In July 2020, the ultrarunning community was shocked to find out that Tommy Rivers Puzey had been diagnosed with primary pulmonary NK/T-cell lymphoma, a rare and aggressive cancer. Since then, Rivers Puzey, or Rivs, as his friends like to call him, has been fighting for his life, and it appears that he is winning. On Sunday, the beloved ultramarathoner completed the New York City Marathon in 9:18:57, barely one year after taking his first steps after treatment.
— Ben Bruce (@bbjamin) November 8, 2021
Aside from being a well-known ultrarunner, Rivers Puzey is a father to three young girls and husband to his wife, Stephanie Catudal. He had been struggling with COVID-like symptoms for several weeks in an Arizona hospital when he finally received his diagnosis.
His condition deteriorated quickly, and by October, he had lost 70 pounds and was deemed ineligible for a bone marrow transplant because he was too frail. According to his Instagram, where he has been very open about the struggle he has gone through over the last year, his doctors did not expect him to make it. He spent five months in the hospital, underwent multiple surgeries, ventilatory intubation, an open-lung biopsy, collapsed lungs, internal bleeding, acute liver failure, deep vein thrombosis, ulcers, lung infections, septic blood infections and several other dangerous side effects. He had to re-learn how to talk, swallow, chew and move his limbs. After six rounds of chemotherapy, he was told by doctors that his cancer was in remission.
Sometimes you can’t measure a victory with a stopwatch…@tommy_rivs
He placed 16 at the 2017 Boston Marathon with a time of 2:18. pic.twitter.com/5KGzpT7LJP
— Chris S. Cornell (@BiggestComeback) November 8, 2021
One year later, Rivers Puzey surprised his loyal followers when he announced he’d signed up for the New York City Marathon. He slowly made his way through the city’s five boroughs, smiling and high-fiving spectators as he went, and crossed the finish line in Central Park in complete darkness, after most of the crowd had already gone home. Once an aspiring U.S. Olympic Trials marathoner, he called completing the marathon “the single most difficult athletic achievement” he’s ever accomplished.
Rivers Puzey’s fight is not over yet. According to his Instagram, doctors have given him a 90 per cent chance that his cancer will return without a bone marrow transplant, so he is now working on building up his strength so his body will be able to handle another four to six rounds of chemotherapy, followed by a bone marrow transplant. For runners wishing to support him and his family, you can visit the GoFundMe page set up by his brother, Jacob Puzey, and others.