I had a 30% chance of surviving, now I’m running my 264th marathon

“I had about a 30% chance of surviving the craniotomy and being able to walk again, but 24 years on from my brain surgery Manchester will be my 264th lifetime marathon.”

Julia Khvasechko is an inspiring human being. April 2nd 1998, Julia was wheeled into an operating room for a craniotomy – a surgery to remove a brain tumour. As a young woman in her early 20s, Julia was only given a 30% expected survival rate, and it was an even lower chance that she would ever be able to walk again. Exactly 24 years on from the surgery, Julia will join us as a pacer at the Therme Manchester Marathon and be completing her 264th marathon having taught herself to stand, walk and eventually run again.

Hello Julia! Please can you introduce yourself so we know a little more about you.

Hello, I’m Julia Khvasechko, and I am from the USA where I have been living in New York City for the last 40+ years.

What is your personal reason for you tackling the 26.2 mile challenge at Manchester Marathon?

I am delighted to share with you that the Manchester Marathon will be a very special weekend for me. I am celebrating a big anniversary; an anniversary of good health.  I am celebrating 24 years of life post my brain surgeries.  That means I will be alive and healthy Post Operatively longer than before my tumour was located.

April 2nd 1998, I was being wheeled into the operating room to have my cranium drilled into. I had a very risky procedure at that time, a craniotomy to remove a brain tumour. I had about a 30% chance of surviving the surgery and being able to walk again, and I knew I would be bedridden post operatively for a long time, and in a wheelchair for an even longer time after that.

It took me nearly 2 years to learn to stand, walk, and eventually run again but I never, ever, ever lost hope, I never thought my situation was final, I kept asking the universe for strength and kept doing my PT and practicing my gratitude every day. I meditated and visualized myself one day running the NYC marathon. You see I was treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Care (a hospital) which is based at mile 16 of the course of the New York City Marathon. One day after the surgery, I was sitting in my wheelchair recovering, when I saw the marathon go by and I was instantly inspired.  It was the carrot I needed to keep fighting.  I kept at it because I envisioned myself running that race one day. After many months of hard work I walked a mile without stopping once and started to slowly include jogging intervals; little by little, easy does it, just focus on putting your feet one in front of the other. I got stronger and started running one min and walking one min regularly and eventually I was running 10 min and walking one min eventually. After a few weeks of consistently doing the run/walk/run method, I was able to run the entire reservoir without stopping (1.6 miles) in Manhattan’s Central Park and that is when I knew there was no stopping me – I was going to run the New York City marathon one day.

24 years later, Manchester will be my 264th lifetime marathon. That is a huge feat for anyone, but especially someone who had to relearn how to walk again in her 20’s after a brain tumour was found in my motor skills.

We hear you are one of our fantastic pacers, pacing those hoping to achieve a 5 hour marathon. What made you decide to join the pacing team at Manchester?

Today I have completed a marathon in all American 50 states not once, not twice, but three times, and I am working on completing international marathons now. Manchester will be country #6 for me and my 2nd time pacing internationally.  I am grateful to pace marathons big and small all over including New York, Chicago, Air Force Marathon (Ohio), Brooklyn Marathon and Rome Marathon, to name a few this year. I’m pacing the 5 hour group in Manchester and helping a lot of first timers reach their goals.

I am delighted to give back to this sport that I love so much in this meaningful way, but I will never forget that young girl sitting in her wheelchair at MSKCC watching the marathon go by and praying that one day I would be strong enough to do that!  April 2nd 2022 I will be celebrating 24 years of good health, sheer grit, perseverance, determination, fortitude, and dedication to not giving up!

What is it about pacing that you enjoy so much?

I know that when runners cross their first finish line they are never the same and I get to witness their joy and elation of doing something they once thought was impossible.  I love to cheer them on when it gets tough on the course and to remind them that they are stronger than they think they are, and they can always do more than they think they can do.  I keep the pace consistent so they can focus on the running and preserve their energy. In the end, I watch them become their own hero’s and that is my favourite reason for marathoning.

The best way to pay it forward is to help someone else find the joy of marathoning and I do that by pacing a race (or two) every month for the last decade all over the country and now the world. I have paced over 100 races in the USA but Manchester will be my 2nd time pacing internationally and I am excited I can help people across the pond too. Being consistent is not easy, especially if you are getting fatigued, but I have had a lot of practice at it.  When I go out on my daily runs, I practice my pace.  When people huddle around my pacing sign, they are assured to relax and not worry about pace, that is my job.

I like to get to know my runners, find out why they are running, and then when it gets challenging on the course, I remind them why they started.  I remind them how well they are doing and also help correct their posture along the way and focus on their breathing and I like to share stories.  I love to hear people’s reasons for being out there.  The time flies by for you when you are doing what you love and sharing the experience with new friends; and when it gets really challenging, I have some mind games I play with them to take the onus off the pain and focus on the finish line.  Pain is temporary, it may last a day or a week or a month but it will fade; however the golden glow of the marathon finish will live forever in your heart and be on the record books forever on the Internet!

Why is the marathon distance your favourite?

Marathoning has been so good to me, I have a new career that I cherish because of marathoning (I’m a Running Coach, a Licensed Massage Therapist, a Registered Yoga Teacher, and a Human Performance Coach today but 12 years ago I was an accountant!). I also met the love of my life, my husband, at a marathon, and so many amazing people I’m lucky enough to call friends and have seen the world all thanks to marathoning.

 What are you most looking forward to on the day?

I am most looking forward to exploring Manchester on foot and seeing all the gems the city has to offer. There is no better way to explore a new city than to run through it. But mostly I am looking forward to pacing. Since I pace on the slower side I get to see a lot of first time finishers and I revel in their accomplishments. I’ve run hundreds and hundreds of marathons, you would think I am jaded but I still LOVE the marathon distance so much. It completely owns my heart, for most people, running a marathon is a BIG deal. I love the challenge of the distance, and I love to challenge people’s limits. I encourage them not to quit on themselves and in the end, when someone looks at me, after the race and say “because of you, I didn’t give up” then I know I did my part. This creates a ripple effect in their lives, it allows them to enter a new paradigm in their minds:  ‘If I can do this, what else can I do?”