less than five minutes—for 13 consecutive miles).
He continued to run after his dreams as he raised a family in Lee’s Summit, pursued his career and remained active in the local running community. Then came news that no one wants to hear.
“I was diagnosed with stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in April 2015 after I had a small lump develop on my neck and went to have it checked out,” Curp says. “I went through six months of chemotherapy, finishing in December of 2015.”
He applied the same work ethic and determination to beating cancer that he did to his running career.
“Due to my faith, family and friends, I can honestly say that I didn’t really worry about or loose any sleep over being diagnosed with cancer,” Curp says. “My biggest concern was for my family if I were to die prematurely.”
He refused to let cancer slow him down and was able to walk, ride an exercise bike and even do some running. “After the first month, I learned how much I could do after each treatment and when,” Curp says. “My faith, prayer, time with family and exercise were key in how I responded to the diagnosis and treatment.”
The cancer remains in remission, although he has blood work done twice a year and has annual CT scans. Although he always made faith and family his first priorities, the experience has given him a renewed sense of purpose. Curp volunteers at his church and at Coldwater, which provides clothing and food for those in need. He also serves on the board of the Hospital Hill Run (which he has won numerous times) and helps others achieve their running and fitness goals.
He recently started Mark Curp Running & Fitness. He has coached runners from preteens through their 60's. One client has an ambitious goal to run an international marathon, while others simply want to get back in shape.
“I believe serving is my key gift,” he says, “and I’ve found these avenues great ways to exercise it and add to my sense of purpose.”
As Thanksgiving approaches, Curp encourages others to count their blessings and take nothing for granted.
“The key lessons I’ve learned is that life is short, and we have only a limited amount of time to make a positive impact in this world,” he says. “It’s important to try to make the most of the time I have by investing in others as well as maintaining a positive attitude and an attitude of thankfulness and gratitude.
“Surround yourself with encouraging family and friends, start or continue exercising, serve others and, most importantly for me, continually seek to grow in my faith in Jesus Christ, which is where my hope comes from.”