SPORTS: Marathon inspiration wasn’t supposed to be there — but he is

PORT ANGELES — Neil Jervis is supposed to be dead.

That’s what his doctors tell him.

The hospice nurses keep telling him he doesn’t have much time left. They have been saying that for 3 ½ years.

Most of Neil Jervis’ friends have said their final goodbyes. Or so they thought.

But Jervis keeps hanging around despite carrying late-stage cancer. He gets up and runs another mile, cycles another two miles. He swam a mile in Lake Sutherland on Thursday morning.

That was after a little running and biking.

A founding member of the Port Angeles Marathon Association (PAMA) — the organization that created and administers the North Olympic Discovery Marathon — Jervis is the star of the seventh annual race, which is Sunday.

Marathon runners will see Jervis’ name on the back of their event T-shirts when they pick up their race packets Saturday at the Red Lion Hotel.

“Neil’s Run” is printed at the top with the event sponsors listed below.

PAMA is honoring Jervis because, quite frankly, nobody expected him to be alive for the 2009 North Olympic Discovery Marathon.

And Jervis, along with his wife, Sara ­– also a PAMA founding member — are probably the only two expecting Neil Jervis to be around for the 2010 marathon.

“I think that’s why they named the race after him, they think this will be his last race,” Sara Jervis said while sitting along the Port Angeles waterfront on a balmy summer-like day Thursday afternoon.

“You’re not ready for the final finish line, are you?” she asked her husband as she looked at him sitting on the waterfront bench.

“I’m not ready,” he said as he smiled at her.

Tough six days

Give his friends some slack, though, because Jervis really did look like he was going to check out in April.

They held a surprise birthday party for him on April 5, three days before his real birthday because, for one reason, no one was sure he was going to be alive April 8 when he was set to turn 59.

Hospice was out three times that weekend, again preparing the family for Neil’s final exit.

“They were saying that the next 48 hours were critical,” Sara Jervis said.

Neil Jervis, who is hard to keep down ­– after all, he usually goes out running the day after a 5-hour chemo session — stayed on the couch for six straight days.

A friend came over and told Sara Jervis that she needed to get outside. The friend asked her to go running.

“I can’t go out, I need to stay with Neil,” Sara told her friend.

Neil Jervis looked over from the couch and told his wife to go ahead, to get some fresh air.

Sara Jervis and her friend were gone for two hours. When they got back, Neil Jervis was gone. The cars were still in the driveway.

Sara Jervis quickly called Neil Jervis on his cell phone.

“Where are you?,” she asked.

“I’m standing here puking in the gutter,” he answered.

Neil Jervis told her he had walked to O Street. He had been determined to get his own fresh air and a little exercise.

O Street was just three blocks from his house. It had taken him an hour to walk there. He has done ironman competitions in less than 14 hours. That’s a 26.-2-mile marathon, 112-mile bike ride and 2.4-mile swim.

Neil Jervis walked back home on his own. It took 30 minutes for the return trip.

“I saw my chance to get out when my wife left on her run,” Neil Jervis said with a smile.

That was just before his birthday party. The event where some of his friends held in their tears and said their final good-byes.

“He looked awful,” Sara Jervis said. “Some people thought that was the last time they were going to see him.”

Neil Jervis said he walked into the room, everybody screamed “Surprise, Happy Birthday,” and he looked around to see whose birthday it was.

“I went through the whole party not knowing it was for me, I was so out of it,” he said.

Then came the sixth day of his illness. Neil Jervis had had enough of it.

“He was sitting on the couch, he looked over at me and he said, ‘I think I’m back,’ ” Sara Jervis said.

Back, indeed. The next day, which was Easter Sunday, the couple rode bikes with friends up Black Diamond during a rainstorm.

Sara look over at her husband, who was dripping wet, and asked, “Are you all right?”

He was beaming a huge smile back at her. He was back.

Late-stage cancer

Neil Jervis has been doing marathons and ironman competitions since 2001. He talked his wife into participating in her first ironman in 2005.

The two life-long Port Angeles residents, friends for 39 years and married for 36 years with two grown children and five grandchildren, raced side-by-side in the ’05 ironman in Penticton, Canada.

“He ran right beside me, swam right next to me, and biked next to me the whole race,” Sara Jervis said. “He had to be really frustrated because I was holding him back.”

Neil Jervis, though, could not bounce back from that August ironman despite not going all out like he usually does.

Finally in November, Neil Jervis made a doctor’s appointment. In January 2006, he was diagnosed with late-stage colon cancer. His liver already was 80 percent affected.

The tumors were on both sides of his liver, so they could not be cut out. He’s not eligible for a liver transplant because the new liver would just turn into cancer.

Doctors gave him just weeks, months at the most, to live.

It wasn’t long before hospice was on the scene, telling him he didn’t have long to live.

No one seems to know why Neil Jervis is still alive.

“I think it’s because I exercise all the time,” he said.

Neil Jervis boosts his immune system with his active lifestyle, Sara Jervis added.

Despite the disease, he’s been running 10 to 12 miles at a time the past three years.

“I really do anything I want,” he said.

Neil Jervis has five hours of chemo infusion every week.

“It doesn’t really affect me,” he said.

After the chemo treatment at the medical center, he uses a pump at home for 46 more hours of chemo treatment. But he doesn’t sit still to use the pump.

“Neil has found a fanny pack that holds his pump,” Sara Jervis said. “He puts the pump in his fanny pack and he runs.”

Relay team

Neil Jervis, a 1969 graduate of Port Angeles High School, will have his own relay team in Sunday’s marathon.

Because of his illness in April, Jervis’ participation in the marathon will be limited.

Sara Jervis and five other family friends will run a relay in Neil’s name.

Gay Hunter will run the first leg and she will hand off to Megan Berger, who passes the baton to Annie Farris, who then hands it to the mother-daughter team of Carol Clayton and Elizabeth Stevenson.

Sara Jervis, a 1973 Port Angeles High School graduate, runs the anchor leg.

Neil Jervis, who will bike the first four miles of the marathon if he is feeling up to it, will join his wife and the other relay members in the final half-mile and they will run across the finish line together.

“We will have a big banner, running him in,” Sara Jervis said.

It won’t be the first time Neil and Sara Jervis crossed a finish line together.

They hope this won’t be the last time.


Sports Editor Brad ­LaBrie can be reached at 360-417-3525 or at [email protected]

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