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Cancer survivor defies all odds; running 42nd Grandma’s Marathon

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Credit: Jim Kirkham
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DULUTH, MN -- More than 4,000 runners will hit the starting line for Grandma's Marathon Saturday morning. For some, it's their first race and for others, it's a tradition.

For 69-year-old Jim Kirkham, from the Twin Cities, he's been running Grandma's Marathon since the very beginning.

"And I came up and finished in 4:02 and that's probably my best marathon I ever ran," said Kirkham.

His annual tradition took a stumble in 2006 when Kirkham was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a blood disease.

Defying all odds and against the doctor's recommendations, he still ran the marathon.

"I ran into the finish line, called my wife and kids and they met me at the finish line as I came through And I had dropped water bottles every mile," he said.

Kirkham hit another potential roadblock last year when he underwent a bone marrow transplant in July 2020.

Despite being hospitalized, it didn't stop him.

"Last year, I bought a treadmill in my room for the University of Minnesota," Kirkham said. "I got to do a little running in the room but I didn't have much blood."

Kirkham's physician Dr. Jeff Miller says watching him over the last 15 years has been inspiring.

"To see somebody run a marathon in less than a year after an allogenic transplant from an unrelated donor is remarkable to me," said Dr. Miller. "I'm delighted, Jim is an inspiration to all of us who have worked with him."

On Saturday, Kirkham will take part in his 43rd race to once again proving no obstacle will prevent him from crossing the finish line.

"I always assumed I was going to do well, and it was going to go okay," Kirkham said. "I think that helps to have a positive attitude. And I think it helps if you do exercise, whatever it is. If you're pushing a walker, that's exercise."

To learn more about bone marrow transplants click here.

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Emma Quinn

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