Battle-Tested Sanibel Runner Takes on Virtual Boston Marathon

by SC Reporter Reese Holiday

Jeff Muddell crosses the finish line of the virtual Boston Marathon surrounded by a group of his closest friends, wife and children at the end of Dixie Beach Road. SC photo by Shannen Hayes

This past week, thousands of runners took their stances in the virtual Boston Marathon, which took place in hometowns across the country rather than in the streets of Boston. In local runner Jeff Muddell’s case, the race took place on the streets of Sanibel Island this past Saturday.

However, Muddell’s journey to this year’s virtual Boston Marathon didn’t begin at the starting line. Rather, it began five years prior in 2015 when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“I went through surgery and treatment and was feeling pretty miserable and low,” said Muddell. “About as low as I’ve ever felt physically.”

On top of battling cancer, Muddell was also hospitalized several times for respiratory problems including pulmonary embolisms, which are blood clots in the lungs. But much like a long 26.2-mile marathon, he kept going and eventually won his battle.

Muddell was released from the hospital in 2015 and rejoined his family where he then got the idea to run the New York City Marathon. He had previously run the New York City Marathon prior to his cancer diagnosis in 2006 but wanted to do it again after watching it on television with his children.

“Do you see that?” Muddell said to his kids. “That’s the New York City Marathon. I ran that 9 years ago and I’m going to run it again.”

He then set out to do what he told his children and ran the New York City Marathon in 2016, almost one year to the day after he was released from the hospital. Muddell didn’t stop there, however, and made it his goal to complete all six of the World Major Marathons, commonly called, the “Six Star” Marathons.

These six races take place across the world in Boston, Berlin, Chicago, London, New York City, and Tokyo. Each marathon has varying climates and requires rigorous training to prepare for. But Muddell was up to the challenge and was ready to get back in shape and take on each race. He was also ready for his goal to become an example for his children.

“That was like my impetuous to get out of how miserable I felt and start getting back in shape,” Muddell said about completing his goal. “It was also important for me because it became my way of showing my children that no matter how bad you feel, not matter what bad stuff has happened, you can pick yourself up and move on.”

The next race that Muddell crossed off his list was the Chicago Marathon in 2018. He then crossed the pond in 2019 and raced in the London Marathon in the spring, and then the Berlin Marathon in the fall.

Muddell was set to run both the Boston Marathon and the Tokyo Marathon this year, but the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to both races. This led the Boston Marathon to become virtual, where thousands of runners would take the race that was usually ran through the streets of Boston and run it in the streets of their hometowns instead.

For Muddell, his Boston Marathon took place on Saturday throughout stretches of Periwinkle Way and Dixie Beach. Towards the end of his race, Muddell was greeted by members of the Sanibel community who cheered him on as they ran, drove, and biked alongside him. Of those faces that he saw when he reached the final stretch, none were more familiar than his family’s.

“I’ve run in these big cities, and you cross the finish line and you don’t know a soul, you can’t see any of your family,” Muddell said after the race. “So, to cross the finish line and to have my kids and my friends running the final fifty yards, that was special. That was really special.”

His wife, Stephanie Muddell, who has been with him through all of the treatments and marathons, echoed the same message that Jeff had at the beginning of his journey.

“Just having the kids there to be able to learn that we all have adversity, but you get stronger, you pick yourself up, and you keep fighting.”

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